Comedy / Drama / Films

Boogie Nights

The 90s were a remarkable time for movies – the rise of indie studios like Miramax, New Line and Lions Gate lead for a new cinematic wave, with numerous original, intelligent and very well made movies gracing the screen. The decade has a lot in common with the 70s – the pre-Star Wars years, before the summer blockbuster changed how studios functioned. Numerous up and coming young directors – raised on a 70s diet of Brian De Palma, Kubrick, Scorsese and Coppola – came of age, and for the first time movies were born from movies, filled with stylistic homages to the past. It was the decade that gave us Tarantino, who’s Pulp Fiction proved heavily influential and gave new, indie directors far greater studio pulling power, directors like Paul Thomas Anderson. PTA came onto the scene in 1996 with Hard Eight and the film was a critical success, but it wasn’t until PTA’s second movie, Boogie Nights, that he really found his feet. Boogie Nights stands as one of the best movies of the 90s and an interesting starting point for the man who would later make the amazing There Will Be Blood. boogie2Boogie Nights is set in the late 70s/early 80s and follows Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), a young man lacking direction in life but blessed with a rather large talent. Said talent draws the attention of porn filmmaker Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) who takes Eddie in and makes him into a star, under the new name Dirk Diggler. We follow Dirk’s rise through the porn industry and meet numerous colourful characters along the way – fellow porn stars Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) and Roller Girl (Heather Graham), William H. Macy’s downtrodden Bill, Don Cheadle’s Buck, all of whom have their own stories to tell – this isn’t just Dirk’s tale, though he’s the focus, and we watch as the new star finds his place in a seedy world which might not be the wonderland he was hoping for. boogie1For a film based in the porn industry, PTA never lets things get sleazy. The film is honest and frank in its depiction of sex, which here, is a business, and a rather cold and mechanical one. The film approaches porn from the point of view of the characters and so the focus is never so much on the industry itself but what it means for everyone involved – Dirk sees it as a form of acceptance and purpose, for example, whilst Jack sees it as art. By doing this, PTA retains the films innocence and this is for the most part, a light and fun film, with a lot of heart. The characters are likeable and engaging and it’s very easy to go along with them; the film works as a great ensemble character piece with porn more of a catalyst for the characters to grow. There’s no judgement here, which helps, and like Brett Easton Ellis, PTA is able to make unsavoury characters sympathetic as they’re all so well written. boogie3In fact, Boogie Nights is more about drugs and its era as opposed to porn. The film is shot in a 70s grainy style and the costumes, music and cinematography create a dazzling throwback to the decade. The movie feels like it could have been made in the 70s itself, so believable is its world. And the film charts its journey across two decades, the happy, hedonistic 70s and the rise of cocaine, which leads into the dark, selfish and cruel 80s years. The film, in its 70s scenes, is optimistic and comedic, and things become progressively darker in the later years. PTA makes us care about these characters before putting them through hell, which is why the bleaker sections towards the end are so powerful. There’s a great sense throughout of change – the rise of video and the death of film – and the characters in Boogie Nights are firmly fixed as relics; they can’t keep up with the changing world and so it rejects them. The entire movie can be viewed as a metaphor for progression and failure to adapt – the 70s standing as the prime peak before the bubble bursts, and these characters don’t know how good they have it until its gone. The film’s long running time allows PTA time to develop his characters, destroy them, and build them back up again, and Boogie Nights is one of the movies where its length works in its favour, allowing the audience to become completely absorbed in the film.boogie6It’s a remarkably competent movie throughout and very well directed, with an excellent soundtrack and numerous long Steadicam shots. PTA, for such a young director, is incredibly confident here, and though at times his youth shows (some of the movie is rather heavy-handed – the party murder which brings in the 80s is a little on the nose in its symbolism) Boogie Nights is a brilliantly directed and engrossing film, built on the strength of its dialogue and ensemble cast. PTA is able to switch from comedy to drama and pathos with ease and the film has a natural, organic flow with some amazing set pieces. The coked up conversation between Moore and Graham is not only filled with great character insights, it stands as one of the best representations of ‘cocaine speak’ ever put on film. There’s an extremely tense drug-deal towards the end – punctuated by firecrackers exploding – which is fantastic, and a great, sudden scene in a diner. PTA has a lot in common with Tarantino – snappy dialogue, great use of music and bursts of random, graphic violence – and this is best illustrated by Boogie Nights, which is probably his most fun film.boogie4The cast are great throughout. Mark Wahlberg is slightly amateurish at times – the argument with his mother is a little bit cringe-worthy, but generally, comes across as a young, naive boy in over his head. He’s stupid, and he has an ego, but he’s likeable and the audience care for him. He’s really the heart of the movie. Burt Reynolds is the glue holding the cast together and comes across as stubborn but with a fatherly edge; he takes broken people under his wing, and it’s sad to see his industry fall out beneath him. His belief in making art through porn is funny with a hint of sadness, a theme which applies to Moore’s Amber Waves – dependent on cocaine and desperate to see her estranged son, Waves wants to be the mother of the group and Moore is brilliant at displaying her spacey sorrow and non-awareness. Heather Graham is sexy and loveable with a hint of loss and this is her best role by far – the scene in the car as Jack tries to reinvent the industry is brutal and Graham is very harrowing in it. Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy and Don Cheadle are great too in their small roles. This is an ensemble and everyone is at the top of their game, throwing themselves into the material. boogie8Boogie Nights is a wonderful and very well made movie, with a great deal of heart, as PTA manages to switch from comedy to drama, illustrating the rise and fall of the porn industry from the perspective of his interesting characters. Boogie Nights deserves credit as one of the best movies of the 90s.

5/5

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One thought on “Boogie Nights

  1. Pingback: Don Jon | Some Films and Stuff

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