THE LIFE OF A DREAMER, THE DAYS OF A BUSINESS AND THE NIGHTS IN BETWEEN.
The movie that looked like it might reenergize Burt Reynolds’s career (it didn’t really) is a fascinating look at the American porn industry in the late 1970s. Reynolds visited real porn sets in order to better understand the industry. He later told Maxim, “I didn’t like it. When you meet those people, you want to put rubber gloves on and go take a bath.” There is something about that world that fascinates at first, but whenever you get to know it better you realize just how dirty it is. Boogie Nights addresses both those feelings.
The year is 1977. Jack Horner (Reynolds), a director of “exotic films”, is always looking for new talent and finds it in Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), a 17-year-old who works at a night club in Torrance, California and makes money on the side by letting guys pay him to jack off in front of them. Eddie dropped out of high school and isn’t really heading anywhere, which makes him an ideal subject for Jack. After an audition where Eddie has sex with one of Jack’s stars, Rollergirl (Heather Graham), the director knows that he’s found a star well-equipped enough to rival John Holmes. Eddie takes the name of Dirk Diggler and together with Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), he finds success in a string of porn flicks with action movie content.
As the decade draws to a close, Jack’s ambition to make high-quality pornography is threatened by the advent of video… and Eddie’s growing addiction to drugs makes it harder for him to perform on camera.
Things take a turn for the worse
Drugs and violence are always part of these people’s lives. William H. Macy plays an assistant director who’s married to a porn star (played by a real one, Nina Hartley) who insists on screwing other men right in his face regardless of what he thinks. That doesn’t end well, and neither do the occasional drug overdoses at Jack’s palatial home. As video begins to dominate the industry, things take a turn for the worse, and director Paul Thomas Anderson seems to argue that the 1980s is the time when pornography went down the drain. But he also views this business as rotten from the beginning, lacking any kind of morals and constantly having to confront its own seediness in the shape of bloody overdoses and mental collapses. Young Eddie still finds it attractive because of the easy money, sexy girls and a certain glamor to his stardom… but in the end few in the business can resist falling off the precipice.
Anderson was obviously inspired by Martin Scorsese; this film could just as easily have been made by him. The master’s style is evident in the editing, the characters and the way Anderson tells his story. The film is expertly cast, with Reynolds as the paternal filmmaker who thinks too highly of himself and Wahlberg as the kid who really has one talent that he uses to the hilt; the supporting cast has brilliant work from actors like Julianne Moore as Eddie’s maternal sex mentor, Macy as the humiliated assistant director and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the goofy boom operator who has a crush on Dirk Diggler.
An important part of the film is also the attention to period details (another Scorsese trait) in the shape of clothes, music and the whole feel of what porn looked like in the ’70s.
There’s a now-famous scene in the film where Eddie opens his pants and shows us his highly-touted, huge dick. Made of rubber, Wahlberg allegedly kept it as a souvenir. Perhaps that fake penis reminds him of the dark side of Hollywood where all it takes to succeed is a lack of inhibition. Unlike Dirk Diggler though, he was able to move on to great things.
Boogie Nights 1997-U.S. 152 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Lloyd Levin, Paul Thomas Anderson, John Lyons, Joanne Sellar. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Cinematography: Robert Elswit. Cast: Mark Wahlberg (Eddie Adams/Dirk Diggler), Burt Reynolds (Jack Horner), Julianne Moore (Amber Waves), John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, Heather Graham… Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Alfred Molina, Philip Baker Hall.
Trivia: Developed from a short Anderson made in 1988. Leonardo DiCaprio was allegedly considered for the part of Dirk; Sydney Pollack and Warren Beatty as Jack; and Gwyneth Paltrow as Rollergirl.
Golden Globe: Best Supporting Actor (Reynolds).
Quote: “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.” (Wahlberg)
Last word: “My memories of first discovering porno film in my pre-adolescence and then my stronger memories from adolescence which is the second half of the movie are certainly the grounding for any research that I did, and you know, I’ve just seen a million porno movies and I’ve read a lot about it. Sort of a general fascination with it. When I wrote the script I had never physically been to a porno set. I stayed away until after I’d written it. (Then) I kind of went and verified what I thought was the truth and was in fact the truth.” (Anderson, Indiewire)