Saturday, February 3, 2018

Boogie Nights

Director Paul Thomas Anderson with some of the cast of Boogie Nights

BOOGIE NIGHTS                B                    
USA  (155 mi)  1997  ‘Scope  d:  Paul Thomas Anderson

A sprawling yet deliciously entertaining work that recreates the late 70’s and early 80’s through the eyes of the San Fernando Valley porn industry, perhaps drawing upon the Richard Linklater indie film template in Dazed and Confused (1993), using a wall-to-wall musical backdrop as a kind of running commentary on an era defined by pool parties, drug use, and rampant sexual excess, all prior to the mid 80’s AIDS crisis that threatened to wipe out an entire industry.  Looking back at the disco era of John Travolta in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977), with many of the same dance moves appearing here as well, it was a much more innocent time, with Mark Wahlberg, in real life a drug-addicted kid at the age of 13, getting involved with racial violence and unprovoked attacks, charged with felony convictions, actually serving prison time before getting a new start, making a name for himself as rapper Marky Mark, appearing in several hip-hop music videos, even generating a #1 hit, Marky Mark feat The Funky Bunch - Good Vibrations - YouTube (2:37), while also working as a Calvin Klein underwear model before his appearance in this film altered his destiny forever, making him legitimate, successfully transitioning his career to acting.  Wahlberg, however, is a devout Catholic, and as recently as just a few months ago he has often sought God’s forgiveness for his appearance in this film where he appears as a porn actor (Will God forgive Mark Wahlberg for Boogie Nights? | Film | The Guardian).  Despite his checkered past, Wahlberg comes across as the All-American boy, not the brightest kid on the block, browbeaten by his emotionally abusive mother for not finishing high school and exhibiting better judgment, calling him a “stupid loser” who would amount to nothing, where his bedroom wall is filled with posters and is basically a shrine to all the popular figures of the day, Bruce Lee, Al Pacino, Cheryl Tiegs, Farrah Fawcett, and of course, hot muscle cars.  Like other filmmakers of his generation, specifically Martin Scorsese, the patron saint of American films, with Goodfellas (1990) considered a master class on filmmaking, Anderson is equally fascinated by the lure of Steadicam shots designed for shock and awe, creating a memorable opening shot, Boogie Nights (HD) - Opening Steadicam Scene YouTube (2:54), a single shot that cleverly introduces most of the central characters in the film, including Burt Reynolds as Jack Horner and Julianne Moore as Amber Wave, a porn filmmaker and his starring ingénue.  Reynolds had issues working with this director, thinking he was young and full of himself, believing each shot they did was like the first time it had ever been done, drawing too much flattery and attention to themselves, refusing to work with him afterwards.  He was equally steadfast in his refusal to initially take the role when offered, turning Anderson down several times, angrily denying him one final time, urging the director to leave him alone, with Anderson pledging if he could bring that same attitude to the role that he would be nominated for an Oscar.  When Reynolds saw a rough cut for the first time, he hated it, reportedly firing his agent for recommending the part, but he *was* nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category, also winning the Golden Globe, with many believing this may be the best work in his entire career.  So it’s interesting the resistance some of the participants expressed in making this film, like it was a dirty enterprise, fueling large quantities of guilt and regret.     

The film is an outgrowth of a short film made by the director when he was still in high school, a mockumentary on the life of porn star John Holmes, who sadly died of AIDS in 1988.  He was renowned for having the largest phallus in the industry, making over 500 films that exploited his manhood, with much of the film based upon real-life incidents.  In that introductory shot of nearly a dozen characters, the first cut is after catching a glimpse of Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), suggesting his character has greater importance and will be the most developed, basically anchoring the film, but all the many supplements each have their own story to tell, which may as well be the story of Hollywood, but by drawing attention from the outset to an idiosyncratic stylization, the film suggests this will be told in a different manner altogether than the Hollywood model.  Anderson is basically an apprentice to Robert Altman, imitating his ensemble style of filmmaking, such as Short Cuts (1993), where the power of the whole produces the greatest dramatic force, and in some respects, this film is to the porn industry what Nashville (1975) was to country music.  After a brief introduction, Horner is interested in exploiting Eddie’s anatomy, inviting him to a pool party in his home where he’s hoping to shoot some introductory scenes on the side, Boogie Nights Pool Scene  YouTube (3:30).  In what amounts to another bravura sequence, Anderson expands the roles while still illustrating how the business intertwines the various lives, where they are all connected like an extended family of loners and losers, with Jack assuming the role of the patriarch, and Amber, oddly enough, the mother figure, as she takes everyone under her wing, though this is basically a coming-of-age story for Eddie, who assumes the stage name of Dirk Diggler.  Still and all, like any business, there are petty problems and disputes, though none greater than William H. Macy as Little Bill, a frustrated man who’s porn star wife (real porn star Nina Hartley) is making it with everyone else in town except for him, leaving him to dwell in the Sisyphean hell of being doomed to eternal dissatisfaction.  What Eddie comes to realize is that he’s been blessed with “one special thing,” which in short order allows him to blaze to the top of the industry, becoming a shining star in the world of adult entertainment.  After receiving the first rush of money, Eddie starts collecting a new wardrobe, emulating the John Travolta disco style, while also purchasing a flashy red 1977 Corvette Stingray muscle car ( that exudes testosterone and virile masculinity.  In the flashing lights, Eddie is every bit a success, reaching the pinnacle of the American Dream, with adoring fans everywhere envious of what he’s got going on, both male and female, where his rapid rise to stardom is unprecedented.  Still, the kid maintains his innocence, remaining cute and likeable, extremely conscious that he treats everyone with respect.  With his friend and fellow porn star Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), they team up in a series of cheesy action adventures, having nonstop sex with women while fighting crime, as Jack is fond of developing storylines within the typical sex scenes that drive the business.  The bubble bursts at a New Year’s Eve party announcing the arrival of 1980, as Little Bill reaches the limit on the amount of humiliation he can stand, putting an end to it all in a grotesque spectacle of bullets and blood. 

The aftermath is littered in cocaine, finding every occasion a good reason to snort coke, and more coke, literally smothering themselves in the stuff.  Up until now, this little family group not only works together but socializes together, so they’re a fairly tight-knit group, but each has their own cross to bear, including Amber who is continually troubled by being unable to contact her son, missing him terribly in a messy divorce where the terms of visitation are not being abided to, as her ex simply refuses to allow their son to view a porn star as his mother, which causes her no end of grief.  There’s a dreadfully anguishing courtroom scene presided over by a female judge, Veronica Hart, another porn star, where the unresolved child disputes with Amber getting a raw deal were actually inspired by her life.  This perpetual hole in her life, in her self-worth, becomes one of the major themes of the film, a complete contrast to the endless party portrayed in the film’s beginning, offering a devastating portrait of loneliness, continually viewed as a mythical creature, which is how others see her, and sadly never taken for real (even by Jack), bringing an aching humanity to the role, with Julianne Moore nominated for Best Supporting Actress.  The other female staple in Jack’s ensemble crew is Roller Girl (Heather Graham), a vacuous Valley girl known for never taking off her roller skates, even in nude scenes, skating everywhere she goes, though she’s a loveable simpleton who mirrors the unfulfilled child expectations of Eddie, as she was also brought up to believe she’d never amount to anything, dropping out of high school, teased by the tasteless vulgarities of dumbass boys her age, clinging to Amber for emotional support, even going so far as to call her Mom, which only masks the glaring absences in their lives.  As quickly as Eddie rose in the industry, his descent is just as fast, strung out on coke, thinking of himself as invincible and a “star,” turning on Jack, getting fired, becoming a deplorable human being.  The downward spiral is a horrible thing to watch, slowing down, sapping the energy out of the film, a pathetic display of Eddie misjudging the situation, treating people callously and with total indifference, as if they don’t even matter.  But he receives a rude awakening, as he’s the one that doesn’t matter anymore, where the latter part of the film feels like a surreal fever dream of depravity and gloom, veering off the track, blind to the fact he’s literally become the “loser” that his mother warned him about.  The pitfalls that lay in store for him are based on actual events from the life of John Holmes, but it doesn’t make them any easier to witness, as they are outrageously tragic, leaving Eddie a broken shell of who he once was, crawling back to Jack with his tail between his legs begging forgiveness, asking to be reunited within the family once again.  Like a little boy needing a hug, it’s the start of his redemption tour, which includes a mirror scene stolen right out of Scorsese’s RAGING BULL (1980), Raging Bull Final Scene - YouTube YouTube (3:19), which was itself stolen from Marlon Brando in ON THE WATERFRONT (1954), I Coulda Been a Contender - On the Waterfront (6/8) Movie CLIP ... YouTube (2:42), with existential reverberations of Jack Nicholson staring a hole in himself in front of a mirror in the final scene of Five Easy Pieces (1970), though arguably the best of them all is Edward Norton in Spike Lee’s 25th HOUR (2002), a profanity-laden “Fuck You” racist rant about the city of New York that literally explodes off the screen, Edward Norton Rant 25th Hour - YouTube (5:14).  Eddie’s mirror scene is slight, by contrast, but comical, finally revealing the object of all the speculation, using a prosthetic model of course, ending the mystery, though drawing attention to that “one special thing” mantra.  Infusing the film with an inner compassion and a nonstop jukebox pounding out the hits of the era, many of the characters endure a similar descent, each in their own way, having to refamiliarize themselves with who they are at their core, with some staying in the industry and others leaving, and some sadly left on the wayside.

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