IOW: STRANGE to see no BloNo

Four months after Roger Ebert’s Film Festival provided its audience with an early look at THE END OF THE TOUR, which retells the encounter between the late novelist David Foster Wallace and journalist David Lipsky following the publication of Infinite Jest some 20 years ago, the A24 Films release has finally opened in Champaign-Urbana courtesy of the Art Theater Co-op. As an accurate portrayal of Wallace the artist and enigma, we cannot say. As cinema, your humble editor found its earnest and spare qualities both a virtue and a detriment, albeit a satisfying watch on the whole buoyed by the performances of Jason Segal and Jesse Eisenberg. Feel free to read into the James Ponsoldt-directed effort what you will upon attending TOUR during its shelf life at the Art; former Wallace colleague Dr. Robert McLaughlin, professor of English at Illinois State University, will introduce the 7 p.m. show tonight, Saturday, August 22, a day after ISU professors emeritus Charles Harris and Victoria Frankel-Harris provided the honors. Those with piqued interest should turn the page to when we shared the official Web site and trailer, while the procrastinators in our audience can wait until the Virginia Theatre run from September 9 to 12.

We now take an off ramp into weird territorial, um, territory. Last October, we deliberated over the strange phenomenon – or, as industry professionals would probably tell us, “business reality” – of producers latching on to downstate Illinois stories but avoiding on-site filming and/or direct reference in their final product. Let’s take a brief look at recent features drawing from Bloomington-Normal history. To wit, TOUR barely name-checks Normal and genericizes ISU even though much running time is spent at Wallace’s home and classroom. In the underdog sports drama THE MIGHTY MACS (2011), starring Carla Gugino as an upstart women’s basketball coach at a tiny Catholic college, we only know they travel to Illinois for the 1972 national tournament; more specifically, Immaculata College’s Macs won it all in ISU’s Horton Field House. Although, in the inspirational biography HOOVEY (2015), plenty of BloNo nods are apparently worked into the dialogue and visuals as it relays the fight for life faced by Shirley, IL, teenager Eric “Hoovey” Elliott (played by Cody Linley) after suffering both a brain tumor and debilitating head injury. Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas served as the primary shooting sites for these films, respectively.



At the same time, the examples cited are dramatic interpretations of real-life events, not documentaries attempting to accurately portray the same with ephemera and testimonial. (When the latter happens, amazing tales like INCIDENT AT KICKAPOO CREEK are told.) There exists a third scenario and it involves BloNo and McLean County as inspiration for works of pure fiction produced elsewhere. Michael Laughlin, a one-time maverick independent best known for producing Monte Hellman’s back roads thriller TWO-LANE BLACKTOP, conceived a pair of distinctly Midwest genre films with an up-and-coming screenwriter named Bill Condon, eventually the director of such Hollywood fare as DREAMGIRLS, KINSEY, and this summer’s MR. HOLMES. Both STRANGE BEHAVIOR (1981) and STRANGE INVADERS (1983) draw upon Laughlin’s Bloomington upbringing and are set in Illinois, the former in a college town and latter in a small burg where time seems to have stood still. Neither hit big when first released in the United States but attained cult followings due to their loving humor and sci-fi homage. No joke, New Zealand and Canada served as the shooting sites for these films, respectively.

This finally brings us to our “Image of the Week” courtesy of novelist and illustrator Stephen Romano from Austin, TX, much in demand lately for his evocative movie poster artwork in the exploitation vein. We shared his commissioned rendering for the re-release of THE MANSON FAMILY last winter but here we’re embedding his imagined one-sheet for STRANGE BEHAVIOR, a film he wrote about on Dread Central back in April that he calls a “true classic” underserved by its original distributor due to “quite bland” promotional graphics, among other issues. Romano created BEHAVIOR as part of a “RETRO 13” portfolio; you can view these gonzo facsimiles as well as for-hire extravaganzas at his official Web site. From the latter category, we also have included below his key art for a new Roger Corman-Charles Band documentary called KINGS OF CULT, which has nothing to do with the C-U but we find it pretty damn neat and, to be honest, it shows off a much tighter command of technique than the “RETRO 13” menagerie. Any which way, Faux-No just got a little more “Oh, no!”

~ Jason Pankoke

p.s. Make sure to click on the posters. Just do it.

p.s.2 Laughlin and Condon had begun developing a third STRANGE movie that was never produced, THE ADVENTURES OF PHILIP STRANGE, a World War II era spy saga. Wonder if that script is laying around somewhere … and if it pays enough mind to Illinois (or a Chicago-style metropolis, at the least) that it could warrant actually being made here were it resurrected.

p.s.3 In essence, an unofficial STRANGE trilogy from the early Eighties can be argued if one includes a non-Laughlin/Condon fantasy film – SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1983), the underrated Walt Disney Productions adaptation of the Ray Bradbury novel directed by Jack Clayton (THE INNOCENTS) set in the fictional Green Town, Illinois. Of course, in the ultimate Hollywood tradition, Disney’s studio facilities in Burbank, CA, served as the shooting site for much of this film, augmented with exteriors photographed in lush Vermont.

p.s.4 Yes, we did think of STRANGE BREW (1983) but we passed on it because, other than revolving around lovable dunderheads, nonsensical tomfoolery, and Elsinore brand beer, it really has nothing to do with BloNo or the central Illinois lifestyle, eh.

[Updated 10/4/20, 3:30 p.m. CST]


Comments closed.