Saturday, June 14, 2014

Boogie Nights: A Look Back at a Decadent Decade

Filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights (1997) is a compelling exploration into the adult film industry during the late 1970s.

Boogie Nights is a captivating snapshot of the late 1970s and early ‘80s and the adult film industry before video, DVDs and the Internet turned it into a $15 billion-a-year cash cow. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson effectively captures the temper of the era in all its hedonistic decadence, from the casual sex to the illicit drug use to the loose morality that defined the decade. What could have been a depressing three-hour cautionary tale of the era’s excesses turned out to be a fascinating and thoughtful examination of a group of flawed individuals who form a familial bond in the most unlikely of circumstances and settings.

Strong Cast Brings Film To Life

The film boasts a stellar cast that includes Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy and Philip Baker Hall. Screen veteran Burt Reynolds turns in one of his finest performances as adult film director Jack Horner. Jack has designs to be a “real” filmmaker, meaning he wants to be taken seriously as a director outside of the porn industry. He feels that his work will one day be respected by mainstream audiences and ultimately change people’s perceptions of adult films. His ambitions reveal how different things were back in the late '70s in that some thought that X-rated movies would eventually become a legitimate and respected genre in mainstream filmmaking. In Reynolds' hands, Jack is a compelling character, who is by turns charming, scary, paternal and sleazy.

In a star-making performance, Mark Wahlberg plays troubled teen Eddie Adams who stumbles into the adult film industry. Eddie’s an emotionally wounded kid who’s constantly belittled by his bitter, shrewish mother. His caring but browbeaten father provides him little help from his mother’s verbal assaults. Eddie’s in sore need of someone who will make him feel that he has some value and will provide him unconditional love. Jack and the crew of his production company take Eddie in and become his surrogate family and provide him the unconditional love that was missing in his real family.

It turns out that Eddie’s a natural, as he’s, shall we say, gifted in an area that would make him very bankable in the adult film business. He rechristens himself Dirk Diggler and has a short reign as the top male star in the adult film industry before drugs and ego take him down. Diggler’s character is loosely based on real-life porn star John Holmes who went from being top dog in the porn biz to a desperate drug addict, eventually dying from AIDS-related complications at 43 in 1988.

Drug-Fueled Violence

This film contains several disturbing scenes of graphic violence, most of them triggered by excessive cocaine use. However, these scenes are not gratuitous but are necessary to show the brutal reality of the environment in which the characters inhabited. Probably the most chilling and riveting scene in the entire film takes place when Dirk and his two buddies Reed Rothchild and Todd Parker (played by John C. Reilly and Thomas Jane, respectively) get in over their heads when they try to rip off wealthy and dangerous drug dealer Rahad Jackson (brilliantly portrayed by Alfred Molina). The scene unfolds like a great piece of music. The tension builds and builds until it reaches a crescendo of heightened emotion and violence. Anderson has said in interviews that the scene was inspired by the real-life 1981 Wonderland murders in which John Holmes was involved. Holmes was on the scene when the crime took place, but it was never confirmed whether he participated in the actual murders.

 Great Use of Popular Music In Setting Mood

Anderson deftly utilizes some choice tracks in creating the proper mood in his scenes. Like Martin Scorsese, he has a knack for picking just the right song to perfectly set up a scene. Some of the artists and bands featured on the film’s terrific soundtrack include Marvin Gaye, the Ohio Players, the Beach Boys, KC & the Sunshine Band, the Commodores, Electric Light Orchestra and Eric Burdon and War.

Paul Thomas Anderson Delivers With Boogie Nights

In only his second feature film, Anderson proved that he was filmmaker of great vision and talent. And although he was working with a large cast, he managed to make the viewer get emotionally invested in each character. Following Boogie Nights, Anderson continued to display his gifts as a writer/director with excellent films such as Punch-Drunk Love, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood. He always manages to get the best out of his actors. And when watching Boogie Nights, it’s clear that Anderson was a student of legendary director Martin Scorsese. Any Scorsese fan will notice the Scorsesian touches throughout the film. However, Anderson definitely has his own unique and original style of filmmaking, and he will no doubt continue to make compelling films.

Boogie Nights at Amazon

Related blog entry: Review of Paul Thomas Anderson's First Feature Film Hard Eight

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