Film director and influential former School of Film/Video faculty Monte Hellman passed away on April 20, 2021. He was 91.
Arguably best known for his road film Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), Hellman’s works are often celebrated as cult favorites. Though the films credited to him were few and far between, Hellman is lauded as a hero of American independent film. He is also known for serving as executive producer on Quentin Tarantino’s crime feature Reservoir Dogs (1992).
A New York City native, Hellman cut his teeth in the industry working for the famed filmmaker, producer, and distributor Roger Corman, who is credited for launching the careers of various prominent actors and directors. Hellman became a frequent collaborator of Corman’s, and he would eventually convince the latter to back a pair of Western films titled The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind, both released in 1966 and featuring Jack Nicholson. Tarantino once characterized the films as “probably the most authentic Westerns when it comes to the dialogue of the Old West”; of Hellman, he noted, “I have nothing but respect for him, because he’s a wonderful filmmaker.”
“I have a reputation for ‘fighting the system,’ ‘not selling out,’ ‘doing my own thing,’ etc.,” Hellman was quoted in an interview for the 1987 book World Film Directors. “In reality, I have always been a hired gun. I have usually taken whatever job came my way.”
In 2005, Hellman joined CalArts’ School of Film/Video faculty. Far from slowing down on filmmaking, he continued directing acclaimed works. Among Hellman’s recent distinctions are the Maverick Filmmaker Award at the 2011 Palm Springs International Film Festival and the Special Lion for the Overall Work at the 2010 Venice Film Festival. International contemporary art magazine Artforum also held a career retrospective of Hellman in its October 2010 print issue.