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Some firsts

Some firsts and lasts and in-betweens for the middle of the first month of 2015:

  • Correct us if we're wrong, but it seems likely to us that the current Newsweek cover story (1/16/15) on David Foster Wallace marks the first time that someone with a direct Bloomington-Normal link has made the front of that venerable publication.

Oops, make that the second: a search of the Newsweek cover archive reveals that our very own favorite son Adlai Stevenson copped five Newsweek covers over the decades.

Anyway, the new Wallace cover offers an artist's rendering, with DFW in trademark bandana and stubble, and the headline billing the inside account as “The Grating American Novel: The Turbulent Genius of David Foster Wallace.”

The author, Alexander Nazaryan, describes himself at the outset as “an unabashed David Foster Wallace fanboy,” yet somehow gets through his lengthy appreciation (otherwise well-gauged) without a lone reference to his crucial time here at Illinois State University, now site of an annual David Foster Wallace Conference, the first of which was last year, the second of which is this year.

OK, Nazaryan does invoke the phrase “Midwestern modesty” as a somewhat inscrutable personality component.

But still.

  • In another milestone along those same lines: the first-ever full-blown biographical movie about Wallace, who lived and worked here for a chunk of their life is now almost a year out from the day filming began last February, north of here in Grand Rapids, Mich.

“The End of the Tour” comes to us from the embattled folks at Sony who learned the hard way about dealing with real-life figures courtesy of that tempest in a teacup called “The Interview.”

"Interview" or no, "The End" is currently scheduled for release “sometime in 2015.”

The film stars Jason Segal as Wallace and is, we're told, structured as a “road movie” in the best gonzo Hunter S. Thompson tradition.

The odyssey occurs over the final four days of Wallace's 1996 book tour promoting his magnum opus, “Infinite Jest,” and being interviewed by Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky (played by "The Social Network's" Jesse Eisenberg).

There is, of course, a direct link to “The Interview,” beyond Sony's involvement with another interview-a-real-life-person premise: Segal is a close associate of that film's stars/creators Seth Rogen and James Franco, who all were part of the short-lived but now cult classic NBC “Freaks & Geeks” of 1999-2000.

Their paths have crossed in various permutations since, in ways too numerous to mention, including, of course, “Knocked Up” and, not to be confused with "The End of the Tour," “This Is the End.” 

  • Speaking of this being the end, further, "The Interview" barely eked out three weeks at the Galaxy 14, before that was the end for it on the big screen.

Its fate there was duplicated pretty much likewise cross-country, including its other area engagements, in Peoria, Champaign and Lincoln.

  • And isn't Clint Eastwood now the eldest director of a blockbuster in recorded cinema history, with this weekend's record-shattering opening of his "American Sniper" handily scrubbing the slate of one of his worst-ever openings just half a year ago, "Jersey Boys"?

At 84, he's raised the bar again ... though those fast-graying ex-boy wonders, Steven Spielberg, 68, and George Lucas, 70, will likely still be in there swinging come the next decade or so.

Stay tuned.

  • The oldest working director extant, by the way, is Portugal's tireless, 106-year-old Manuel Oliveira, who shot his first film in 1931 and his most recent, "The Church of the Devil," in 2014.

Despite his perseverance, it's a safe bet that you could dump the collective returns on all 83 years' worth of Oliveira films into one pot and not equal the opening weekend kitty on Clint's "American Sniper."

  • Last but not least, since his most famous movie is a New Year's Eve tradition with us from way back, including this year via the Blu-ray makeover that came out earlier in 2014: we bid you happy trails, Rod Taylor, the Aussie-born leading man who never really escaped the second tier in Hollywood as the movies' notions of heroism evolved in the '60s and '70s.

Second or first or somewhere else, the ruggedly engaging Taylor was always a welcome, visceral presence in any movie he landed, with Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" second only to George Pal's 1960 rendering of "The Time Machine."

Yes, Pal's movie looks a tad primitive on the F/X front these days, something the high-def format brings further to the fore. 

But the bargain effects and MGM back lot vibe were never the secret to this movie anyway; rather, it's all in the special mood and the emotions conveyed through Taylor's deeply felt performance as the Victorian time bandit, who departs England on Dec. 31, 1899, and learns some hard lessons about mankind's destiny as both the world and the century turns.

It's an iconic performance that, alone, assures Taylor's place in time, regardless of the century.

Craft is Pantagraph arts and entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-820-3259 or via email at dcraft@pantagraph.com.

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