Toronto Sun, Written By Bob Thompson
October ??, 1997
Boogie Nights shows that nothing exceeds like excess
Sometimes a great notion can lead to really awful revivals, or at least encourage ones that already exist. For instance, there is a movie called Boogie Nights opening on Friday. It's written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, who made a name for himself with a quietly ambitious portrait of a gambler called Sydney, which is fine.
For an encore, Anderson decided to investigate the soft-porn industry that flourished in the '70s. He enlisted some decent actors to portray the "family" of film folks who made the dirty pictures in and around L.A. during the '70s and '80s.
In the feature, Mark Wahlberg is Dirk Diggler, Julianne Moore is Amber Waves, Heather Graham portrays Rollergirl and John C. Reilly is Reed Rothchild. Don Cheadle is Buck Swope, and for fun Anderson cast Burt Reynolds to play the director of the corny sex-capade flicks.
To heighten the essence of the bitter-sweet tale, Anderson affectionately uses the disco culture -- clothes, drugs and dance music -- to put a fine point on his examination of excess.
Trouble is, Anderson may have done too good a job with recalling the '70s. The word is that Boogie Nights, although sometimes dark and dangerous, actually makes the platform heels and tight polyester of days gone by seem valid again.
"It's not my fault," says Anderson, who is laughing at the charge of inciting yet another disco craze, but also seems slightly defensive in a mocking kind of way.
This is his testimony.
"I wanted to do the movie that parallels what it's like watching porno," the 26-year-old director asserts. "Which means, at one moment, it's funny, then sad and depressing, and then incredibly campy and fun."
Anderson does all that by showing very little skin and not much in the way of sex, despite the nature of the movie. He does dress up the picture with subtle '70s reminders underlined by a soundtrack that contains such disco generation ditties as Best Of My Love, Machine Gun and Jungle Fever.
The object of his exercise was not to define a generation. "I would not be so bold to do that, and it would just be pretentious anyway."
So he's not recycling.
What he's really doing is following through on a youthful memory deep within the recesses of his childlike nostalgia.
This is his American Graffiti.
"The movie comes from the fact that I lived in the San Fernando Valley, which is where 90% of the porno films used to be shot," Anderson says. "It kind of surrounded me in a peripheral way.
"But I remember as a kid watching porno films, and I also remember the industrial parts of town where those concrete buildings with no signage were, and I remember the people coming in and out of them, and I knew they were doing something that didn't involve lifting boxes."
Years later his obsessive "fascination" has resulted in, whether he likes it or not, a sharp definition of the Saturday Night Fever in all of us. "I was young but I was paying attention," he says.
There were the vests, the fringes, the heels, the fast red cars, the tight tops, the bell bottoms, the checks and prints, the indiscriminate sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll.
"It's built in for most people," Anderson admits. "If you are being true to the period, you don't have to be campy, and you don't have to help it along. It's just right there in front of you. All you have to do is try to get it right."
Anderson chuckles. "Actually, when we were going back through the magazines of the '70s, it was sleazier than we remembered, so we had to play it down."
Important to Anderson was including the "roach clip as a hair piece with a feather hanging from it."
Look for it.
Also catch the firecracker sequence featuring the Night Ranger song Sister Christian, a pop rock tune of the early '80s that really belongs in the '70s, and ranks as one of the dumbest and most over-produced pop songs ever recorded.
It's also perfect for a scene setter showing a how-low-can-you-go? moment in Boogie Nights.
Inadvertently, it's all you need to know about the sad 'n' silly side of doing time in the "me" generation of the '70s.
"Ya know," says Anderson, "it's a bitter pill to swallow, but swallow it.
"I think there has been a time in all of our figurative lives when we've been trapped with firecrackers going off in a room with Sister Christian in the background."
You want Anderson's considered sociological Boogie Nights opinion?
"That much '70s porno and that much '70s cocaine is going to equal Sister Christian every time."
THE PAUL ANDERSON FILE
BORN: San Fernando Valley, worked as an assistant on TV game shows and movies in L.A. and New York, and several independent films.
FIRST FILM: Borrowed a camera to shoot his short Cigarettes And Coffee, which premiered at the Sundance Festival four years ago. Subsequently allowed to do his first feature, Sydney, later called Hard Eight, starring Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly and Gwyneth Paltrow showcased at Sundance and Cannes last year.