Tuesday, January 12, 2010

BOOGIE NIGHTS (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997, USA)

Eddie Adams is a naïve young man who is ravaged by drugs and subsumed by his doppelganger, suffering an identity crisis that inflates then deflagrates his voluminous appurtenance. Director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson’s retrospective into the adult porn industry, when sexual mores loosened the Victorian knot of intimate bondage, is an ensemble tour de force imbuing each character with a humane profundity. Anderson begins the film with a beautiful three minute tracking shot through a local nightclub, the camera introducing the major players with delicate ease, a mature style of visual narration that doesn’t require a voice-over for exposition: instead, Anderson lets the story develop naturally and we visit each personage and examine their quirks and infatuations.
The basic story involves Eddie Adams, a puerile boy in search of himself, who becomes entangled in the camphor illusions and physical temptations of his desires. Endowed with very little acting ability but headstrong, he soon becomes a superstar in the porn industry, making blue films that he imagines to be more than exploitation. Mark Wahlberg infuses Eddie with just the right amount of innocence and charm, reveling in the money, girls and fashion; but he soon becomes lost in the personages of Dirk Diggler and Brock Landers, overindulging and underachieving until he is an impotent reflection. Burt Reynolds as director Jack Horner is exemplary; a Joe Sarno caricature that believes his work is more than sexploitation, which graphic sex is an elemental force of every story, and his intent is to make films…not cheap jerkoff fantasies. Julianne Moore as Amber Waves is the matriarchal force, the intrinsic glue that holds them together but she is victim to her own indulgences of drugs and estrangement from her children. The film is not concerned with the sticky details and gossip of the adult movie industry; it is about the people who inhabit this world of illegal activity and the effect of excess upon their lives. Though Anderson doesn’t exploit the narrative he does surprise with interesting and peculiar adventures: a naked odyssey that exposes the raw nerve of human nature and reveals the possible journey towards redemption. It is also a film about filmmaking, much like the cynical turbulence of Billy Wilder’s SUNSET BOULEVARD, where talking movies replaced the grand theatrics of the silent era: here, Jack Horner discovers the vulgarity of video and its uselessness as an art form and clings to his celluloid past. The fault with BOOGIE NIGHTS is the fact that the porn industry wasn’t glamorous in the 1970s and 80s; that it was still illegal and many young women where abused and assaulted on film and contracted deadly venereal diseases: to his credit, he particularly deviates from this conceit to show that indeed many where willing participants and enjoyed their careers. But the monolithic inheritance that dominates the story belongs to Dirk Diggler and his fall from grace…and his eventual rise once again.

Final Grade: (B+)

5 comments:

Samuel Wilson said...

I don't think Anderson was necessarily glamorizing 70s porn, but he may be guilty of romanticizing the fact that directors like Jack Horner still believed in narrative while porn in the video era learned to do without. The scenes with Wahlberg and John C. Reilly discussing their action heroes and performing action scenes show that Anderson has no illusions about the fictional films' quality, but still gives his characters credit for trying. That aside, the ensemble cast here can't be given enough credit for their collective work. Your grade is just about on the mark.

Shubhajit said...

Great writeup!!!

Yeah, I too feel Anderson wasn't really glamorizing the industry as much as he was presenting a deeply satirical (and even subversive) view of 70's American Dream.

Given its ensemble nature & epic scope, this might very well be Anderson's magnum opus. But then, so might be Magnolia or There Might Be Blood, such is his oeuvre.

Alex DeLarge said...

I like the term "romanticizing": Anderson didn't dwell on the dirty ugly side, but I agree that wasn't his purpose.
I think the character of Horner is right on the mark: he wants to believe that he is making some form of entertainment but has no illusions that it's "high art". But it's interesting how Horner's attitude changes whith the industry, as cheap video (quick flicks with no plot) takes over the market. The ending is a happy one as he's back to shooting 35mm and Dirk makes his comeback...so to speak.
And this looks and sounds great on Blu-ray. Grab a copy if you get a chance!

Chase Kahn said...

I think "There Will Be Blood" is Anderson's masterpiece, but I'm a big fan of "Boogie Nights."

I haven't seen it in a while, but the William H. Macy murder-suicide tracking shot set to Charles Wright's "Do Your Thing" has stuck with me ever since I first saw it - it's such a brilliant scene.

And you're not the first person I've heard say that the "Boogie Nights" Blu-ray is fantastic, which is a surprise given the seemingly quick and low-profile release it was given. I figured it would be a lazy transfer, but I'm gonna need to check it out, clearly.

Alex DeLarge said...

I can't wait for MAGNOLIA on Blu-ray next week: I've read reviews that the transfer is even better than BOOGIE NIGHTS!

After thinking about my response, the word that came to mind was "aftermath". Anderson does show the grimy side of this profession with Macy's climactic suicide, Amber Waves custody woes, Cheadle's failure to secure a loan because he's "in the business", and Dirk's pallid drug-addled downfall. But what Anderson fails to show is the aftermath of these incidents: he only gives us a happy ending, of sorts.
But I see Horner as the cypher for Anderson's statement on the film business in general, and his point isn't to be realistic but to be artistic. Exceptional film and glad to see some love thrown it's way!
I think THERE WILL BE BLOOD is a modern masterpiece too, and his best film yet. But I read today in Film Comment that his next project with Philip Seymore Hoffman examines the L. Ron Hubbard phenomena and the creation of Scientology. Can't wait:)