Detroit News, Written By Susan Stark
October 30th, 1997
Producer, director and screenwriter Paul Thomas Anderson was all of 7 years old in 1977, a vintage year for the porn film troupe whose '70s adventures and '80s misadventures he chronicles in Boogie Nights.
Yet Anderson says he has firsthand memories of the particular gestalt of the era in California's San Fernando Valley, where he grew up, where the film is set and where the porn industry still thrives.
"I remember how things looked," Anderson says by phone from Los Angeles. "And I can remember at 10 or 11 knowing how porno films looked. My dad was one of the first guys on the block to have a VCR."
In preparing the script , which looks at a porn director and his professional "family" from the perspective of a humanist and social historian, Anderson allows that he has become something of an expert on how porno films look.
"Yeah, I've seen a lot of them," he says glumly. "I've seen a lot of them from a half-sociological point of view, and I've seen a lot of them from a horny young man standpoint."
All that research, whatever the motivation, certainly shows up in Boogie Nights' on-the-set passages. Yet make no mistake. This is a film about an era that provided a fertile climate for porn flicks. It is not a porn flick about porn flicks.
Take it from one who knows.
In 1969 the Scandinavian import I Am Curious, Yellow bashed down the door for big-screen porn here. It was the first sexually explicit film to play art houses, not porn houses.
Back then, I was working at the Free Press. The News, in its wisdom, not only refused ads for X-rated films but also omitted reviews of them. Meanwhile, yours truly was dispatched not only to review mainstream X-rated movies like Midnight Cowboy, A Clockwork Orange and Last Tango in Paris but also dozens and dozens of hard-core porn flicks.
I remember cracking up Free Press Managing Editor Neal Shine with this lament: "You've got bananas, plums, grapes. And you've got just so many orifices on the human body. We've been through the whole fruit salad. How long can this go on?"
By the time suburban matrons were sneaking out to watch Linda Lovelace and Marilyn Chambers do their thing, I figured the porn craze had run its course. Then the gauzy Emmanuelle movies - so-called soft porn flicks - played the suburban mall theaters. And hardly anyone came.
In little more than a decade, the porn boom had gone bust - or at least, out of the theater and into the bedroom. I look back on the era as a kind of belated adolescence for the movie industry and its audience. Sex remains a major element in mainstream pictures, but it's certainly not the almost clinical view mandated in the porn films of the '60s and '70s.
Against my theory of our cinematic adolescence, Anderson puts up one of his own: "The social and political things I wasn't aware of as a kid ... I show in the film as things that define an era. We wanted to do all kinds of drugs, but we all ended up in AA. And this one we don't deal with, but it's certainly out there: We wanted free love, but we got AIDS."