Saturday, 28 February 2009
Boogie Nights; erotic drama, USA, 1997; D: Paul Thomas Anderson, S: Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, Heather Graham, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Thomas Jane, Philip Baker Hall, Alfred Molina, Nina Hartley
San Fernando Valley, '77. The 17-year old Eddie works as a dish washer in a night club until porn director Jack Horner discovers his large penis and lets him star in his movies. Eddie finds a new name as Dirk Diggler and makes a stunning career as a porn actor, together with Rollergirl, divorced Amber, Rotchild, Buck and others from Jack's group. But then the 80s start and signal their downfall: Dirk becomes a nervous drug addict, the video shows up and destroys the screening of porn films in theaters, Jack experiments with films while many crew memebers have financial troubles. In the end, Dirk returns to Jack and begs him to forgive him.
You really have to admire Paul Thomas Anderson: for his only 2nd film, at a tender age of 27, he placed his hand in the hornet's nest when he chose to daringly make a film about pornographic industry. "Boogie Nights" is an incredibly brave and ambitious film, a one that 99 % of all respectable directors would avoid in fear that its "low subject" could contaminate the film itself, but Anderson has such an absolute author's vision that he can even show explicit intercourse scenes and make it look as if he is floating above it in superior observation. Maybe the film would have worked differently, even better if he didn't show those erotic scenes from imaginary porn movies at all, but even in this version it seems brilliant, albeit not for conservative viewers, thanks to Anderson's virtuoso direction: in one of those extraordinary moments, a 3 minute long scene shot in one take, William H. Macy's character Little Bill enters Jack's mansion just 3 minutes before New Year, accidentally hits his head on to "Goodbye 70s" sign, goes to the party, and then to a room where he spots his wife once again sleeping with another man for the 100th time, and then looses his patience, exits the building, gets his gun, returns, shots them both and then himself, exactly in tune to the crowd chanting: "5, 4, 3, 2, 1..." to greet the New Year.
It's an amazing scene, but also from the symbolic perspective, since his death also marks the death of the 70s spirit and the start of a new, dark era of 80s where all the characters will experience a tragic faith. The film observes how the 80s marked the return of increasing conservatism and intolerance that caused the decay of the system the protagonists were working in, and yet how they are branded as porn actors and thus can't do any other job. It's unbelievable how the tricky theme was handled with ease and how the long running time just melts away thanks to the energetic execution: thanks to Anderson's passionate obsession with his material, "Boogie Nights" are charged from start to finish, and even banal scenes like the one where Buck is picking doughnuts at a store seems fascinating. Still, even though the lost focus towards the rather chaotic end isn't a problem, the viewers sense that it should have been. Also, the screenplay is at times rather empty and repetitive. All the actors were well picked, from Mark Wahlberg as the main actor up to real porn actress Nina Hartley, but the best job was delivered by Burt Reynolds (who won the Golden Globe and New York Film Critics Circle Award as best supporting actor) as porn director Jack Horner who just wanted to make a porn film that would intrigue the audience with its story, and not with its nudity. He maybe didn't achieve it, but Anderson did.