Friday, October 17, 1997

Interview: "X Marks The Spot"

Philadelphia Daily News, Written By Gary Thompson
October 17th, 1997

Boyhood Porn Film Site was a Quest for Anderson

Anderson recalls seeing film crews setting up to shoot a dirty movie at one of the houses on his block. When he grew up (he's still only 27), he went on a grim porn quest, renting X-rated movies in hopes of spotting his neighborhood on tape.

He never found it, but he became increasingly interesting in the behind-the scenes aspect of the porn business, which struck him as a warped, pathetic and altogether fascinating business.

"My fascination with porno is that, in a twisted way, it can be incredibly funny one moment and incredibly sad the next. That feeling is something I wanted to capture,'' said Anderson, who visited some porn sets to get a feeling for the scene. ``I did just enough research to verify that what I thought was the truth was in fact the truth. My assumption turned out to be on the money, although the business was sadder than I thought.''

His Boogie Nights is a 1970s period piece about the heyday of porn - when the movies were still shot on film (today it's grainy video), when porno directors had pretensions of making art, or at least artful smut.

The movie's provocative subject (remember the hullabaloo surrounding The People vs. Larry Flynt?) and Anderson's eye-catching technique have made him and his movie a sensation this season.

His work has drawn obvious comparisons to Altman and Scorsese, although the structure and tone of the movie have similarities to Ed Wood, Tim Burton's biography of a man purported to be the worst filmmaker of all time.

Anderson acknowledges the resemblance.

"I think both movies admire people who have the desire to do good work, and who make the effort. Whether the work is good or not is ultimately not important. We are charmed by and in love with the fact that they want to try,'' said Anderson, whose Boogie Nights is the story of a director (Burt Reynolds) and star (Mark Wahlberg) trying to make Hollywood-style movies with pornographic content.

"A hack is a damn hack,'' Anderson said, ``but a filmmaker who has bad taste but is trying his damnedest is to be admired.''

Anderson, at age 27, is trying his damnedest. And succeeding, by most accounts. Boogie Nights is earning high praise, and Anderson may soon surpass Quentin Tarantino as the hottest young director in Hollywood, if he hasn't already.

Anderson does tend to stand out among other Generation X directors, whose work is often genre-bound, self-referential and small in scope. His ``Boogie Nights'' is a sprawling, epic account of American culture, spanning the '70s and '80s, and crossing several generations.

"A lot of people of my generation have been beaten down, maybe by low expectations, into not taking risks. There's so much negativity that ambition seems to be like a bad word. I want to push myself, to experiment. I want my work to have an audaciousness.''

That includes wading into the porno pool at the same time Milos Forman was being attacked for making ``The People vs. Larry Flynt,'' criticized by feminists for being soft on pornographers.

"We were editing when that controversy came to a head. All I'm going to say is that I pinned Gloria Steinem's article to the editing board. I loved it,'' he said. ``I don't think, given the content of my movie, that we're going to get the same kind of flak.''

Probably not. Anderson gives the characters in ``Boogie Nights'' a full measure of humanity while managing to make the exploitative nature of the industry apparent.

And for a movie about sex, it's not very sexy. The sex scenes are more clinical than titillating (part of Anderson's point), and the movie's ``R'' rating stems more from violence than sex.

"I'm not really interested in how pornography fits into some universal moral framework. I wanted to explore the society that this little culture creates for itself. And that's about all I'm going to say about it'' he said.

"There's nothing worse than listening to a filmmaker tell you about his movie, and you're like, 'Hey jackass, why pay $7.95 to see it?' ''

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