Wednesday, October 22, 1997

Interview: "The Porn Next Door"

Philadelphia City Paper, Written By Cindy Fuchs
October 22nd, 1997


Boogie Nights director Paul Thomas Anderson looks back fondly on the glory days of skinflicks.

Paul Thomas Anderson appreciates porn. He not only watches it, he's studied and thought about it, as demonstrated by his much-acclaimed film Boogie Nights, which explores the many dimensions of porn, as genre, philosophy, business, cultural metaphor and art form.

In person, Anderson is an endearingly regular 27-year-old, lanky white guy, enthusiastically well-versed in movies of all types, visibly tired after attending last night's New York premiere party and doing interviews all day today. His shirttail is sort of untucked and his brownish hair is tousled; he wears glasses, smokes cigarettes, drinks coffee.

Boogie Nights follows the career of porn star Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg), from late '70s to early '80s, when the porn industry changed over from film to video. Before video, the porn industry seemed poised to do something new. "I think," says Anderson, "that a new genre could have been born: a sex film with a story and characters. These films existed for a time: Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door, Amanda By Night, or any of the early Johnny Wadd [John Holmes' recurring character] films. It was a great concept, a murder mystery and a fuck film, which scene do you want to watch more? Will he solve the case or is he gonna fuck the woman? It's great tension, sex while the bomb is ticking."




Video, however, changed all that. Anderson breaks it down: "At $5 for a 60-minute tape, it encourages an assembly line mentality, just shoot, shoot, shoot. You don't need to think anything through. So now it's all kind of crap." And watching porn is different now, too. He says, "There's a line [in Boogie Nights] about putting video projectors in theaters. There's nothing more pathetic than going to the Pussycat Theater, with 500 seats and a fucking video projector. The quality of the movies is different. I would have spent money to go to a theater in the '70s. There was a story, it could be a date movie."

The two-and-a-half-hour Boogie Nights expands on a short film Anderson made when he was 17, The Dirk Diggler Story. The idea for it emerged from his own experience growing up in the San Fernando Valley. "Porn was always around, always," he says. "I knew what was going on. I went to school in Montclair, and there were these industrial-looking buildings, with no signage, but you'd see people going in and out; you knew what they were doing."

He cast Wahlberg as Dirk Diggler (née Eddie Adams), a charming and prodigiously endowed young man looking for a stable family, following a suggestion by his first choice, Leonardo DiCaprio. "I think anyone who saw Basketball Diaries was like, look at Marky Mark, he can act, he just stole the movie from DiCaprio? And it was so clear, immediately, that what I thought was funny, he thought was funny, and not just the obvious jokes. When he said that he loved the karate move that Dirk makes toward John Doe by the pool, I thought, 'You're in."'

Wahlberg embodies what Anderson sees as Dirk's flexible appeal. According to Anderson, "He's so sexual. I find him appealing sexually, I think everybody does. Not really in the big dick way, it's something else, less threatening." But Dirk becomes enthralled with his own image. "With the '80s and the drugs, everything's taken a toll on him. That happened in John Holmes' life and it was reflected in the character he played [Johnny Wadd]. We did the same thing with Dirk, and in the movie I blame the drugs and ego-building."

Anderson is handling his own sudden celebrity with a healthy sense of irony. Comparisons with Tarantino, Scorsese and Altman are "all very nice and flattering," he remarks. "And part of you wishes their film vocabulary went back further than four years ago. But it's fine. I asked for it."

His own sense of the film is that it's part ethnographic, part personal recollection and part social inquiry. For him, the character played by William H. Macy, Little Bill, "is the guy who's walking around in the movie with the subtitle, 'It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt.' He's two different characters, a guy who finds his wife with other men, so he's in pain, and then a weird kind of blank, by-the-numbers pro, instructing actors on the set. This is where he gets some kind of masculinity back, or some kind of strength back, not being around her."

He emphasizes, however, that social and political commentary isn't his primary interest in the film. "That's there," he says, "and people are noticing it, and I thought about it, but it was in the back of my mind. My first concern was the moral and political and social structure of Jack's fucking house: there's the pool, and the living room, and the bedroom, here's the office. That's what the movie is, first. That's not to say that the other stuff isn't there."

When I ask him if he thinks the film is nostalgic, Anderson is unapologetic. "It's nostalgic to me, because it's about the Valley when I grew up, through the music and the clothes and the neighborhoods where I lived. And I absolutely feel romantic about the glory days of '70s porn, the filmmaking, people trying to do good work. Yeah, I'll romanticize that forever.''

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