Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 17, 2010

Prince of Broadway

Filed under: Film,workers — louisproyect @ 5:16 pm

About 15 minutes into the neorealist jewel “Prince of Broadway”, I made a mental note that the film had the same gritty verisimilitude as “Take Out”. This was no coincidence as I would soon discover that Sean Baker wrote and directed both films. For my money, Baker is the finest young filmmaker in the world of independent film today. He has a vision of real-life New Yorkers struggling at the margins of the economy as being worthy of a movie. To choose this noncommercial path, and to do so successfully, requires a stubborn commitment to one’s principles. In a film industry that largely caters to the worst prejudices of a dumbed down marketplace, this takes a lot of guts. Baker has both the guts and the talent to pull it off.

I had this to say about “Take Out“:

As should be obvious to people who have been following my film reviews over the years, I search out works that take the struggles of ordinary working people as their subject matter. When they succeed artistically, they earn my highest plaudits. As “Take Out” met those goals with a budget of only $3000, you truly feel like you have entered the realm of the miraculous.

Co-directed by Sean Baker and Shih-Ching Tsou, “Take Out” is a documentary-like look at the working day of Ming Ding, an undocumented Chinese restaurant deliveryman. The film starts inauspiciously enough with the incursion of two loan-sharking thugs into the roach-infested two-bedroom apartment Ming shares with a number of other Chinese immigrant workers. Like everything else in this neorealist jewel of a movie, the apartment is real. Ming has to come up with the money he owes them for the fee they exacted for smuggling him into the U.S. or else. As a taste of what awaits him if he can’t come up with the money, they beat him with a hammer.

“Prince of Broadway” is a much costlier enterprise than “Take Out”, costing $35,000 to film and another $35,000 to edit. At this stage of the game, Sean Baker should be in the “Avatar” ballpark by the 22nd century.

The unlikely hero of “Prince of Broadway” is Lucky, an undocumented worker from Ghana whose job it is to hustle people walking down the street into a store owned by a Lebanese-Armenian named Levon that has a back room filled with counterfeit Gucci bags, Nike sneakers, etc. Much of the film consists of the two men haggling with customers or their suppliers in dialog that has documentary-like realism. Unlike Ramin Bahrani, an Iranian-American graduate of Columbia University, who works with the same kind of material but embellishes it to the point that it no longer has any connection with the real lives of people existing in the “informal economy”, Sean Baker’s stories are close to the bone and distinctly believable. Bahrani’s “Man Push Cart” is ostensibly about a street peddler but it soon turns into an existential drama with unlikely plot elements reminiscent of a Paul Haggis movie. Sean Baker’s “Prince of Broadway” sticks to its guns, even at the risk of provoking some audience members into asking, “Is this all there is?”

One day as Lucky is hustling down customers, an old girlfriend—a Puerto Rican named Linda—shows up on the street with her baby son Prince in tow. That’s your son, she announces loudly, and takes off in her new boyfriend’s car. Kat Sanchez, a singer/songwriter/poet from the Bronx, plays Linda. Her real-life son Aiden Noesi plays Prince.

Superficially, the film resembles “Three Men and a Baby”, the 1987 farce directed by Leonard Nimoy with all the expected conflicts over the life-style of the put-upon father and a baby who challenges every aspect of his existence. But Sean Baker’s movie is not kitschy. It is instead brutally honest about what impact a year old baby would have on a man whose main activities away from work is smoking pot and drinking beer with his hustler pals.

Prince Adu is an actor and street hustler just like the character he plays. As such he is in an excellent position to improvise his dialog over, for example, the value of a fake handbag—something he has done many times before the movie was made.

Director Sean Baker received a BA in film studies from NYU in 1994. Despite the obvious risks taken in making movies that celebrate the economically marginal, Baker has also shown a flair for mainstream entertainment. His “Greg the Bunny” series on the Fox Network displayed a real talent for the risqué.

Unfortunately, I received a screener for “Prince of Broadway” after it had completed its run in NY. But I do urge you to see it in San Francisco’s Roxie Theater starting Nov. 26th and at the Vickers Theatre in Three Oaks, Michigan starting Nov. 18th.

You can also watch it online starting here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3z-1y-cWCBg


  1. Looking forward to seeing it at the Roxie in SF, thanks for letting us know, Louis. (I still want to see “Take Out” too).

    Comment by Eugene — November 17, 2010 @ 9:40 pm

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