TERRE HAUTE —
Johnston did not pick Terre Haute by throwing darts at a map. She’s actually visited the place. As a 14-year-old from South Haven, Mich., Johnston attended a weeklong cheerleading camp on the Indiana State University campus.
“I just remember the name stuck with me,” said Johnston, now 57, “and I had a wonderful experience there.”
She roomed in an ISU dorm, and mastered a pom-pon routine to the 1967 hit song “Windy.”
“It was hard. It was like cheerleader boot camp,” Johnston recalled, with a chuckle.
From that lingering memory, she selected Terre Haute as Arthur Newman’s destination. “I wanted him going to a place that felt like Valhalla, and sounded and just felt like the place where you could completely remake yourself,” Johnston said. Valhalla was a majestic, post-life haven depicted in Norse mythology.
Johnston did not play golf at a country club during her 1960s visit to Terre Haute. Instead, she drew Arthur Newman’s job offer from a different part of her past. Her father had a friend who owned a private golf club.
Johnston uses snippets of her background in her screenplays “all the time.”
While she chose Terre Haute for the sound of its name, others involved with the movie struggled with it. “Of course, no one could pronounce it,” Johnston said. “It was Terre ‘Hot’ or Terre ‘Hoot.’ It was hilarious.”
The film’s U.S. release date and path from the Toronto Film Festival (which ended Sunday) to a theater near you are still undetermined. “It’s a very long and complex journey, and we’re not anywhere near done with it,” Johnston said. The audience reaction in its Toronto premiere encouraged her, though.
“We got a standing ovation. They loved it. They stayed afterwards. They asked questions,” Johnston said. “But the [critics’] reviews were mixed.”
As an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, her own opinion of “Arthur Newman” — understandably biased as it may be — matters, too. “I love it,” she said. “It’s a strange, offbeat, evocative and wonderful movie, and I’m very proud of it.”
Many of us would describe Terre Haute the same way.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.