Scorsese Revisited in American Prince

american-princeSteve Prince is quite the character. Film buffs will remember him from Martin Scorsese‘s Taxi Driver, where his gun salesman educates Travis Bickle in hardware. The camera lovingly caresses gun barrels via tracking shots while Prince provides the prose poems (“It’s a real monster. It’ll stop a car at a hundred yards.”).

It’s one of the great one-shot performances, and Scorsese found Prince a compelling enough character to make him the subject of his 1978 documentary American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince. Now Prince, whose resume includes appearances in New York, New York and Richard Linklater‘s Waking Life, gets a “chapter two” in Tommy Pallotta‘s documentary American Prince, which is set to screen at the SXSW Film Festival on March 14 and March 17. Clips and more (with a little Pulp Fiction-ania after the jump.

What a difference 30 years make. American Prince is both a portrait of Prince and an exhumation of American Boy, which has been largely unseen since its inception. (Although you can watch it on Youtube.) The first clip sees the 1970s Scorsese in full Scorsese-on-Coke mode, while Prince captivates with his rat-like demeanor and nerviness. Note than manly homophobia in the hot tub.

Prince tells his story via tight close-ups during his interview. He can still do a nice eye-bug, too. There’s more joy in clip two, as Pallotta establishes that the OD scene in Pulp Fiction was clearly inspired by a Prince anecdote in American Boy.

In the Village Voice, Rob Nelson notes of American Boy:

“The attraction-repulsion dynamic of Taxi Driver—wherein Prince’s gun salesman character makes even Travis Bickle look human—is mirrored in Boy’s pained progression from stand-up comedy to horror and tragedy. As the first act of Prince’s routine features vivid recollections of doped-up run-ins with draft enforcers and silverback gorillas, Scorsese’s wide-angle shots of the “show” in actor George Memmoli’s Hollywood bachelor pad include the chuckling crew as an approving audience. But as the topics turn to heroin abuse and homicide in the second half, the laughs diminish and the camera zooms tighter, sealing the subject’s fate as God’s lonely man. (It’s not just in the hot tub that Scorsese wishes to separate himself from this guy.)”

Did Prince turn out to be “God’s lonely man”? Sipping on his white wine, it looks like he may have made it out the other side. Now that the Maestro has had his say, it’ll be interesting to see what life is like from the other side of the camera.


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