Thursday, April 26, 2012

My 10 Favourite Things About P. T. Anderson's Boogie Nights

When I first saw PTA's Boogie Nights, back on video sometime around 1998 (no, I did not see it in theaters at the time of its release for some reason or another), I hated it.  Really, I just hated the damn thing.  Could not have been less impressed.  Granted, it was my first taste of the auteur Anderson (his first film, Hard Eight, would actually not be sen until just this past year), long before Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood (the latter being one of the five best films of the last decade), and well before I would herald him as one of the best directors working in cinema today (if you do not believe me, just read this).  But anyway, I digress.   

So I decided to watch the film again, sometime in 2003 (after Punch Drunk came out) and really liked it.  Somehow, my mind had been changed, and rather drastically at that.  So with my mind now going in another direction (was I just in a bad mood during that first attempt?) and with There Will Be Blood now firmly encased in such a vaunted position, I decided to watch the film a third time this past year.  This time I would do it the proper way - or at least the most proper way outside of a 35mm print thrown at a silver screen - and project my newly purchased Bluray disc on the big screen at my darling Midtown Cinema.  Well, now we got ourselves one humdinger of a cinematic event (or is that hummer?  Hmmm?).  Now we get a film that is suddenly the blastiest of blasts.  Gorgeous.  Succulent.  Fantastic.  Awe-Inspiring.  Gleefully decadent.  All that kind of jazz.  Do I dare even say, a masterpiece?  Sure, I dare, let us praise it as a modern day masterpiece!   A masterpiece indeed.  How's that for a turnaround?  But I digress once more, and will now get on with why we are all gathered here today in the first place.

What follows is the long-awaited return of my one-time regular series known as My 10 Favourite Things.  I suppose it was once a favourite among those who matter.  The last one I did was nearly ten months ago, so it's about time, huh?  Yes it is.  Anyway, here are my ten favourite things about a movie I once hated - imagine that.  I have numbered things just to keep a general semblance of decorum, but really these are in no particular order, save for maybe the last one needing to be at the end, so do not take them as such.  And as always, there may very well be spoilers ahead, so for those who care about such things, ye have been warned.   Oh, and one more thing - if you are interested in even more PTA-related stuff, check out the piece I did over at Anomalous Material, titled, appropriately enough, The 10 Best Paul Thomas Anderson Characters.  Now on with the show.

1) Julianne Moore Showing It All as Amber Waves - Wow, she really is a red head.  Ha!  Actually we already knew this from Short Cuts. Seriously though, not only is Ms. Moore sexy as hell here, the actress shows just how damn good of an actor she really is.  Going from porn queen to mother hen to tragic heroine, Moore gives one of the finest performances of an already more than fine career.

2) The More-Than-Obvious Scorsese Connection - It is certainly no secret that Martin Scorsese is one of the biggest influences on PTA's career, but it is more evident in Boogie Nights than anywhere else in the auteur's oeuvre, and the most obvious Scorsese-influenced connection is to the master's 1990 modern day masterpiece Goodfellas.  From the rags to riches and back to rags story arc of Goodfellas' Henry Hill and Boogie Nights' Dirk Diggler to the ever-roaming, ever-moving camera of both films, the long, always-sharp-eyed tracking shots, Anderson shows his prowess as a filmmaker while also honoring his stylistic mentor with a hot-blooded homage.  To watch as Wahlberg's wouldbe porn icon weaves his way through clubs and pool parties and recording studios is like watching Ray Liotta leading a wide-eyed, bewildered Lorraine Bracco through the back passages of the Copacabana in Goodfellas.  Great stuff indeed.

3) Burt Reynolds and His Non-Comeback Comeback - Once upon a time, Burt Reynolds was the top box office draw in Hollywood.  He began in television and broke into movies in the early seventies in films like Deliverance and The Longest Yard.  Then Smokey and the Bandit hit theaters.  For five years running, from 1978 through 1982, Reynolds was the main man at the box office.  The main man!  Then, with films such as Stick and Rent-A-Cop and All Dogs Go to Heaven, came a quick and wicked stumble from stardom to has-been.  Relegated to appearances on game shows, the actor's career seemed pretty much over.  Then came a TV show called Evening Shade which ran from 1990 to 1994.  After the success of that he garnered a comeback in films as well with the one two punch of Striptease and Boogie Nights - the latter of which would earn him his first, and so far only Oscar nomination.  It was an award he lost to Robin Williams for his treacly performance in Good Will Hunting.  It was an award he should have won.  It was an award that would have gone to his performance of porn king Jack Horner - a role that was pretty much built just for the actor.  But alas, it was an award that would not be and it was a comeback that was quite short lived.  Now relegated to voice work on animated shows and video games, and the occasional guest spot on TV, Reynolds' film career is pretty much back where it was in the late eighties (his role as Uncle Jessie in the Dukes of Hazzard movie is the highlight of an otherwise stupendously bad movie).  But we will always have Jack Horner.

4) The Soundtrack That Brought Sexy Back -  Just how Scorsese's pop and rock infused Goodfellas soundtrack (see - another connection!) led us through the rise and fall of Henry Hill, Anderson's Boogie Nights soundtrack takes us from the beginnings of Dirk Diggler's meteoric rise during the golden age of porn to his darkest days in the 1980's age of excess.  From Jethro Tull and Three Dog Night to Hot Chocolate and K.C. and the Sunshine Band this is a soundtrack for the ages.  Well at least for the ages of my lifetime.  From God Only Knows by The Beach Boys to Rick Springfield's Jessie's Girl, from Best of My Love by the Emotions to Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now by McFadden & Whitehead to Andrew Gold's Lonely Boy (left off the official soundtrack), we grow with the characters from one decade to the next.  Of course the two best and most important numbers from the film, not only in the songs themselves but their connection with other parts of the film, are Melanie's Brand New Key (incidentally my current ringtone) and Sister Christian by Night Ranger.  But these will be addressed later on down the list.

5) Rollergirl as Male Fantasy Id Incarnate - Heather Graham may not be the world's best actress - or even close to it - but the girl sure can make a pair of roller skates sing.  As the troubled high school dropout who becomes a plaything both on and off the set (in those days of pre-Aids promiscuity, sluttiness was much more quaint) and rolls around on her skates - Melanie's aforementioned mesmerizing melody playing behind her - Graham's childlike sexuality (there's a strange-sounding concoction, but that is how best to describe the actress and character's more freewheeling sensibilities) steals much of the show.  And baby, she doesn't take off her skates for anything.  Not for anything.

6) A Wardrobe Blast From the Decadent Past - Now of course any film set in the time period of Boogie Nights is bound to showcase a kick-ass wardrobe, but the outlandish sensibilities of PTA's film make it even more kick-ass than expected.  Of course being set in the porn industry doesn't hurt either.  From Rollergirl's knee-high tube socks and hot pants to Dirk Diggler, Reed Rothchild and Buck Swope's array of disco-era fashion, there is no doubt the wardrobe department had one hell of a good time coming up with how to dress their cast.

7) The Other Guys In and Out of the Shot - Speaking of the fashion sense of Reed Rothchild and Buck Swope, John C. Reilly and Don Cheadle do more than an admirable job living up to their being cast as porn studs.  Granted, they may not have a certain attribute that Dirk Diggler has (see number ten in our list) but they hold their own as the necessary second string stud material.  We also get Philip Seymour Hoffman as Scotty J., a typically queer (in several senses of the word) PSH kind of character and William H. Macy as Little Bill, the most pathetic but also possibly the most sympathetic character outside of Moore's Ms. Waves.

8) The Batshitcrazy World of Rahad Jackson and Sister Christian - Now there are a lot of great scenes in Boogie Nights.  Okay, pretty much all of them.  But even with all this greatness (and this from a guy who hated the film on first sight!?), there is one scene that goes bananas over all of them - batshitcrazybananas!  That scene is near the end when Dirk, Reed and Todd go to coke dealer Rahad Jackson's pad in order to (stupidly, mind you) rob the noted maniac.  Alfred Molina's  one-scene cameo performance as the maniacal Jackson, and his rendition of Night Ranger's Sister Christian, is pure cinematic bravura.  In other words - batshitcrazy!

9) The Long Gone Halcyon Days of the Golden Age of Porn - Once upon a time, porn was something very different than what it is now.  Granted, it was still very far from respectable, but back in the 1970's, the porn industry was filled with men and women that wanted to create art - and believed they actually were.  Compared to today's age of internet porn excess (really, who can not find every single pornographic fetish with a mere click of a mouse!?) this so-called golden age was an age of porn auteurs.  Films like Deep Throat proved that one could create porn with certain artistic values.  Sure, it is not high art, but at least at the time, it was some sort of art.

10) And Then Came Dirk Diggler and the Money Shot - Sure, we all know it wasn't really Mark Wahlberg, but a rather lengthy prosthetic, that made its long-awaited appearance in the final, money shot of the film, but that does not take anything away from its thunderous, unzipped screen debut.  I mean really, we are talking about porn, and this is what it is all about.  After all, as Diggler says, everyone has something special, and this was, his thing.


Dave Enkosky said...

This might very well be my favorite movie of the nineties. Although not really billed as a comedy, damn near every scene in this movie is hilarious.

Kevyn Knox said...

Indeed. I think behind Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction, this may be my third favourite of the decade.

Chip Lary said...

Rollergirl would be at the top of my list, for all the reasons you mentioned.

Anonymous said...

I still don't like this film much - primarily for reason # 2 on your list. I don't think it is Scorsese 'influenced' so much as Scorsese 'lifted completely'. The story arc, structure, pacing, tracking shots, camera movements, etc. are all lifted so directly from 'Goodfellas' that I fail to understand how this knockoff gets such lavish praise - except maybe for the fact that young guys like to watch films about porn without having to feel guilty or embarrassed. Simply transposing Goodfellas from the world of organized crime to the world of 70s/80s porn may be a good marketing technique among the adolescent set, but it doesn't make for a great film.

Blogger said...

I've just downloaded iStripper, so I can watch the sexiest virtual strippers on my taskbar.

Blogger said...

Order a Sparkling White Smiles Custom Teeth Whitening System online and SAVE BIG!
* 10 shades whiter in days!
* Results Are Guaranteed.
* As good as your dentist, for a fraction of the cost.
* Same Teeth Whitening Gel as dentists use.