Road to Nowhere
by Jef Burnham
Available August 23rd on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Download, and VOD from Monterey Media.
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Having been tragically absent from the director’s chair of a feature film since 1989, Monte Hellman returned in full form in 2010 with Road to Nowhere. As an existential mystery that also explores the nature of the filmmaking process, Road to Nowhere is an absolutely massive picture— quite possibly his most ambitious date. To this end, Hellman once again teams up with Iguana screenwriter Steven Gaydos to create a sprawling, cinematic dream that reveals the dubiousness of boundaries between life, art, and fantasy.
A brief rundown of the film’s premise is likely necessary before we delve any further. The film follows the production of a film called Road to Nowhere as helmed by young filmmaker Mitchell Haven. Haven’s film tells the true crime story of Velma Duran and her lover, Rafe Taschen, whose relationship may or may not have ended with a double suicide in the Smoky Mountains. Coincidentally, the actress Haven has cast to play Velma, may in fact have been posing as Velma at the request the real Rafe Taschen prior to her casting in Haven’s Road to Nowhere.
That Velma Duran’s story is told through not only Hellman’s lenses, but Haven’s as well is not merely a means to an end. The ways in which the story is framed is in fact more important than the story itself, because the film is ultimately all about framing. Specifically, Hellman explores how our perception of the world and everything in it is shaped by the nuances of contextualization. And you’ve no choice but to meet him half way here if you hope to get anything out of the film, and that’s the way it should be. Films should always provide for a thinking audience. And while Hellman has always been an intellectual film-maker, Road to Nowhere is undoubtedly his most intellectual film, so even as a thinking viewer, meeting him half way is quite the journey. You’ll find yourself contemplating: Where does reality end and our fantasies (specifically cinematic ones) begin? Are we all just playing roles in scenes as our lives become imitations of films that imitate life? And surprisingly, is there even a mystery in this mystery at all?
With the making of a film being Road to Nowhere’s central focus (in addition to the exploration of the significance of framing), the viewer is consciously aware of the filmmaking process at almost all times throughout the film. And it is through this that Hellman imparts some of the film’s most potent concepts— concepts which are no doubt far too complex for me to relate in the space I have here. Suffice it to say that, whether this awareness of the filmmaking process alienates you as a viewer or draws you in further, the density of Road to Nowhere provides significant material for both types of viewers to consider.
Fans of Hellman’s previous work will find numerous thematic threads carried over in Road to Nowhere. Specifically, I find the film, as an existentialist mystery about fantasy, escapism, and the unobtainable, to be linked most closely to Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop and Stanley’s Girlfriend upon my initial viewings. But then, with such a complex film as this, I’m sure I’ll find many more connections on subsequent viewings.
Monterey Media’s DVD release also features a Behind the Scenes featurette and a Q&A from the Nashville Film Festival, while the Blu-ray release includes an additional interview with star Shannyn Sossamon.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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