“Boogie Nights” Movie Review

If the porn industry was anything like what this movie depicted, I can’t even imagine how much more chaotic Hollywood proper must have been at the time. This ensemble drama initially premiered at the 1997 Toronto International Film Festival, where it tied with L.A. Confidential for the Metro Media Award. It was later released in two theaters by New Line Cinema on October 10th, 1997, and gradually expanded in the ensuing weeks. It managed to gross around $43.1 million against a $15 million budget, with nearly half of that coming from foreign markets. It also received some of the best reviews from that year and earned several awards and nominations, including three Academy Award nominations. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the film was inspired by a mockumentary short he made in high school called The Dirk Diggler Story. Several of the director’s first choices for roles had to turn it down for various reasons, and blindly cast for others. He also frequently butted heads with producer Michael De Luca during post-production, specifically over the epic runtime and original desire for an NC-17 rating. And according to most parties, the director got into nasty clashes with one of its stars throughout filming, and they were caught in the middle. Set in Los Angeles in 1977, Mark Wahlberg stars as Eddie Adams, a young high school dropout working as a nightclub dishwasher. one night, he meets legendary pornographic filmmaker Jack Horner, played by Burt Reynolds, and successfully auditions for one of his new projects. Over the next few years, we witness his meteoric rise as a star in the industry, as well as the lives of other production crew members during the so-called “Golden Age” of Porn. Paul Thomas Anderson is obviously a beloved auteur of cinema, with many films on his resume that cinephiles everywhere dissect each day. Whether it’s a sprawling epic like Magnolia or a lofty drama like Phantom Thread, his unique style is always present. There Will Be Blood and Punch-Drunk Love remain my favorites of his, but I can still appreciate how cinephiles may adore his other works more. For whatever reason, his first three films have managed to consistently avoid my grasp for quite some time. His sophomore effort, in particular, constantly came and left Netflix or Amazon Prime before I could decide to watch it. Well, I finally sat down and watched it last year, and have seen it again in the context of my New Year’s Cinematic Resolution. And I gotta say, Boogie Nights may just be the director’s most accessible film to date- which, admittedly, isn’t saying very much. But let’s make something abundantly clear right now: This film is not really just about porn. While there is considerable nudity, sex, and ungodly amounts of cocaine on-screen, PTA couldn’t be less interested in this sort of exploitation. He seems far more intent on exploring both the art form of something like this industry, the effects fame has on the characters, and their sexuality. At 2 hours and 35 minutes, Anderson doesn’t waste a whole lot of time on fat, developing each individual character and seamlessly weaving them into the overall narrative. And as the film starts diving into the 1980s, it manages to move into some seriously dark territory with surprising ease. Think if Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese did a collaboration together, and that’s about what Boogie Nights looks like. Prior to this film, Mark Wahlberg was the frontman for Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, but his role as Eddie/Dirk rightly established him as a bankable star. This might be my favorite performance of his, as he convincingly gives off the impression of a pathetic man desperate to find something big to latch onto. Julianne Moore is also noteworthy as Amber Waves, one of Dirk’s most frequent porn co-stars. While she is beautiful, behind all the makeup is a woman with so much of her personal life in shambles. The film also features a very impressive and sprawling ensemble cast, most of whom integrate into the narrative well. These include Philip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, Luiz Guzman, Thomas Jane, Philip Baker Hall, and John C. Reilly. However, none of them quite live up to the late great Burt Reynolds’ supporting performance as Jack Horner. Although he and Anderson consistently clashed on set, it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the part. Despite the exploitative nature of the industry he works in, he takes his craft very seriously and does his best to treat his cast and crew as equals. In fact, at one point he refuses to start shooting on video tape by proclaiming, “I’m a filmmaker. And that’s why I will NEVER make a film on tape.” Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Boogie Nights show that Anderson has no problem flaunting his influences while still trying to make it his own. This was the second of numerous collaborations the director had with cinematographer Robert Elswit and it was a great step forward for both of their careers. The camera is almost always roving around each scene, trying to capture as much action as possible. It makes use of a number of big zooms and whip pans to draw attention from one part of the ensemble to the next. The most impressive bout was a 3 minute-long shot following a character inside a chaotic New Year’s Eve party. It should also be noted that the editing by Dylan Tichenor, who also collaborated with Anderson on later projects, is very riveting and just as fast as the cinematography. It often blends new shots in with movements like the aforementioned whip pan, among others. There are a handful of montages that fuse together different parts of the narrative, such as Dirk Diggler’s meteoric rise to porn stardom. It also cuts between different scenes to help build tension, especially one sequence in the third act when petty much all of the characters are in a rut. There is a brief musical score here provided by Michael Penn, whose career afterward has been hit or miss. There’s really only one big memorable track, a four-and-a-half minute piece that has all the whimsy of a circus show and melancholy of a tragedy. With its contrasting strings and whistles, that arguably sums up the movie’s tone pretty effectively. The actual soundtrack itself is composed of various disco and rock songs from the 1970s, curated mostly by the director himself. They’re all extremely appropriate in finding the carefree feel and the excess of the era. Boogie Nights is a uniquely entertaining and frank look at the world of exploitation. Despite its somewhat touchy subject matter, I still profess that this is one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s most accessible films to date. This can also serve as a good template for how to make an ensemble picture right, a feat which seems really hard to pull off.

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