Boogie Nights

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Mark Wahlberg (Eddie Adams/Dirk Diggler), Burt Reynolds (Jack Horner), Julianne Moore (Amber Waves), John C. Reilly (Reed Rothchild), Don Cheadle (Buck Swope), Heather Graham (Rollergirl), William H. Macy (Little Bill)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1997
Country: USA
Boogie Nights Poster
Paul Thomas Anderson's "Boogie Nights" is a shot of pure moviemaking adrenaline. Like a master craftsman who is just learning to walk, Anderson assembles the best parts of many other great movies, and reshapes them into a piece of pure dynamite. As vulgar as it is touching, "Boogie Nights" is an epic film that traces both the rise and fall of the Southern California porno film industry, and the development of a cast of interesting and well-drawn characters.

The center of the story is 17-year-old Eddie Adams (Mark Walhberg), who is not unlike John Travolta's Tony Monero in "Saturday Night Fever." Like Tony, Eddie is not very smart, has a lousy job, and dreams of being somebody. Early in the film, Eddie tells a girlfriend that someday he's going to be a "star, a bright shining star." And, like Tony's dancing abilities, Eddie also has a particular gift: he's, um, very well endowed.

While Eddie is working as a dishwasher at a disco club in 1978, Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), a self-proclaimed "exotic filmmaker" discovers Eddie, and invites him to be part of the business. After a fight with his mother, Eddie leaves home, and soon he finds himself caught up in a fast-paced lifestyle of sex in front of the camera by day, and dancing and snorting cocaine by night. He renames himself Dirk Diggler, and before long his exceptional manly attribute has taken him to the top of the adult film world. Like he always wanted, he has become a star.

In this world, he becomes part of an oddball family of filmmakers and porno stars, who support and nurture each other because they don't have anyone else. At the head of this family is Horner as the father-figure, and Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), one of the older actresses, as the mother figure. Amber takes Dirk under her wing because her own son will no longer see her. Dirk becomes friends with Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), another actor who he is even more slow-witted than he is.

The exceptionally eclectic cast also includes William H. Macy as Little Bill, the director of photography whose wife sleeps with everyone except him, and Heather Graham, as Rollergirl, a 17-year-old high school dropout who refuses to take off her roller skates, even during sex.

Anderson, who also wrote the script, builds the film along the same structure as Martin Scorsese's "GoodFellas." With a wealth of detail, Anderson depicts a lifestyle that most of us will never see, while he chronicles how that life evolves over the years. In "Boogie Nights," the character start out purely hedonistic, but by the end of the film, they are just trying to stay alive in a harsh, violent world that was bigger and crueler than they ever expected. Some of it is due to pure circumstance, but much of it has to do with their characters and, more essentially, their character flaws.

In "GoodFellas," the Mafia life changed when the characters moved from money laundering to dealing drugs. In "Boogie Nights," the life changes at the beginning of the 80s when the industry dropped film and adopted video as its medium. As minimal as this sounds, it actually rearranged the entire porn world because any vestige of artistry that had been there was wiped away. Video was cheap and available and it could go straight into the customer's VCR instead of playing at a theater like "legitimate" films.

Horner grudgingly makes the change to video, and nothing is ever the same. Early in the film, he proclaims that he wants his movies to tell stories along with showing sex. In this way, he is both a bit noble and a bit sad, because when we see clips of his movies, we understand just how sloppy and unartistic they are. The desire to be an artist is there, but the porno industry has no room for them.

"Boogie Nights" is kept alive during its 2 hour and 40 minute duration by sheer vitality of great performances and Anderson's energy behind the camera. Mark Wahlberg acts like a seasoned professional; what few film roles he's had before gave no indication of the range of emotion he demonstrates here as Dirk Diggler. Burt Reynolds effectively revives his career with his role as Jack Horner. He gives the sense of being a man who probably should be somewhere else, but somehow he got caught up in the porn world and was too successful to allow himself to get out.

As a director, 27-year-old Anderson has obviously watched a lot of good movies and appropriated many of their snazzy camera movements. Sometimes his direction teeters dangerously between being exhilarating and being unnecessarily showy. The opening scene is a five-minute unbroken crane shot that swirls around the streets of L.A. before entering a club and, while circling the dance floor, introduces us to almost every major character. It's a tour de force of camera work, and an ode to directors as diverse as Robert Altman and Orson Welles.

In the end, "Boogie Nights" is a masterpiece. At times violent, vulgar, hilarious, sexy, and sad, it taps the whole spectrum of emotions by being true to its nature. Anderson has taken a world that most people think of as filled with scumbags and perverts, and given us a glimpse of the usually unacknowledged human face. "Boogie Nights" works as both grand entertainment and as a morality play about the frailties of people and the dangers in becoming too caught up in being that bright, shining star.

Boogie Nights: PlatinumSeries DVD

AudioDolby Digital5.1 Surround
Dolby 2.0 Surround
LanguagesEnglish(5.1, 2.0), French (5.1)
SubtitlesEnglish,French, Spanish
Supplements Audiocommentary by writer/director P.T. Anderson
Audio commentary with P.T. Anderson and actors Don Cheadle, Heather Graham, LuisGuzman, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Mark Whalberg, and MeloraWalters
10 deleted scenes
The John C. Reilly Files
"Try" music video
Cast and crew filmographies

Apparently, writer/director P.T. Anderson was nevercompletely satisfied with the transfer on the 1998 New Line Platinum Series DVD of"Boogie Nights," so a brand new high-definition anamorphic transfer of the film byAnderson and Lou Levinson has been ordered up for the new double-disc Platinum set.While I always thought the first transfer was quite good, this new one is simply stunning.This is a reference-quality transfer, and it is just about perfect in every aspect. Presented inthe film's original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, colors are well-saturated and vivid, the image issharp and clean, and detail level is exquisite. Black levels are perfectly solid throughout, andthe image maintains a very film-like appearance.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is likewiseexcellent. "Boogie Nights" is filled with wall-to-wall music throughout, and the soundtrackdoes justice to the eclectic mix of '70s and '80s rock tunes that set the stage for so much ofthe action (the disc has a nice feature that offers a menu of all the songs so you can jump toa scene according to the music). The LFE channel gets a good workout as this is aparticularly bass-heavy mix, and the surrounds are very active whenever there is music. Fora perfect example of how excellent and multi-layered the soundtrack is, check out the drugdeal scene in Chapters 33 and 34. It is a tense scene involving loud music, dialogue, andfirecrackers going off, and it is all perfectly balanced, giving the sensation of disorientationwhile still allowing us to hear everything that is going on.

This new two-disc "Boogie Nights" DVD set combineseverything that was available on the previous DVD release with some of the supplementsthat had been available on the Criterion Collection laser disc. It is usually impossible tosecure material available from Criterion discs, but apparently P.T. Anderson owned therights to the supplements, right down to the cover artwork, which has also beenincorporated here. The first disc features two outstanding running audio commentaries, oneby P.T. Anderson alone and another where he conducts interviews with the majority of hisactors: Don Cheadle, Heather Graham, Luis Guzman, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore,John C. Reilly, Mark Whalberg, and Melora Walters. The Anderson commentary wasavailable on the earlier DVD, but the group commentary has been imported from theCriterion LD. Both commentaries are informative and entertaining, and Anderson'senthusiasm for filmmking is infective. The second disc contains 10 deleted scenes, one ofwhich had not been previously available on the earlier DVD (there is also the added bonusof some bordering-on-the-obscene test footage of Dirk's prosthetic 13-inch member hiddenafter the color bars). A nice addition is "The John C. Reilly Files," which is essentially acollection of hilarious outtakes and extended scenes of Reilly improvising dialogue. Thedisc also contains Michael Penn's music video "Try," which Anderson directed, as well ascast and crew filmographies of both the real-life actors and their fictional characters. Ofcourse, notably missing is the promised 30-minute segment from the "Exhausted," adocumentary about legendary porn star John C. Holmes, which was available on theCriterion laser disc. Although the segment appeared on a few early review copies of theDVD, apparently it had to be pulled at the last minute because of rights issues. This is agreat loss, indeed, considering that "Boogie Nights" is based loosely on Holmes' sad life.But, even without it this is simply a great DVD set.

Copyright ©1997, 2000 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (4)

James Kendrick

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