Tuesday, August 25, 1998

Interview: Neon's 10 Films That Influenced Boogie Nights

Neon Magazine UK
August ??, 1998


1.  Putney Swope (Robert Downey Sr.) (1969)
"I came across it at a video store when I was fourteen or fifteen. I got it because Robert Downey Sr. seemed interesting to me because I'd just seen Robert Downey Jr. in some little movie. I was also having a 'black culture' phase in my life, and this seemed like a real cool movie to watch. When I watched it, it was the first time I realized that you could be really punk rock in a movie. You could do just anything: it didn't necessarily have to make sense. As long as it was funny, or funny to the guy who was making it, it would come across as exciting somehow. It was made in 1969, and at the time, Downey Sr. style was considered to be very odd and very avant-garde."

2.  Nashville (Robert Altman) (1975)
"I actually just got a print of this to screen tonight because it's my birthday and that's what I'm going to watch. This film is perfect, absolutely perfect, to me. It's a cinemascope movie, which I love, and so incredibly bold. The long camera takes, the overlapping dialogue, the multi-track recording that he first implemented here. And to have all these stories but still keep you interested, it's amazing. The film feels so natural, dirty and fucked up, but so cutting-edge. Nashville gets me speechless - it's just one of his best. For me, it's right up there with The Long Goodbye."




3.  GoodFellas (Martin Scorsese) (1990)
"Performance-wise, it's so amazing, but this was the first movie to show me techniques that I'd spotted in a lot of French filmmakers, like Truffaut, and showed me how they were interpreted by a director who I was in awe of. I have a really personal take on this one, because it showed me cinematic things. He threw the cinematic fucking sink into this movie, which is really exciting. The long travelling shot into the Copacabana...some stuff I did in Boogie Nights is compared a lot to that shot, which I obviously admire. But the funny thing is there have been so many shots like that. You can trace that back to Max Ophuls, doing these intricately long things, and obviously to what DePalma has done, but Scorsese was doing it first (of the modern directors). What's obnoxious and so fucking brilliant about Scorsese is that he does these pretentious, insane camera moves that suddenly make perfect sense, and has this incredible forceful energy, but he's never showing off. He's the biggest show-off in the world and we don't even see it."

4.  Singin' in the Rain (Stanley Donen) (1952)
"Everyone needs a musical, right? I'd actually have to make this a tie with Ernst Lubitsch's The Merry Widow (1934), which is also a great movie with Maurice Chevalier. But Singin' in the Rain meant a lot to me because the story, in the way there was this transition from silents to talkies. And Donald O'Connor, when he dances in 'Make 'Em Laugh', he's amazing. It's chock-full of everything you want to go see in a movie musical: handsome people, bimbos, studio executives that chew on cigars...It's colorful and it's fucking funny. And even it sucked, and Gene Kelly's 'Singin' in the Rain' number was basically the whole movie? It would still be one of my favorites because everything in it is so beautiful. Kelly is just so good."

5.  Shoot the Piano Player (Francois Truffaut) (1960)
"I always loved gangster movies, but if you've seen a hundred of them you've seen two hundred of them, right? But in this, Truffaut took the American gangster movies that I knew and loved as a kid  all that Humphrey Bogart stuff - and turned it on its ear. It was shot in Cinemascope, which was pretty much reserved for big budget Hollywood movies. And it also re-invented the gangster genre, and it took it somewhere brand new and postmodern: our hero could be a little skinnier and not so tough. One of my favorite things in this film is, this guy's driving the car and he's saying, 'may my grandmother drop dead if I'm telling a lie right now,' and it cuts to a shot of his grandmother falling down on the floor dead! Then it cuts back to the scene and that's all there is. That said to me, if one can do that, one can do a million other insane things. This film also taught me how I wanted to dress - I wanted to wear those suits! I wanted to be in that movie! The people in the film weren't typically handsome, but they were so sexy and cool."

6.  The Jade Pussycat (Bob Chinn) (1977)
"This is like Hitchcock doing a porno. It may not be one of my top ten films but it's a film I recommended to the Boogie Nights cast to watch as research. For me it makes sense because it's the quintessential porno film. It's sexy. It's got a murder mystery and an action hero, John Holmes, that we love. It sucks - I know that - but it's so enjoyable to watch, not just in a horny, get-off watch a porno kind of way, but as a really bad B movie. You're just as eager to find out what's going to happen next in the story as you are to watch those two people fuck. The structure is, like, 'You have to solve crimes, but you also have to take time for the ladies.' It's just brilliant."

7.  Soy Cuba (I Am Cuba) (Mikhail Kalatozov) (1964)
"Funnily enough, even though the movie does swell to an emotional place, it's not really the thing that affects me. I couldn't even really tell you the premise of this one. It's just a bunch of one shots. There's a girl and a love affair and so forth. It's pretty simple and straightforward in terms of plot. It's the beauty of the scenery and the cool shots these guys pull off. The movie behind the scenes of the movie is better to me. I imagine these guys creating rigs for the camera to do all these insane shots. The camera work is all wide-angle 10mm lens, which is done in these continuous one-shots. I took the going-underwater shot in Boogie Nights from this. It's like, they do all these technical things, but what you feel is the joy of them experimenting and inventing as they go along."

8.  Melvin and Howard (Jonathan Demme) (1980)
"Jonathan Demme is my favorite director by far. His films to me have these rough edges, that he so perfectly creates. Things are just slightly off in certain moments, but they are perfectly modulated and he has meant to put them there. This one doesn't just hit me emotionally, in terms of latching onto the guy who just misses a break...because he's essentially a loser, but a sweetheart. But It's the first twenty minutes. All that's going on is two guys talking in a fucking car - and that's it! This to me is heaven. Then the film branches off with one of them and we watch his life unfold. It's so fucking amazing the way the movie sets you up to accept whatever happens. It's like you've just been sucker-punched. And it is so well written and so well performed. A lot of my first film, Hard Eight, is patterned after Melvin and Howard's kind of structure - I just didn't do it as well."

9. Stray Dog (Akira Kurosawa) (1949)
"Ah! Akira Kurosawa! This is what I call a 'pop song' movie. It's so simple. It's very serious. And it has the simplest plot you can say in one sentence: a rookie cop loses his gun, he has to get it back. It's unbelievable. He sets out to recover the weapon by going undercover for a while in the city's 'lower depths'. And this movie opens, immediately, with a bang, which I love. The first shot is a fucking close-up of a guy saying, 'I lost my gun.' Funny thing: Truffaut's in France, ripping off American gangster movies, Kurosawa's over in Japan doing the same thing. They're sitting there going, 'We love Howard Hawks, we love Raoul Walsh,' and all that.. and then they take them home, mix it up and take it to another level. And you know what else is great? When the violence happens, it's not gratuitous - it fucking hurts. It's not like seeing a 1949 movie where someone gets shot. It's, 'shot in the stomach', Fuck! Ow! Dead! Blood everywhere!"

10.  Bay Day at Black Rock (John Sturges) (1954)
"Can I make it a tie with Sweet Smell of Success [Alexander Mackendrick, 1957]? For me, once again, the first one is so simple in its storytelling. You'll notice that a lot of these movies that I like are simple in their storytelling and I can't write one for shit! Again, it's in cinemascope, which is so wide and luxurious. I like it big...I just think in cinemascope I guess. When I pay money to go to the movie, when it opens, I like to see it open all the way. And Spencer Tracy's performance is the quintessential performance. You know that phrase they always use to describe him? 'He's not doing anything and it's perfect'. But what I got from this one is the thing for me about film dialogue. It balances what is real, and what it really sounds like and how we talk and communicate. Then you pick moments to make a point or to pump something up to play...then you can write the thing back to that person that's just insulted you. That's what makes it movie dialogue. With Sweet Smell..., talk about me learning something from movies! I mimicked the way Curtis and Lancaster talked. All of the rhythms and syntax. Clifford Odets wrote the quips and it's so smart-ass and so dark and probably one of the greatest scripts ever written."

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