ATTN: Spoilers a go-go all through this write up.
Running Length: 155 minutes
Film master Paul Thomas Anderson created a mesmerizing piece of work that was released in 1997- Boogie Nights- a film that exhibits quality equaling that of his other well-known works, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love. The story follows the rise and fall of porn prince Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg), somewhat based on the real life John Holmes, a man perhaps most famous for owning a super-sized penis. Diggler’s adventures occur during the decadence of the late seventies. The friends surrounding him in the porn realm include porn director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), Rollergirl (Heather Graham), Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), and Little Bill (William H. Macy). Together they work as a family. Together, they make incredible mistakes.
Jack Horner: "I got a feeling that behind those jeans is something wonderful just waiting to get out."
The viewer is first introduced by way of a steady cam into a popular glitzy disco. Moving through the sea of night clubbers, the camera lingers momentarily on most of the main characters, which Anderson manages to carry off without it looking gimmicky. The young well-endowed man is discovered, given a test run by Rollergirl, and very quickly Diggler escapes his unencouraging homelife to join Jack’s cocaine-loving family. This film is chock-full of great scenes, from a fabulous split-screen montage & dance sequence to a late night trip to a bakery that practically turns into a bloodbath.
The unique movie-making techniques that belong to Anderson are subtle and more easily recognized and appreciated after looking at his other work as well. Shots focus in unobtrusively on every character, revealing snippets of conversation that allow a viewer to empathize with more than the lead actor. Through Diggler viewers are introduced to a larger world, the movie essentially becoming a sampling of the whole seedy industry amidst an era of glam and innocence. The story examines the height of dizzyingly upbeat nightlife, shortly before the culture’s heavy comedown-- society sobers up during the early 80s.
Anderson more often examines vulnerable people, most of which are well-rounded and virtually all are amazingly flawed in some capacity. Diggler is not a smart individual. He swells on his celebrity and eventually endures an extremely rough tumble back into brutal reality. Amber displaces her need to mother because she’s not allowed to be with her son. Soft and kind, Amber dotes on Diggler and does not see her cocaine habit as problematic. Rollergirl skates in and out of sex, physicaly gorgeous but obviously misguided in her youth. It is apparent she found the love she needed in Jack’s home. Obsessed with her wheel-laden boots, she plays a silly song about rollerskating while having sex. She’s a therapist’s dream.
Dirk Diggler: "What can you expect when you're on top? You know? It's like Napoleon. When he was the king, you know, people were just constantly trying to conquer him, you know, in the Roman Empire. So, it's history repeating itself all over again."
A couple specific scenes that make this film worth watching more than once to me:
1. The scene where Rollergirl and Jack pick up a guy for a sexscapade, combined with Dirk’s beginning downfall. The barely audible music reeking of dread remains steady throughout these scenes: Dirk masturbates in a truck for money, meanwhile in another part of town Jack and Rollergirl attempt to create pornographic history by recording a sexual encounter with a random participant picked up off a street corner. Diggler struggles to appease the insidious guy barking demands, but he can’t climax. Rollergirl tries to get it on with a young man in a limo, but the sex isn’t working. The camera switches back to Diggler. A group of guys pull up and join the trucker in beating up Dirk. Rollergirl flings her paramour off in anger. They trade nasty comments. Before getting chucked back out onto the street, the guy reminds Rollergirl of who he is—- he is the jerk who made fun of her in school. Meanwhile Dirk gets beaten to a pulp. Focus returns to Jack who throws the jerk out of the limo and onto the ground. The camera moves for a closeup on Rollergirl’s makeup smeared face, beautifully revealing the anger seething within her as she sits in the limo. She rises and proceeds to stomp horrendously on the guy with her skates. It’s a wince-inducing moment, and quite impressive how artfully her rage is captured; how even though she should not have pounded the guy with such damaging footwear, her pain is understood and sympathized with.
2. Perhaps the most memorable scene of all comes soon after this one: The duplicitous drug deal. Dirk and his crew are hooked on crank and penniless. After devising a plan to sell a ton of fake cocaine to someone, they arrive at the buyer’s house to find themselves in the center of a heavy duty coke binge. The mustachioed host jumps about his living room in a robe while 80’s music blares from the speakers. A young Asian fellow continually flings small firecrackers around, the loud pops making Dirk and his friends even more nervous. They jump with every bang of a cracker, and when first seeing this in the theatre I noticed that most everyone watching the movie jumped in their seats, too. “Sister Christian,” “Jesse’s Girl” and “99 Red Balloons” make an unforgettable soundtrack as the dealer screams nonsense and his guests sweat rivers. It is at this time, while another buildup is evident, that Dirk experiences his moment of clarity. The subtle, slow change in his expression as he realizes the absurdity of the situation that had resulted from his stupid addiction is terrific. This scene is one of many in which Wahlberg’s acting ability is evident. Inevitably the deal goes awry and the coke party ends in a blaze of gunfire.
Dirk soon returns to Jack, apologizes for his brash behavior, and all is forgiven. Jack’s porn family is intact once again. The movie’s end seems a relatively happy one, although anyone who has seen the documentary on John Holmes, “Wad,” knows that he would one day die of AIDS.
Sweet DVD candies:
The Boogie Nights DVD folds out to reveal two discs. Special features include 10 deleted scenes, “The John C. Reilly Files,” and two feature-length commentaries with Anderson and the main cast. Anderson explains that Leonardo DiCaprio was actually his first choice to play Dirk, but alas, Leo chose “Titanic” over the Boogie. Actors mention the fact that Luis Guzman was perpetually stoned during the majority of his scenes, and they gossip about who slept with who on set.
Bit of trivia: In one scene character Buck Swope refers to a "TK421 modification" he wants to make on his stereo. TK421 was the serial number of the stormtrooper that Luke Skywalker impersonated on the Death Star in Star Wars.
Another bit of trivia courtesy of bitter_engineer: Real-life porn star Nina Hartley plays the nympho wife of William H. Macy's character. No other porn actors were spotted playing parts in this movie.