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He’s back! That cryptic maverick, notorious for taking years to make movies whose pace can give glaciers a run for their money — movies with driven characters, visual brio, and plots like a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Lit up with prestige by a European film fest award, he presents his new movie, which nobody else would dare make, nor could.
Terrence Malick? No, it’s Monte Hellman, director of 1971’s legendary cult film Two-Lane Blacktop, whose new film Road to Nowhere opens this Friday at City Cinemas Village East in New York. A film about a filmmaker whose reality boundaries are shaky, Road to Nowhere is “as significant to the indie feature as Avatar is to the popcorn movie,” claims critic John Anderson.
It screens Wednesday at Lincoln Center’s retrospective To Hellman and Back: An Evening With Monte Hellman. The same night, The Tree of Life director Malick gets a retrospective at Philadelphia’s Drexel University. On May 12, the duo also got simultaneous L.A. retrospectives (Malick at LACMA, Hellman at American Cinematheque).
Are the two arthouse auteurs and awards hopefuls actually the same person? Consider the following coincidences:
1. Cannes film festival prizewinner Malick’s latest may be the most narratively ambitious movie yet by Hollywood’s most narratively daredevil director.
Venice film festival prize winner Hellman’s latest may be the most narratively ambitious movie yet by Hollywood’s most narratively daredevil director.
2. Hellman made six big films in four decades.
Malick made six big films in four decades.??
3. Warren Oates costarred in Hellman’s 1971 road picture Two-Lane Blacktop.
?Warren Oates costarred in Malick’s 1974 road picture Badlands.
4. Hellman went 21 years between features.
Malick went 20 years between features.
5. Hellman’s 1974 dp was Nestor Almendros.
Malick’s 1978 dp was Nestor Almendros.?
6. Malick’s The New World is about explorers who try to create a ?civilized society but only create calamity.
?Hellman’s Iguana is about explorers who try to create a ?civilized society but only create calamity.??
7. Malick made one WW II film, The Thin Red Line??.
Hellman made one WW II film, Back Door to Hell.
8. Tree of Life actors say secretive Malick kept them guessing about what he wanted.
Two-Lane Blacktop actors say secretive Hellman only gave them one page of the script at a time.
Now here are three reasons Hellman and Malick are not the same person: Hellman helped launch Jack Nicholson and Quentin Tarantino and (according to the new book Fire and Rain) watched James Taylor almost kill the cast of Two-Lane Blacktop in the final race scene by stomping on the gas, unaware the car was in reverse. Malick did none of the above.
“Another reason Hellman isn’t Malick: He knows how to match shots,” New York Times DVD critic Dave Kehr tells THR.
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