Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Boogie Nights (1997)

#34: Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997)

Since Hard Eight, his first feature in 1996, P.T. Anderson has pretty well made himself a force to be reckoned with. The only one I haven't liked so far, Magnolia, still gets talked up in so many surprising ways by so many surprising people that I think I probably need to see it again (it's the Biblical claptrap that tends to put me off). There Will Be Blood may yet become my favorite, with all the powerful currents animating it, but I've only seen it once.

That leaves Punch-Drunk Love and Boogie Nights, both of which I like a lot, but I'm going to go with Boogie Nights. It thrums with infectious energy and a heedless, fanatical style of moviemaking. It proceeds almost like a novel, telling the stories chapter by chapter of a handful of players in and around the Southern California porn industry, neatly capturing the transition from the brief post-Deep Throat period in the '70s that was marked by pretensions of art to the era of quickie video productions for the backroom VHS storefront market. 

There's a touch of Tarantino here, notably in casting '70s icon Burt Reynolds to play the arty porn director, and the influence of Scorsese has not been entirely absorbed yet—it's a soundtrack movie virtually by the road map perfected by Scorsese, and it's equally prone to elaborate setups done as much because he can as because they serve the interests of the story. The long crane and tracking shot that opens the picture, in the clip at the link, is a great example of these strains, setting the tone for the movie and introducing all the characters, literally in one fell swoop.

For me it's the performances that make this. Mark Wahlberg, who I'm not convinced has yet got the credit he merits across an accomplished acting career, here quietly disappears into the lead role of Dirk Diggler, the good-hearted porn star without a lick of talent north of the equator. The supporting players are all you could hope for from the stellar assembly, particularly John C. Reilly, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joanna Gleason, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy, and Luis Guzman. It's only Anderson's second, but I think it's already fair to start talking about tours de force.

San Fernando Valley 1977

Phil #34: Straight Time (Ulu Grosbard, 1978) (scroll down)
Steven #34: Police Story 3: Super Cop (Stanley Tong, 1992)

Approximately here is where toxic second-guessing started to have some unexpected and even ridiculously complicated domino effects. I've already said that I got cold feet on King Kong, which I originally had at #33. At #34, I had The Tenant as my sole Roman Polanski pick. But when I looked at it again (and wrote about it here for something else) I got more cold feet. Now I had a lot of cold feet. I changed my one Polanski pick and bumped it up a few more places—I will have more to say about my hesitation to push him too high or too often when I get to that pick—and went to my list of also-rans and grabbed Boogie Nights. Until now I had been preempting some of Steven's picks. Now I began to preempt Phil's—this was the first. Phil, whose list was turning out to be the most fluid of all three of ours, responded by slipping these titles off his list and switching in new ones. I can see the reasoning—more titles, less redundancy. Still, some strange things end up in weird places. And I felt a little bad that I didn't get to see what he had to say or where he'd rank them. All part of the gamble you take with a heady exercise such as this!

The other two movies I don't know. I remember wanting to see Straight Time when it was new, but I missed it and then completely forgot about it until Phil's pick here. Haven't seen the Jackie Chan either, but getting to it. And as long as I'm at it, I did get a look at Casualties of War the other day and liked it a lot. Sean Penn and Michael J. Fox, as expected, were a bit too much Hollywood star system for me, but they don't get in the way too much. I thought the bleak and doomy air of it was almost oppressively downbeat but at the same time sustained so nicely by De Palma. He's so good at amping up the emotional juice with those long swoopy swirling camera takes and so sharp visually, plus Morricone's music is about perfect. Definitely a good one, I'd say.


  1. Jeff -- I likely would have put Boogie Nights wherever it was that I put Rushmore (which I would have then left off). Truthfully, I've already written about it two or three times anyway, so it would have been difficult to come up with something new.

    I'm very interested in this new PTA film about Scientology--great trailer up on YouTube.

  2. I saw -- it does look interesting.