American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince

Martin Scorsese, 1978

Within his filmography, which spans just under half a century, a substantial part of Martin Scorsese's work encompasses certain reoccurring themes such as guilt, redemption and identity, and often features sociopathic, 'antihero' protagonists within such films as Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Between these two feature-lengths, and following the critical and commercial failure of New York, New York during a period of his life which was strewn with cocaine addiction and depression, he released American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince a 55 minute documentary, the subject of which being the title character Steven Prince, a twenty-something Jewish gay man and close friend and roommate of Scorsese's, as he recounts memories from his time spent as road manager for Niel Diamond, and recites anecdotes of his experience with guns and drugs.

What differs American Boy from any of Scorsese's various other features, is it's notable absence of stylish camera-work or visuals, with Marty opting to act as more of an observer than a director, capturing Prince's stories on a truly basic level, and interweaving his anecdotes with home-movie footage of the Prince family. Whilst the documentary may lack the notable style that has become the hallmark of Scorsese films today, what relation it does have with the director's other feature-lengths is his concern for violent and destructive men during the 1970's and early 80's in such films as Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, the latter of which Prince cameoed in as 'Easy Andy', a fast-talking hand-gun salesman and drug dealer, a character not to far removed from his own persona.

Amongst the assortment of stories Prince shares with his on-screen friends and the viewer, what becomes abundantly clear is the influence this hard to obtain movie has had on various film-makers since it's release, most famously of which being Quentin Tarantino's re-enactment of Prince's anecdote  in Pulp Fiction, of when he was forced to inject adrenaline into the heart of an overdosing women, with the help of a medical dictionary and a magic marker. Less notable is Richard Linklater's adaptation of Prince's story, in which he shot dead a man he caught stealing tyres from a gas station he was working at, in his 2001 animated feature Waking Life (which also featured a small cameo from Prince himself). Aside from influencing a generation of self-taught filmmakers, who's education in film was not learned in school, but by watching obscure features such as this one, American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince remains as being an influential feature, from the one of the greatest living directors in the world.
words by danny walker.