Boogie Nights (1997)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Eddie Adams of the San Fernando Valley works in a car wash by day and as a nightclub dishwasher by night, where in a seedy backroom he also gives strangers a view of what’s underneath his bellbottoms for a few dollars. Director Jack Horner (a silvered, pragmatic Burt Reynolds) spots Eddie from across the club and in his gut is convinced that Eddie has “something wonderful just waiting to get out.” He enlists Rollergirl (Heather Graham, quintessential teenage ingenue) to follow Eddie and offer him oral sex, and when she discovers what’s beneath his dishwashing whites, a (porn) star is born.
Anderson’s second full-length picture is a late-1970s dysfunctional-family portrait full of exacerbated lust, blowjobs, and cocaine-fueled confessions. It’s a sprawling, tumultuous fireball of a film that instead of putting the porn industry on a pedestal, shows the nitty-gritty of sex as a career through its humdrum sets and inner turmoil amongst the cast and crew. Just like any other family, there are petty disagreements and egotistical tantrums—from house mother Amber Waves (a scene-stealing Julianne Moore), abandoning her real son for a life of hedonism, to Reed Rothchild’s (John C. Reilly doing his best John C. Reilly) love/hate relationship with Eddie, soon-to-be Dirk Diggler, and Scotty J.’s (a perfectly awkward Philip Seymour Hoffman) consuming desire and obsession with Dirk. The family that makes porn together stays together, though, and with help from the forever-underused Melora Walters and Don Cheadle’s lovelorn Buck, this family sets aside their differences and for a while, at least, gets to ride Diggler’s coattails to sexual affluence and notoriety within their community.
Mark Wahlberg’s career-defining turn as Eddie/Dirk is as epic as the film; he spends the first half creating personal bonds, and the second half destroying them when they don’t align with his drug use and his ego. As Dirk and the rest of Jack Horner’s family make their way into the 1980s—which Anderson marks with a staggering sequence ending in a murder/suicide—they are shaken by the inevitable rise of video versus film, the need for “real people” from the porn-purchasing public, and the replacement of sex with money as a prominent aphrodisiac. Soon their intimacy begins to crumble, as does Diggler’s hard-on, and the old are sent to pasture and back to jacking off for a few dollars in a stranger’s car. Anderson could never leave his arc incomplete, however, and after a failed robbery attempt and gun-fueled Rick Springfield sing-along with robed Alfred Molina, Dirk eventually succumbs to his own vainglorious ways and apologizes to his mentor and the rest of the Horner family.
Amid inevitable comparisons to Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese, Anderson created something of his own, a wild, aptly penned blockbuster with less emphasis on the porn than on the industry. Samantha Vacca (September 18, 2pm at the Museum of the Moving Image’s Philip Seymour Hoffman retrospective)