Nelson Algren: The End Is Nothing, the Road Is All

“He was the loneliest man I ever knew,” says Kurt Vonnegut in this revealing portrait of proletarian writer Nelson Algren (The Man With the Golden Arm, Chicago: City on the Make). The project began in the 1990s with a series of interviews videotaped by Mark Blottner, but after that it lay dormant until 2012, when Blottner shot more interviews and completed the documentary with the help of Denis Mueller (Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train) and Ilko Davidov (producer of William S. Burroughs: A Man Within). Among Blottner’s original interview subjects was Studs Terkel, one of the few people who really knew Algren, and his perspective adds immeasurably to the movie. The man who emerges here is both principled and prickly, a two-fisted socialist (his passport was revoked during the Red Scare of the 1950s) and, despite his much-remarked romance with Simone de Beauvoir, a person with greater affinity for the lowlifes he immortalized than for the women he slept with (“Last night’s love is a bucket of cold ashes,” he told one stunned lover).