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Algren

“One of the greatest writers America ever produced.”

Nelson Algren gave a voice to the voiceless. The Detroit-born writer made his way to Chicago where he became fascinated with that city’s seedy underbelly. He got to know those whom the American dream was elusive and every day meant trying to survive some battle. Algren got to know and eventually wrote about junkies, drug dealers, pimps, hookers, gamblers, drunks, etc. He became the poet for the disenfranchised with novels like The Neon Wilderness and A Walk on the Wildside. He’s best known for his 1949 novel The Man With the Golden Arm which was the first to win a National Book Award for Fiction. It went on to be adapted in 1955 by director Otto Preminger and stars Frank Sinatra, Kim Novak and Eleanor Parker. Even with that acclaim, his novels were poorly packaged and marketed, portraying Algren as a master of pulp rather than a literary genius.

“Nelson Algren told the stories of the people who came out of WWII yet who could never achieve the American Dream. Those people are still with us, still being kept down by a brutal and unfair system. It is my hope that by telling Algren’s story, that the next generation will be similarly inspired to focus on the people at the bottom, those whose tales still need to be told.”

Michael Caplan

Director Michael Caplan’s documentary conveys the importance of Nelson Algren’s life and literary contributions through interviews with the people who admired him best. Talking heads include artists, professors, writers, booksellers, film directors and friends. Notable figures include Billy Corgan and William Friedkin. It’s clear that these interviewees admired Algren for his genius and his singular personality. There is also plenty of archival footage and photos, as well as narration of what I believe is Algren’s memoirs. The documentary explores Algren’s journey from journalism to fiction writing, his torrid affair with writer Simone de Beauvoir, his relationship with Chicago and much more. The documentary can be hokey at times. Although I wished it was a bit more polished, I was transfixed by Algren’s story. 

Algren is a compelling documentary about a literary genius who became a voice for America’s disenfranchised.

Algren opens in theaters October 1st. Visit the First Run Features website for more details.

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