I went almost twenty years without seeing this film, and I’m so glad that I finally watched it as a part of my Blindspot challenge. Boogie Nights (1997) is your typical P. T. Anderson film – with a long run time, fantastic ensemble cast, sprawling storylines, and some marvellous direction. Boogie Nights tells the story of fictitious porn star Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg), who began his life as high school dropout Eddie Adams. Eddie is scouted by porn director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) as he works as a nightclub dishwasher. The story follows Eddie/Dirk during his adventures and misadventures in the pornography industry of the late 70s and early 80s (apparently known as the Golden Age of Porn), as well as the exploits of a number of minor characters as per director Anderson’s typical style.
What a film. I am ashamed that it took me this long to finally watch Boogie Nights as I absolutely loved it. I’m not sure I would normally find this particular story interesting, but there’s something about the way P. T. Anderson tells stories that hooks me in every time. Boogie Nights is the story of one flawed individual’s rise, fall, and redemption, and P. T. Anderson is a genius at showcasing these types of stories.
In addition to this, P. T. Anderson is the master of the ensemble cast, and the cast list for Boogie Nights reads like an Oscar nomination list. There are stunning performances by Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds (who was actually nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his performance), John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, the list goes on. This brilliant ensemble is led by a surprisingly great Mark Wahlberg, who shows a vast amount of depth in his performance as Eddie/Dirk. It’s the subtle things about his performance that wowed me; the desperation in his eyes both pre- and post-attaining fame that conveyed a message that even if Dirk Diggler is the best porn star around, he’ll always be Eddie Adams who wants more from life, who wants to be a star. Dare I say it, even Heather Graham gives a brilliant performance as Rollergirl; a high school student who works as a porn star, and also always wears rollerskates, because why not?
It’s difficult to say who gave my favourite performance in this film because when I think about it, I loved every actor for a different reason. That’s when you know you have an amazing cast. And when I think about it, that’s how I feel about all of the P. T. Anderson films I’ve seen so far.
It almost goes without saying that the direction is perfect. Throughout the entire film there are some stellar panning shots, with long takes to show all the characters within the one scene or setting. For example, at the very beginning of the film we are treated to a hugely long shot where we meet all the key players in the story, from Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) and his wife Amber Waves (Julianne Moore – one of my favourites) sitting in a prestigious booth at a nightclub, then the camera looks through to all the characters, some of whom are on the dance floor, then the camera takes us through to Eddie Adams who is washing dishes out the back. It’s shots like these that are so memorable and take the film beyond regular storytelling and into epic territory.
Visually and aurally the film is a treat. Visually, the cinematography goes hand in hand with the direction – absolutely amazing, cheesy 70s and outrageously poor taste 80s set design and art direction, as well as costuming that is very authentically tacky. There is some fantastic cinematography during every party scene where particular attention is paid to the arrangement of people within the audience’s frame of vision. Aurally, the soundtrack is absolutely fantastic with killer tunes from the 70s and 80s, not to mention some fantastically awful singing by Mark Wahlberg (that video has one of my favourite mini-moments in it – John C Reilly’s enthusiastic dancing is hysterical).
Boogie Nights is a film you should definitely see if you haven’t already. Its portrayal of the so-called Golden Age of Porn feels very authentic and the storytelling is sublime. We see the buildup, degradation and potential for reprise of one Dirk Diggler, the hardest working man in porn at the time, someone who wants to tell stories but also wants to be bigger and better every day. The story is a simple tale of morality at its core, but is illustrated in such a way that it could even be considered a masterpiece. A most excellent film that is simultaneously devastating, confronting, hilarious and emotionally affecting.
Watch the trailer here.