Monday, October 27, 1997

Interview: "Porn Tale Has Moral Overtone"

Now Magazine, Written By John Harkness
October 16th, 1997


With a single small film under his belt, little seen but highly regarded Hard Eight writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson wants to paint on a broader canvas. Which brings us to Boogie Nights, co-winner of the Critics' Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, a film that sprawls across almost a decade in the life of the L.A. porn industry from the late 70s to the mid-80s.

Anderson is all of 27, so there is no autobiographical element in this film.

In a room at the Sheraton Centre during the film festival, he says, "I'm from the Valley, which may explain a few things." Well, a few -- the San Fernando Valley, over the mountains from L.A., is home to the porn industry.




Puritanical age

"Plus, I've seen many porn movies, not to mention that I know some people in the industry. The story itself is a combination of many things, plucking things from this person's life and that person's life, some of them in the porn industry, some of them in the legitimate industry. It's a mish and mosh of various things.

"There are elements of John Holmes in the story, elements of Shauna Grant. There's a lot of the Coreys -- Corey Feldman, Corey Haim -- in Mark's character."

Given our puritanical age, Anderson found it easy to finance a two-and-a-half-hour movie about the porn industry.

"I went to New Line and they said yes right away. Now when I was cutting the film, there were a couple of days when New Line got nervous about the length, but I told them all along that this was how long it was going to be. I think finally they were happy that it wasn't three hours long."

As someone with vivid memories of the late 70s -- and who saw his share of porn films in the great faded picture palaces of Times Square -- I was most impressed with the precision of the period recreation. The 70s remain a fashion nightmare -- all that polyester, all those colours not found in nature -- and the first half of the film is filled with flared pants, puffy perms, bad moustaches and wide collars.

Anderson says, "A lot of the wardrobe was found -- about 75 per cent we found in people's closets and in thrift shops, and the rest we made. It's hard to find now, not because it's passé, but because it's very back."

The other part of the recreation that impressed me was the dead-behind-the-eyes quality of the acting -- while there are and were a handful of decent actors in adult films, most of them are not.

Hardest thing

I've often thought the toughest test for any actor was Teach's opening line in American Buffalo -- the five repetitions of the phrase "Fuckin' Ruthie" -- but a greater challenge may be for a talented actor to play a person who has no acting talent acting.

"It's fucking impossible," observes Anderson. "It's the hardest thing in the world to act that stuff. They all did it well, but Julianne Moore (as a porn starlet named Amber Waves) is unbelievably good at it. The trick was memorizing the lines, so that you're not playing it, you're just reciting the words.

"It's something I said to all the actors when we started the film -- 'You think you're good actors? Wait until you try to play this stuff.'"

The actors get to play for real in their other scenes, and I say to Anderson that the presence of actors like Bill Macy (he played the professor in Oleanna) and Rick Jay (from two Mamet films) occasionally make the movie sound like a Mamet film.

"It seems that way because they're Mamet actors. They're wonderful. Most actors in the movie are like that. Everything I wrote is in the movie, because they all tend to deliver dialogue very precisely, so you can hear every word. It's a certain style of acting that's so specific and wonderful. I really like actors."

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