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Boogie Nights
1997 - R - 152 Mins.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Producer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written By: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Heather Graham, Julianne Moore, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Luis Guzman
Review by: John Ulmer
   

I'm never going to escape my singing past...
'Boogie Nights' uses its protagonist, Dirk Diggler, as a metaphor for accumulated celebrities from a decade in America's shameful past, which was comprised of an unexpected rise in pornography, therefore resulting in an abundance of corrupted youth. Its lead character borrows traits from a various assortment of genuine actors, involving himself in many illegal affairs that have been dabbled in by celebrities in Hollywood, and all-too-often exploited by the press. It seems like the sort of tall tale that might appear on an E! True Hollywood Story special. Drugs, sex and violence -- the American Dream. But what goes up must come down, and the bigger it is, the harder it falls.

Dirk Diggler's dreams are huge, as is another valuable asset on his body. Dirk's real name is Eddie Adams, a Californian who dreams of becoming a star. He believes that God gives one great talent to every individual on the planet, and his gift is a rather unusual one. After falling out with his mother, Eddie leaves home and meets the sleazy Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), an adult film director who offers him work. Eddie eventually becomes a major porn star, representing the leading "actor" in most of Horner's films. With newfound success, Eddie is told that he needs to invent a new alias for himself, and so Dirk Diggler is born.

Eddie/Dirk himself is primarily based on infamous porn star John Holmes, whose life story was adapted in 2003 with 'Wonderland', which starred Val Kilmer. 'Boogie Nights' is unarguably the better of the two, proving that movies about pornography can be made without disgusting its target audience: regular cinemagoers.

The film takes place in 1977, an era of artistic pornography -- filmmakers truly believed that they could compensate for the low points of X-rated features by adding deep stories and mesmerizing atmosphere. In a way, the film's director -- Paul Thomas Anderson -- implements a very artistic approach to the project, resulting in a gratuitous and artistic movie about a period in American history when smut was indeed both gratuitous and artistic. Anderson's style is so deep, and so distinct, that we soon feel as if we are reliving the era first-hand. Not a moment goes by where we are unconvinced of the time range dealt with in the film.

All was not happy on the set of 'Boogie Nights'. Prior to filming, Anderson approached Reynolds repeatedly, asking him many separate times to play the role of Horner. Eventually, Reynolds agreed, but claimed that the film was horrible and the worst role of his career, publicly disowning it, before being nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award and suddenly shutting up. A year before, Anderson had suffered title disputes over Sydney/Hard Eight. He preferred the latter title for his film, and New Line Cinema thought the former was more marketable. He essentially lost the battle, and Anderson wisely avoided title disputes this time around by inserting the words "boogie nights" into his movie through the mouth of a character.

The casting of the film is one of its finest aspects. The Paul Thomas Anderson regulars are here, as well as a whole top-notch cast of first-timers. To name some of the more well-known stars: John C. Reilly, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman, William H. Macy, Heather Graham and Julianne Moore. But the entire movie essentially borders down to Mark Wahlberg, as Eddie, who is surprisingly convincing in his role. Wahlberg, previously known for his singing career and disappointing Hollywood pursuits, has all the necessary traits to portray such a character. This is his best role to date.

Anderson knows how to captivate his audience and take complete control of every scene. When Jack Horner first meets Eddie, Anderson slyly uses stars in the backdrop, a sign of things to come, and hidden symbolism as finely acute as it can be. The opening scene is three minutes, a long tracking shot that follows Jack and Amber into a night club, where most of the characters are first introduced. It reminds me of the discussions regarding tracking shots in Robert Altman's 'The Player' -- it works so brilliantly in Boogie Nights, and is the first indication that Anderson knows what he is doing behind the camera. His style is fast-paced in the vein of Martin Scorsese, where shots zip around quite quickly but never seem rushed. Incidentally, Anderson references two classic Scorsese shots -- the closing De Niro mirror speech from 'Raging Bull' and the tracking nightclub scene from 'GoodFellas'. Anderson is a young, growing director who is remarkably mature in story and direction, despite his age. Whereas his first feature film, 'Hard Eight', was noticeably wise and poignant, 'Boogie Nights' is even more so.

'Boogie Nights' began as an effort of love on Paul Thomas Anderson's account. Having filmed the extraordinary Hard Eight in 1996, Anderson's film is pragmatic to such an extreme that it almost seems genuine. Boogie Nights invigorates us with its gratuitous content, occasionally bordering on the verge of pornography, only it is far more sophisticated than such trash. It is a blazing, wonderful modern-day masterpiece that is as mind-numbingly explicit as it is wild and stylish. Arguably Anderson's best film and among the greatest -- and most important -- projects of the last decade.
 
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

 
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