The past year brought not one but two documentary portraits of Nelson Algren, the bard of Division Street: Michael Caplan's Algren, which premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival last October, and Mark Blottner, Ilko Davidov, and Denis Mueller's Nelson Algren: The End Is Nothing, the Road Is All , which debuted here at Gene Siskel Film Center in April. Neither movie has a clear advantage over the other, and there's a fair amount of overlap between them, but some distinctions can be made. Begun in the 1990s and then shelved for decades, The End Is Nothing includes interviews with some Algren pals who are long gone (most notably Kurt Vonnegut) and catches others when their memories were better (Studs Terkel, writer Denise DeClue, bookseller Stuart Brent). For Algren, Caplan draws more on people who knew Algren tangentially, or later in life, or not at all (among his interviewees are William Friedkin, John Sayles, Bob Guinan, Rick Kogan, Bruce Jay Friedman, and Billy Corgan), but he has a secret weapon in photographer Art Shay, whose photographs of Chicago in the 50s and 60s are the closest visual equivalent to Algren's work.
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