First in January at Sundance, the legendary Utah film festival, and then last week at Ebertfest in Champaign, people are getting a first glimpse at "The End of the Tour," the movie that centers around the life, times and turbulent genius of David Foster Wallace.
Wallace is the former Illinois State University English instructor who in 1995 quietly published "Infinite Jest," a doorstop-sized novel that instantly launched him to literary renown and today — seven years after his death — literary cult status.
Starring Jason Segel as Wallace, the film gets its national premiere in July.
But already it is receiving a strong endorsement from someone who fully knew Wallace: Charles Harris, a retired ISU department head who in 1992 hired Wallace and three years later flew with him from Bloomington to New York City (with the boxed 20-pound original "Infinite Jest" manuscript in tow) to ink the "Infinite Jest" publishing deal.
"Both Victoria (Harris' wife) and I thought it was a terrific film," says Harris. "I'll be surprised if we don't hear more about it during awards season ... maybe even 'Best Picture' consideration. It's that good."
It was late in 2013 that the Harrises played host at their Bloomington home to James Ponsoldt, the movie's director, as he researched all its B-N ties. While Wallace was at ISU, the Harrises' daughter, Kymberly, also was a friend, confidante and eventual love-interest of Wallace. All three make the movie's credits.
Last week at Champaign's standing-room only Virginia Theater, director Ponsoldt noted in an audience discussion afterward that reactions to the film at Sundance and Ebertfest were the same ("very positive") with one noted exception — that in Champaign, the several references in the film to Bloomington-Normal and ISU were met with ... laughter.
"The laughter," says Harris, "was, I think, partially recognition. The movie spends about half its time in Bloomington-Normal. But in an opening scene — at Rolling Stone magazine headquarters in New York City — there is a referral to a 'small college in the middle of Illinois' and there was a strong wave of laughter at that. Everyone in this area knows ISU is anything but a small college. So the laughter there was, I think, because of the scene's character's big-city parochialism. And considering it was a Champaign theater, I imagine a little bit of U of I 'snootiness' may have figured in as well."
Since their beginnings (ISU, 1857; U of I, 1867), there has been a natural competitiveness between the universities, if not (how can we say this nicely?) a touch of inherent "arrogance" at U of I, a larger, 34,000-student, Big Ten school. (ISU has about 21,000 students.)
At the movies, the U of I gained notoriety in 1968 in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" ("Hal," the movie's eerie "star" computer was created in a U of I lab) and again in 1983 by Tom Cruise in "Risky Business" ("Looks like the University of Illinois!").
But with 1999's "Being John Malkovich," a quirky cult-favorite centered around former ISU theater major John Malkovich, and now "The End of the Tour" about a publishing professor, it appears ISU is holding its own against its big sister 50 miles down the parochial road.
Saving green at Red Cross: Each year in B-N, the "Evening of the Stars" gala put on by the American Red Cross of the Heartland is one of the dressiest affairs in town.
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That includes Lyn Hruska, the Red Cross regional chief development officer, who each year is on-stage and among the most gorgeously dressed. And thriftiest, too.
"Finding a great dress — on sale for under $40 — has become my own little 'sport,' " she says. "I keep an eye out, year-round, and buy when the price is right."
This year's gown? An attractive gold-on-black strapless that Hruska got for $38.
But now? Alas ... inflation! "I just bought next year's dress and had to go up to $46! It is a great dress! But I've never paid over $40 so I splurged a little for next year."
They’re not eggs-tatic, but …: If having a baby, just where would you want to have it?
In a hospital bed?
A birthing room?
On top of a prickly bush in the middle of a parking lot at a popular shopping plaza?
Yes, geese are really weird.
They also can be nasty when tending their newbies.
So last week, for the third straight year, workers at Normal’s Shoppes at College Hills had to get out the orange traffic cones in a lot near Von Maur where one goose seems to especially like to birth.
That seems to be her annual Target.