Nelson Algren: The End is Nothing, the Road is All is an in-depth feature length documentary about one of America's greatest and least understood authors. This never-before-told compelling life story reveals a unique literary voice through rare interviews, historic archival footage and the gritty noirish voice of Algren. Kurt Vonnegut and Studs Terkel, literary giants in their own right, sing songs of praise along with many of his old friends, which makes this film seem like a hymn from the grave. Algren’s touching love affair with Simone de Beauvoir weaves its way through his life and helps to buffer the damaging impact of FBI and CIA surveillance, blacklisting and the rejection of his work by certain academics.
This stylishly produced film embeds us in the 1950s Cold War world when Algren worked. While we anticipate its appeal to cinephiles and general audiences: appearances and interviews with Algren scholars Bettina Drew (Nelson Algren: A Life on the Wild Side), Brooke Horvath (Understanding Algren), Paul Buhle, Meaghan Emery and James Giles provide concise literary, social, and historic perspectives.
Nelson Algren wrote five novels, two collections of short stories, several road books, and countless other stories, reviews, and essays along with the prose poem Chicago: City on the Make. His work spanned six decades and speaks to generations of readers. While his best writing took place over 50 years ago, his focus on the fears and disenchantment with our consumer culture were prophetic and still hit the mark today.
Here he is on the big screen at last, an hour and a half of who Nelson Algren was and what he meant. It’s a documentary with the sources — authoritative sources (Kurt Vonnegut and Studs Terkel, for example, who give their personal impressions of the man). Radical sources, too (Paul Buhle for one, who lays out an essential historical perspective). This documentary doesn’t just have the sources, it uses them the way they should be used. Vonnegut, Terkel, Buhle, and the others are allowed to get their say in whole because the filmmakers chose not to produce the cinematic equivalent of a Pop-Tart.
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"The End Is Nothing ..." opens with the most striking scene of either film: It's nighttime, and older cars are speeding past the downtown Chicago skyline. Over a jazz soundtrack, Algren, invoking Carl Sandburg, speaks: "City of the big grey flannel shoulders / where fog comes on little cat feet / You told me you were brutal / My answer, 'What other city can I buy a judge for five bills and be so sure he'll keep his word. What's so brutal about that?'"
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Bettina Drew is the author of the critically acclaimed biography Nelson Algren: A Life on the Wild Side.
The Texas Stories by Nelson Algren preserves a unique and devastating view of the Lone Star State during the Depression, a melancholy and explosive world of hoboes, migrant workers, ranch hands, penniless Mexicans, carnival roustabouts, and the dangerous and helpless inhabitants of county jails. These firsthand impressions of impoverished lives formed the philosophical and moral foundation for all of Nelson Algren's later work. Though dubbed "the poet of the Chicago slums" and long known as a naturalistic urban writer, the author of The Man with the Golden Arm and A Walk on the Wild Side actually began his career at the very bottom of the United States in 1932, in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. The journalism degree he'd earned the year before hadn't helped him find a job in Chicago or Minneapolis or anywhere else in the Midwest in those stagnant days before Roosevelt, so when the cold weather came on, he hitchhiked south to continue his search for newspaper work. He drifted down to New Orleans and spent a few months living in cheap rooms selling coffee and beauty products door to-door; then he rode a long string of boxcars to Texas.
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Douglas Cowie was born in Elmhurst, Illinois in 1977. He graduated from Colgate University in 1999, and studied for both an MA and PhD at the University of East Anglia. He is the author of Owen Noone and the Marauder (Canongate 2005), Sing for Life: Tin Pan Alley (Black Hill Press 2013), Sing for Life: Away, You Rolling River (Black Hill Press 2014), as well as various short stories and essays. He teaches in the Department of English at Royal Holloway, University of London. His new novel, a fictional account of the relationship between Nelson Algren and Simone de Beauvoir, will be published in 2016.
My essay, “Narrative Proximity in the Work of Nelson Algren,” appears in Volume 17 of the journal American, British and Canadian Studies. In the process of editing the article I cut a long section that discusses Algren’s first novel, Somebody in Boots. I’ve reproduced that section below. The full article discusses The Man with the Golden Arm and Never Come Morning.
In both Somebody in Boots and The Man with the Golden Arm, [Algren] uses the technique both to control the narrative tension of key scenes. In the scene that introduces Cass and Norah in his first novel, Somebody in Boots, the importance of narrative proximity is twofold; it creates tension in the scene, and in so doing, establishes quickly and effectively the relationship between the two characters. This second point is vital, because these two protagonists are only introduced to each other approximately three-quarters of the way into the novel, and Norah herself has only recently been introduced into the plot.
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Paul Merlyn Buhle was a former Senior Lecturer at Brown University, author or editor of 35 volumes including histories of radicalism in the United States and the Caribbean, studies of popular culture, and a series of nonfiction comic art volumes. He has written extensively about the blacklists and Hollywood.
I think we better start a little ways further back to the early and mid ‘30s because the Depression bottoms out in some respects by the middle of the 1930s, and the New Deal programs and a modest increase in economic growth - very modest, gives people not only a way to stay alive, but a way to be hopeful, and politically, what takes place is that young people who have been involved in these extremely left-wing energetic cultural activities like the John Reed Clubs, they find themselves enjoying the New Deal more than they would have expected and very frequently then make a living in the Works Progress Administration Writers Program or Artists Program, the Theaters Program and so forth. So they find themselves having gone from way on the left to the left of the center, but also seeing their participation in New Deal programs as a sort of transition to a better society, a new society, more egalitarian society, but not exactly the overthrow of capitalism in the fashion that they had imagined in the early Depression.
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View a sampling of the many FBI files used to track Nelson Algren (courtesy of Colin Asher):
Denis Mueller has been making films for 30 years. Howard Zinn: You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train has been shown on the Sundance Channel, Link TV and Free Speech Television. It was short-listed for an Academy Award nomination in 2005. He has recently updated his work, Soldiers of Peace, and it has been accepted into festivals and is currently being distributed. Denis' various films have been released on DVD and have also seen theatrical distribution. Beginning with the award winning, FBI’s War on Black America, which was co-produced and co-directed with Deb Ellis, he has charted the abuses by the FBI and other government agencies for over 20 years and has built an audience surrounding the subject throughout the years. Denis is currently working on Peace Has No Borders with long time collaborator Deb Ellis.
Ilko Davidov founded Bulletproof Film in 1995, where he has produced, edited, and directed numerous award winning documentaries including producing and editing the much-acclaimed William S. Burroughs: A Man Within. In 2008, Davidov co-founded the Chicago International Movies and Music Festival (CIMMfest), an annual 4-day, multi-venue event highlighting the crossover of film and song. He also serves on the advisory board of the American Documentary Film Festival in Palm Springs, CA.
Mark has worked on independent video productions ranging from community-organized documentaries to the 1997 BBC TV documentary A Walk on the Wild Side as a researcher/fixer. He has an extensive history in corporate interactive design and development for a variety of distribution channels including mobile, web, and desktop digital media.
For Information: contact Denis Mueller at firstname.lastname@example.org