Nether Regions 02.15.12: Italianamerican & American Boy
Posted by Chad Webb on 02.15.2012
With Hugo up for 11 Oscar nominations, it's time to look back at two rare documentaries from director Martin Scorsese in the 1970's.
Nether Regions started as a segment of the Big Screen Bulletin in the movie-zone that meant to showcase films that have been discontinued on DVD, are out of print in the United States, are only available in certain regions outside the United States, or are generally hard to find. Now it is a column all its own! You might ask, "Why should I care about a film I have no access to?" My goal is to keep these films relevant because some of them genuinely deserve to be recognized. Every time I review a new film I will have a list of those I covered below so you can see if they have been announced for DVD release, or are still out of print.
Featuring (As Themselves): Catherine and Charles Scorsese Directed By: Martin Scorsese Written By: Lawrence D. Cohen and Mardik Martin Running Time: 49 minutes Original Release Date: October 1974 (NYFF) Missing Since: June 6, 2000 Existing Formats:VHS Netflix Status: Not Available Availability: Extremely Rare
Italianamerican is a short documentary film that Martin Scorsese made between Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. It appeared at the New York Film Festival the same year Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore was released, in 1974. There isn't much weight to this homemade piece, but that doesn't mean it isn't amusing and completely enthralling from beginning to end.
The subjects are the iconic director's own parents, Charles and Catherine Scorsese. The primary topic of conversation is their experiences growing up as Italian immigrants in New York. The documentary starts with Mrs. Scorsese sharing her spaghetti sauce and meatball recipe, which is then displayed in full during the closing credits. They also enjoy the meal while talking. They go on to chat about life as children, their parents, occupations, where they live(d) in New York City, and life in Sicily...just to name a few things.
Catherine and Charles: the couple who gave us Martin Scorsese.
To be honest I could have sat back and listened to this couple, married for 40 years at this point, talk for another hour. Like any great marriage, they each exhibit their own identities, but have a great deal in common and possess a unique chemistry. As storytellers, they are mesmerizing, funny, and informative. Their idiosyncrasies make them increasingly charming. Their son Martin has always shown a strength of selecting priceless personalities like this for his films.
One of the best segments involves the two of them disagreeing on how to make wine and whether or not the "vintage" Catherine's father produced was any good. They never hesitate to engage in a friendly argument during the filming, but their love and affection for one another is also never in doubt. Other terrific tales include discussing the Irish and Chinese in the area growing up, as well as a humorous recollection of a picture from Catherine's youth concerning her father.
Scorsese doesn't get very fancy with this documentary. He intercuts pictures of his family, along with black-and-white stock footage of New York. Fans of Scorsese will probably recognize his parents anyway, as they were regularly featured in small roles for his films. What makes this intriguing is that a hefty portion of the themes from Scorsese's efforts contains elements of his life. This offers a more profound glimpse into how this kid from Little Italy in NYC became one of the greatest filmmakers. At the same time, his parents are lovely, and while the history they share is not exactly life-altering, the manner in which they say it is fascinating.
Final Rating = 9.0/10.0
AMERICAN BOY: A PROFLE OF STEVEN PRINCE
Featuring (As Themselves): Steven Prince and George Memmoli Directed By: Martin Scorsese Written By: Julie Cameron and Mardik Martin Running Time: 55 minutes Original Release Date: October 1978 (NYFF) Missing Since: 1978 Existing Formats: None Netflix Status: Not Available Availability: Extremely Rare
By the late 70's, Scorsese had developed a serious cocaine addiction, and any viewer that has seen either of these short documentaries will notice that the director has a full, dark, and scraggly beard. This might remind you of Jonah Hill's hilarious line to Martin Starr in Knocked Up. Nevertheless, the quality of his work certainly did not suffer as a result. American Boy: A Profile of Steve Prince arrived between New York, New York and Raging Bull, but also appeared at the New York Film Festival. That same year (1978) also saw the release of Scorsese's concert film The Last Waltz.
American Boy has the same benefits as Italianamerican, which is a superb storyteller. The problem is, unless you look up his name, many will not know who the heck Steven Prince is. Why he is being interviewed is never really covered, but oh well. For the uninformed, Steven Prince appeared in two of Scorsese's films, New York, New York and most notably as Easy Andy in Taxi Driver. They are also good friends.
Scorsese integrates footage of Prince as a child between segments where Prince tells a story. Before that happens however, he arrives at pal George Memmoli's home in California, and the two of them wrestle for 5 minutes straight. Some of Prince's memories are stranger than fiction, but watching him talk, you will be thinking about what an exciting life he had led (up until that point at least). Prince, Memmoli, and Scorsese converse about his family, his heroin addiction, his period as a road manager for Neil Diamond, and other various travels. He also touches on his Aunt Bessie, "a Russian Jew who taught advanced ballbusting."
Steven Prince and George Memmoli (with Scorsese) after their wrestling match.
Prince's drug addiction is obviously a relevant topic of Scorsese, who lingers on it, but this period of his life also affords the most memorable stories from the documentary. A famous one includes Prince injecting adrenaline into the heart of a woman who had overdosed with the aid of a medical dictionary and a magic marker. Quentin Tarantino used that for an unforgettable scene in Pulp Fiction. Later he talks about his stint as a gas station attendant. One night he caught a man stealing tires, who then charged at him with a knife. Prince was forced to shoot him. This story was retold in Richard Linklater's Waking Life.
In both of these short documentaries, Scorsese did not film or edit for perfection, simply to capture engrossing figures who are wonderful at telling stories about their lives. You can see and hear him directing in both pieces. At the end of American Boy, Steven Prince mentions a conversation with his dying father. Scorsese makes him repeat this three times so it sounds just right. America Boy does present viewers with some absorbing tales, but more than that it reveals more about Scorsese as a filmmaker and person, which is definitely worth the time spent.
The song "Time Fades Away" by Neil Young can be heard during the opening and closing credits. A sequel documentary, American Prince, which was directed by Tommy Pallotta, was released in 2009.
I purchased a copy of these two documentaries via bootleg. They were on one DVD with the short film The Big Shave (also by Scorsese) entitled "3 By Scorsese." I read later that these three were available on a rare laserdisc, but that's all the vague information I dug up. Italianamerican and The Big Shave are on VHS, but the price is steep. None have been released on DVD, which is a crime. Everything from Scorsese should be available to the public. If you search hard enough, you will be able to locate these. They are not all that long and lots of fun.