Thursday, October 23, 1997

Interview: "The Son Of Ghoulardi Lives!"

Cleveland Sun, Written By John Urbancich
October 23rd, 1997

Paul Thomas Anderson is chip off the old creative block

TORONTO -- "Boogie Nights," the fabulously energetic film from 27-year-old Paul Thomas Anderson, ends more than 2 1/2 hours after it begins with two dedications.

One goes to Robert Ridgely, the veteran character actor who plays "The Colonel," a distributor of pornographic films. The other dedication is to network TV-voiceover king Ernie Anderson, the icon better known to Cleveland baby boomers as "Ghoulardi" for his memorable 1963-66 stint as Friday-night host of "Shock Theater" on WJW-TV.

"He made me, you know," Paul Thomas Anderson says about the father who died one day before good friend Ridgely last February. "He had a massive influence on me. I think he had a pretty wonderful and twisted sense of humor. He was very cutting-edge in a lot of the Ghoulardi stuff that he did.

"He was a one-of-a-kind man. I mean, really one of a kind."

Young Anderson, speaking last month on the eve of his film's premiere at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival (it tied "L.A. Confidential" as the critics' choice), grew up in Los Angeles where "Dad" was the recognizable voice behind "The Lo-o-o-ve Boat" and many other shows.

This writer/director/producer does recall one memorable trip to Dad's hometown, though.

"I never lived in Cleveland," he says, "but I was there once with him. Growing up, he was just my dad and he would just go and do his voiceover gig, but that was no big deal. He would tell me he did this Ghoulardi thing, and I would say, "You're my dad. You're just a knucklehead. You were never any big deal,' and I would roll my eyes.

"But when I was 11 or 12, I went to Cleveland with him because they were presenting him with some award and, literally, when we were stepping off the plane in the airport, everybody knew him, and you'd think the Beatles just stepped off the airplane.

"And it was just sort of "Wow! My dad's not a geek. My dad's cool. Everybody knows him!' It really became clear to me how huge it was."

Though Anderson's first film, "Hard Eight," was mostly embraced by critics earlier this year, "Boogie Nights" is the one destined to put him in the forefront of Hollywood's young filmmakers. Starring Mark Wahlberg as a teen-ager whose special endowments help him become a porno-film star in the '70s, the movie was originally rated NC-17 before Anderson agreed to "adjust."

"What you saw is an 'R'," Anderson says. "It was a long battle and we held the release back about four months because we had to deal with the MPAA (ratings board).

"All told, it's really only about a minute and a half that came off the movie. No scene was removed. It was just a matter of trimming stuff back a little bit."

So is Anderson worried about the way his film will be treated (read: accepted) in America's heartland?

"I don't know if I entirely buy the concept that somehow Los Angeles theater-goers are any different from Midwest movie-goers," he answers. "I think audiences in general are smart. They know good movies, they know different movies, they know movies that are exciting. I think, across the board, it doesn't matter where you live. People are just dying for something new and original.

"Hopefully, they'll take to it because it's a good movie," Anderson concludes. "I think it is a good movie and that's one thing my dad always said: "Just be so good they can't ignore you."'

Any of Ghoulardi's self-respecting "purple knifs" would agree.

Bodacious "Boogie"

The movie scene of the year comes in the magnetic last reel of "Boogie Nights," director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson's epic of a family disguised as X-rated filmmakers during the dizzy disco days.

It features bottomed-out former porn king Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg in a starmaking turn) and two pals trying to scam a wealthy drug lord (bathrobed Alfred Molina in what looks like a wink at Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" persona).

While coke-crazed Molina waves a gun, his Chinese henchman gleefully tosses firecrackers, instigating alternate laughs and starts from spellbound viewers. Hip Clevelanders might swear they can hear the ghost of legendary horror host Ghoulardi (Anderson's late father) shouting, "Cool it wit' da boom-booms."

There are other socko scenes, too, after a tony track shot welcomes a first family of pornography that includes Pop and Mom figures, producer Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) and star Amber Waves (Julianne Moore). Rollergirl (Heather Graham), Buck Swope (Don Cheadle) and Little Bill (William H. Macy) have their own intriguing stories, all told with rare, raw verve by 27-year-old Anderson.

His precocious talents -- spurred by a spunky soundtrack -- keep "Boogie Nights" swinging hard and fast.

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