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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Friday, June 2, 2017

Why Nelson Algren's novel would made a bad movie and how it presaged the Beats

I'm surprised that Nelson Algren's The Man with the Golden Arm (1949) was made into a movie, and doubt it was a good movie. This novel, at least from the first 1/4th of it, is plotless - the past 50 pages have been about Frankie Machine's marriage to Sophie and his guilt over the drunken car crash that left her a paraplegic and that she has used ever since to extract guilt and penance from Frankie - OK, a dark and dreary life story set mostly in taverns and police stations, yet elevated by Algren's excellent and funny writing style, his ear for street cant, and his surprising turns of phrase - maybe in tomorrow's post I will have the edition beside me and quote a few examples verbatim (can find them on almost any page). But a movie version? These are characters that could rise from the did and play ancillary roles in The Sopranos or Boardwalk Empire, but a movie needs a story line and Algren is not interested in that: He's creating a portrait of a subculture, at a particular time and place (postwar Chicago); these characters emerge, to a degree, in a different form in the literature of the beats a decade later - but with a focus on drugs, rather than alcohol, and with a more of a contempt for "bourgeois" society. But you could imagine Algren opening this novel w/ Ginsberg's phrase: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness ... " OK, his characters are far from the "best minds," but there is a shared sense of the marginalization and their being doomed.

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