Title(s): Italianamerican; American Boy: A Profile of – Steven Prince
Year(s): 1974, 1978
Director: Martin Scorsese
Italianamerican (1974) A personal profile centering on the director’s parents, Charles and Catherine Scorsese, and their insights and memories of immigrant life in New York City.
American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince (1978) Best known as Easy Andy, the “traveling salesman” from Taxi Driver, Steven Prince’s colorful exploits come to life in this casually conceived documentary realized by the director’s friend.
Critique: Next to the modicum of creativity that lies in Scorsese’s filmography, it can be easy to overlook or sidestep his work as a documentarian. Is that a slight on his non-fiction titles?
Not in the least. After all, who wouldn’t be bamboozled by the onslaught of innovative and original movies in Scorsese’s diverse filmography? It’s a testament to Scorsese’s relentless artistry that he’s capable of casually riffing a documentary every year-or-so as if he’s exorcising some creative hindrance and enabling his voluminous output. Italianamerican is such a breezy, comfortable affair because the effect of the film mirrors its conception. Scorsese made a movie about his parents where they share stories, anecdotes and memories and it’s our fortune that we’re front and center for everything that was recorded. Here, Scorsese’s vibrancy emits from his lack of stylistic inflections rather than his usual panache.
Sometimes, the best creative decision is knowing when to hold back and let the material speak for itself and it’s that stark simplicity that makes Italianamerican shine so bright.
Anyone who’s seen Taxi Driver isn’t likely soon to forget “Easy Andy,” the traveling salesman who supplies Travis Bickle with his own miniature arsenal. Well, there’s a good reason for that. The role of Andy is played by the one-and-only Steven Prince. Aside from being a friend of the director, Prince has a most colorful life, which is the free form structure of Scorsese’s 1978 documentary American Boy. The film is comprised mainly of Prince and fellow actor/pal George Memolli hanging out with Martin Scorsese as Prince recounts a myriad of stories from his personal life interspersed with some of Prince’s home movies recorded when he was a kid. He walks us through a variety of tales, memories from his childhood years, pulling pranks and petty hustles, his time as a heroin addict or bopping around with Neil Diamond as his road manager. The substance here lies in Prince’s ability to keep a room and spin his pleasantly mischievous yarns with spirited charm and levity. Even in the darker forays where Prince recounts having to fatally shoot a guy in a scuffle when he was a gas attendant or delivering a shot of adrenaline to an overdosed girl (a story that was lifted by Tarantino for the famous overdose scene in Pulp Fiction), Prince maintains a playful exuberance.
One of the sustainable takeaways from Scorsese’s breezy feature is the potential relatability of the material. It’s a blatant cliche to say something as simplistic as “we all have a Steven Prince in our lives” but it’s hard to watch American Boy and not conjure thoughts of an old friend who was always up and excitable and could light up any room and capture a crowd no matter what.
Why They Belong in the Collection: Perhaps these two features could be sold as a double pack a la Erroll Morris’ Gates of Heaven/Vernon Florida release. Or it’s entirely possible that Italianamerican and American Boy: A Profile of – Steven Prince would be comparable candidates for bonus features. While these two movies could piggyback on a Scorsese release, both are strong enough as standalone Criterion releases. Italianamerican and American Boy: A Profile of – Steven Prince have been touring with the Criterion/Janus Films logo and it fits their distribution model to shine a light on lesser-seen items from high-profile directors.