Journalist David Lipsky says watching yourself being portrayed by an actor on a movie screen “is kind of like ‘The X-Files’ doing ‘Alice in Wonderland.’”
In the case of the movie “The End of the Tour,” which opens Friday, it meant Lipsky gave a very personal story to screenwriter Donald Margulies and director James Ponsoldt, trusting that they would do it justice. Or at least not make him look like an idiot.
In 1996, Lipsky, then a writer for Rolling Stone, spent five days on the road interviewing author David Foster Wallace about his best-selling novel “Infinite Jest.”
After Wallace committed suicide in 2008, Lipsky turned the taped transcripts of their interviews into a book, “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.” Which he then sold to the movies.
The film, which stars Jesse Eisenberg as Lipsky and Jason Segel as Wallace, is already generating Oscar buzz for Segel, a funnyman who gives a touching, thoughtful performance.
As a reporter, Lipsky knows all about the uneasy relationship between interviewer and the interviewed.
But a funny thing happened. Watching the film, Lipsky found himself not worrying about how he was portrayed. Instead he was blown away by Segel’s performance as Wallace.
“I’ve listened to the original tape recordings and to the same scenes in the movie, and I have trouble telling which is which,” Lipsky says. “Jason studied the tapes and all the video of David, and he just nails it.”
Everyone connected to the film seems to have wanted to do justice to Wallace’s memory, Lipsky says.
“They’re all really big Wallace fans,” he says. “James Ponsoldt read from Wallace at his wedding. And so they kept the film really close to the book. Almost every single word in the movie are things David actually said.”
For a film about two guys talking, “The End of the Tour” is surprisingly engaging.
There is, for example, the movie Lipsky’s barely concealed jealousy of the hugely successful Wallace.
All true, Lipsky says.
“That’s one of the hard things about being a writer. Someone has written something beautiful, and it wasn’t you,” he says. “There’s a joke about the writer who congratulates a fellow for doing great work, but he’s also thinking, ‘You bastard …’”
Lipsky says he was in awe of Wallace when he interviewed him. He could only dream of running into Wallace again later in life, when his own accomplishments would be on a par with Wallace’s.
In fact, Lipsky hit the big time with his 2003 book, “Absolutely American,” a four-year study of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But he never had occasion to meet Wallace after their initial encounter.
“I didn’t want to have that conversation until I was in the place he had predicted for me,” he says. “And then it was too late.”
At one point in “The End of the Tour,” the movie Lipsky uses a trip to Wallace’s bathroom as an opportunity to jot down a list of all the objects in his subject’s medicine cabinet.
Betrayal? Good journalistic practice?
“Yes, that happened,” Lipsky says. “But as I recall, his medicine cabinet was already open. I think he was providing me with information about himself in subtle ways. For example, he subscribed to Cosmopolitan and left back copies out on a table specifically for me to find. He wanted me to discover that side of him.
“I also think that’s why he had me stay at his house instead of at a motel. So that in our brief time together I could absorb these aspects of who he was without him having to spell them all out.”
Opening next week
▪ For his Oscar-nominated 2013 documentary, “The Act of Killing,” filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer asked the aging members of Indonesia’s right-wing death squads to make home movies based on their experiences exterminating their leftist neighbors during the 1965 genocide.
For his followup, “The Look of Silence” (opening at the Alamo Drafthouse), Oppenheimer turns his camera on an optometrist named Adi who discovers how his brother was murdered and who did the deed. Now Adi defies Indonesia’s conspiracy of silence and denial by confronting the killers.
▪ When he died, actor Marlon Brando left behind more than 200 hours of audiotaped conversations with himself. These monologues form the basis for “Listen to Me Marlon,” a poetic/impressionistic tour of one man’s mind. It opens at the Glenwood Arts and Tivoli.
▪ Motorcycle stuntman Evel Knievel is the subject of a feature doc from Oscar-winning Daniel Junge. Being Evel, showing Friday and Saturday at the Screenland Armour as part of the Arts and Crafts Fest, examines the man’s flamboyant and bone-crushing career as well as its lingering aftereffects: today’s extreme sports, reality TV and aggressive personal marketing.
▪ Richard Lester’s “A Hard Day’s Night” was viewed as little more than another cog in the great Beatles marketing machine when it was released in 1964. Except: The film is hugely entertaining and intelligent, introduced a faux documentary style that is still going strong and became the prototype for the whole music video phenomenon. “A Hard Day’s Night” is great entertainment, but it’s also art.
Want to show your kids what Beatlemania was all about? Check out “A Hard Day’s Night” at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Alamo Drafthouse.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Read more from Robert W. Butler at ButlersCinemaScene.com.