I took a survey of viewers who saw “Algren,” the new documentary that recently had its world premiere at the Chicago International Film Festival. Here’s what they said:Reviewer #1: Really interesting and fast-paced. It gives me a great sense of the guy without being pious. I’m unsure about the kitschy style. The fast edits and fake newsreels and animations keep things lively — but it’s tough to think they will age well. Maybe that’s not the point, though. Maybe the point is to repackage Algren for today and let it be the books that age well. Also the photos are great. All kinds of paradigmatic moments.
Reviewer #2: Overall I really liked it — and you have to bear in mind that I’m coming from across a tremendous divide in sensibility between the kind of writer Algren was and the kind that usually interests me. The film was really smartly thought out and executed, giving me great insight into different aspects of Algren’s life and work. I left it feeling I have a pretty good grip on the guy. Also I feel sort of like I’d just spent time with a guy who was great to get a beer with.
Reviewer #3: The only thing I find questionable about the film is its arch and fast style. It keeps you engaged but I could see the style getting old pretty quickly. Otherwise I think it’s a tremendous job. It looks good, hits its marks, and makes you think Algren was a great writer. Mission accomplished. One of the best lines in the film, by the way: “Algren was a man of leisure, very little income but a lot of leisure.”
Reviewer #4: Far too gimmicky/arty farty for my taste. It let a fantastic opportunity go to waste. Too much cutting in mid sentence, although towards the end it managed to cohere. The background muzak was awful. As to the actual Algren texts, I mentioned Chandler to a friend who saw the picture with me, and she immediately replied, “But Algren puts him in such a deep shadow.” I think he puts the whole fucking lot into a very deep shadow — and I’m including Miller, Kerouac, Bukowski, and even Burroughs. Poetry is poetry. Whether it takes Algren’s kind of genius prose to give you that sensation is really not a matter up for debate. OK, he was a natural — but he must have done an awful lot of work to fashion his language the way he did. There was too little about the actual writing. Although most of the photographic material was perfect, there was too much subterranean Chicago. It dragged on too long, as did Mme. Beauvoir. One thing I didn’t quite get is how there are so many photos of him running the junky circuit. He must have had a permanent photographer with him. Anyway, all in all it’s good we have what we have. But it does not explain how a writer of that caliber is so easily forgotten.
Reviewer #5: I could see how someone would react negatively to the “gimmicky” film style. I question it too. But at the same time the question is whether these guys are making a film for the ages or they’re making a film designed to vault Algren back into consciousness over the next few years. If that’s what they’re after, the gimmicky style is an asset. The kids nowadays all have ADHD so the style will be the thing that gets them to watch anything more than 10 minutes long.————————————————————————————————————————
FULL DISCLOSURE & CUSTOMARY BLOG SELF-PROMOTION: As someone who knew Algren and wrote about him, I have some skin in the game. If the film does well, it might even draw interest to my little portrait of the man (possibly boosting sales). Furthermore, although I appear in the film, its vision of Algren is not necessarily mine.
Reviewer #6: The documentary grabbed me by the balls from the very beginning and dragged me all the way to the final credit roll. Very good stuff. I enjoyed every minute of it, although I had the feeling the documentary was running a bit too long at a certain point. That was proved wrong by the final couple of minutes of the film, which were beautiful. Each of the stories is great and the photography was very strong. To me the documentary had a “big” feel: American, concrete and steel, steaming streetwise towers, very Chicago-esque, but much more than that too. It’s about Everyman. There’s humor, passion, tragedy and — beneath all the hard-boiledness — tenderness and love.
Reviewer #7: It was an introduction to a remarkable man. He kept reminding me of Burroughs in his demeanor, though Algren’s humor was far less dry. I thought the prolonged sections on Simone de Beauvoir were in danger of becoming tedious, yet the Davidov film [“The End Is Nothing, the Road Is All,” not yet released] is also trumpeting her, so the reason must be audience and marketing, pitching the films at those tiresome additional fickle viewers they need. Florence Shay was amazing — she really did not look her age as I realized when I got to the end of the film and saw the sad dedication.
Reviewer #8: Great stuff. Made me want to re-read The Man with The Golden Arm (not read since very very young). And even A Walk on The Wild Side (which I’ve read twice, most recently a couple of years ago — still my favorite. One of the great books). Probably this film could have been better, but even so, it should be seen.
Reviewer #9: Such precious stuff. Like specks of powerful substance. It’s really wonderfully done, all that animated stuff, voice-overs, real expert mix.
Reviewer #10: I was certainly hit with that cold wind of reality out of Chicago. Very moving portrait. Strange how I knew so little about him. Of course, I heard of the books but got swept away in other directions. Will have to get to his work soon.