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William F. Buckley,
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This one was often called the "lost Scorsese movie" but thanks the joys of DVD and YouTube, we can finally check it out. This is one of Scorsese's verite documentaries, this time focusing on the guy who played the gun-dealing "Easy Andy" in 'Taxi Driver'. Steven Prince was Scorsese's roommate for a while, and was also a music promoter (mostly for Neil Diamond) and drug addict before he turned to acting. American BOY catches up with him a couple of years after 'Taxi Driver', with Prince relating tales from his storied life.
The verite style of the documentary doesn't add too much to 'American Boy'. Scorsese pops up at the start, as the cameras start to roll. He looks high (this is from Scorsese's coke years), but who cares? Equally, there's an annoying guy in the background who keeps goading Prince to open up. But these are minor, short irritations. The joy of 'American Boy' is just Steven Prince sat there, telling his stories in a pretty masterful way. He has a good idea of pacing, drawing the audience in and out. You'd happily read a book of this guy's short stories.
What's also nice about 'American Boy' is that Prince doesn't fall into the pitfalls of the vast majority of drug literature. Half of the many tedious drug books are whines about how terrible it is to be an addict. The other half tediously aggrandise how insightful it is to be an addict. In doing this, taking drugs become the focus of the tales, and are therefore mechanical and repetitive.
The drugs in Prince's life are only the background to his interesting tales. He's high, but the drugs aren't the story... genuine events are. Accidentally frying a kid with wires from his TV van. Cops busting in on him and his dealer, but managing to escape arrest by bursting out crying. Shooting an armed robber as he works in a lousy job at a petrol station.
Prince is likable and consistently interesting, and the 50 or so minutes of 'American Boy' pass very quickly and pleasingly. There was another documentary made about Prince made in 2009 called, fittingly, 'American Prince'. Here's hoping 'American Prince' is as interesting as this one. And, of course, it's great to hear Prince is still alive.
At the end of 'American Boy', he relates the story of talking to his dying father. Prince's father - despite all of his son's mistakes - was impressed by his ability to survive. At first Prince glosses over the magnitude of it, but Scorsese eventually draws out the truth. It's a touching and positive way to end a documentary about an interesting and likable guy.
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