Boogie Nights (1997)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #445

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Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: October 10, 1997
Sub-Genre: Cult Film
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $15,000,000
Box Office: $43,100,000
Running Time: 155 minutes
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Producer: Paul Thomas Anderson, Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin
Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cinematography: Robert Elswit
Score: Michael Penn
Editing: Dylan Tichenor
Studio: Ghoulardi Film Company, Lawrence Gordon Productions
Distributor: New Line Cinema
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Heather Graham, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzmán, Thomas Jane, Nicole Ari Parker, Philip Baker Hall, Robert Ridgely, Nina Hartley, Melora Walters, Alfred Molina, Ricky Jay, John Doe, Joanna Gleason, Laurel Holloman, Robert Downey, Sr.

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Walter Egan Magnet & Steel

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There’s always one kid in class that gets preferential treatment once puberty comes a knocking. While most of us slap our dicks against our locker doors in attempt at stirring that additional inch before communal shower time comes, it is customary for one guy to be packing extra spam in his trunk. I remember gym sessions only too well and with no great fondness I might add. However, the truly disheartening part was the moment when I heard the words “time to wash those peckers” and this particular man-child unleashed his white worm from its lair once more. To be fair, I felt no more inadequate than any other, as we all came up woefully short alongside the Centaur. To rub salt in our slugs, he even sported a fully furnished beard…at thirteen! I often ponder whether he made it as a porn star. If not, then he definitely missed a trick.

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Small town boy Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) may have taken his sweet time exploiting his own special purpose but finally he appears to be primed for the big time. One minute he’s a lowly busboy and, the next, that bulge in his pants has shown up on just the right radar. “Exotic” film director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), catches glimpse of his vacuum-packed saveloy during a night out with his associates and promptly informs Eddie that his true skills are being frittered. Naturally, the lad is reluctant to slide out his gargantuan girth to a complete stranger and refuses to masturbate on cue. However, having dropped out of high school and apparently heading nowhere special, he eventually comes around to Jack’s way of thinking, thus Dirk Diggler is born.

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The adult film industry is perhaps the only one whereby you can get away with being known as Dirk. Fortunately, Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly) knows the score and offers to take young Diggler under his wing to help him settle in. The first act introduces us to all manner of larger than life personalities as we are chaperoned about Jack’s pool party and introduced to his affable entourage. Think of The Brady Bunch with added boners and you won’t be far off. Regulars include club owner Maurice Rodríguez (Luis Guzmán), fellow actor Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), porn governess Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), saucy sex-kitten on wheels Rollergirl (Heather Graham), downtrodden producer William ‘Little Bill’ Thomson (William H. Macy) and timid boom-operator Scotty J. (Philip Seymour Hoffman). They all seem pretty indigenous and, more critically, all make the golden boy more than welcome and us too.

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What follows compiles six-years of sex, class A’s, and disco, as we are plunged beneath the sheets of the thriving seventies Los Angeles porn scene and allowed up close and personal for those all-important cum shots. Director Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, Inherent Vice) strikes precisely the right balance from the offset and pads out each of the main players with their own idiosyncrasies and backstories. Each of them is struggling with hardship in one way or another and it truly feels that we are amongst friends as we wish for nothing more than a tidy resolution for all involved. When that is denied, it hurts, and this is where Boogie Nights truly excels as we actually care about every single character depicted.

Dirk Diggler The Touch

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It’s hard to know where to start with such a dazzling array of rising stars on display but, I guess, it has to be the boy with the prize-winning weinerwurst. Wahlberg has rarely been better than he is as Dirk Diggler and exhibits all the awkwardness, misplaced confidence, and wetness behind the ears, of one learning the ropes for the first time. As he is granted overnight popularity and swiftly graduates to award-scooping industry darling, it all begins to go to his head and Wahlberg handles this transition beautifully.

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However, for every Batman, there has to be a Robin and Reilly’s dimwitted Rothchild makes up the numbers of a truly incalculable double-act. As Brock Landers and Chest Rockwell, Wahlberg and Reilly hit their swaggerless stride to perfection; pioneering a coolness only discernible to themselves. Listening to Diggler belting out his off-kilter rendition of The Touch while his partner in crime rocks out beside him sporting a satisfied grin is simply cinematic plutonium and the pair go together like Lloyd and Harry, only dumberer.

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Reynolds is on fine song as Horner, but then, was that ever in any doubt? While he is consistently unnerved by the transition from shooting on film to recording on magnetic tape, the way the industry is changing around him, and chaos developing within his own backyard but, Jack still remains hopeful for the future and puts on a brave face for his family whenever necessitated. We never stop rooting for him and the same can be said for his entire brood. Scotty J. really wants to be comfortable in another man’s skin, Little Bill is desperate to conceal his disdain as his wife plays away, wantaway Buck desires nothing more than to follow more honorable entrepreneurial pursuits, and each of them deserves their slice of utopia. With regards to chemistry, there are few films which cover the periodical table quite so thoroughly.

Elvin Bishop Fooled Around and Fell in Love

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Then, of course, there’s the small matter of Rollergirl. If you were to decipher my wettest dreams then, chances are, you’d find a gum masticating, knee-high sock clad, pig-tailed, roller-skating mobile cum dumpster bolting around flashing pom-poms as she prepares to blow bubblicious into my urethra. Well wouldn’t you know it? Rollergirl just so happens to fit that particular bill rather snugly. Graham greases her wheels just right, tempering flirtatious sass with flashes of vulnerability, proving far more than simply supporting eye-candy.

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If there is a woman alive more suited to playing mama bear Amber Waves than flame-haired hellcat Moore, then I’ll deep-throat Scott J.’s boom mic gladly. This woman’s ability continues to dumbfound me to this very day and here we are provided with the full range of her artistry. From tears and tantrums, to pouting cum-faces and coke-fuelled snap shots, she gives her absolute all and then some. Her maternal displays as Rollergirl’s surrogate mother are both endearing and heartbreaking as they reflect her personal turmoil after losing custody of her son due to her “irresponsible” life choices. Anderson’s script refuses to sensationalize her actions or pass judgement on them and this versatile vixen’s delivery of his delicious dialogue ensures we wish only to return to breastfeeding. Even if we’re lactose intolerant, we’ll still latch on.

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Once any signs of the once naïve Eddie we once knew have been all but vanquished, we begin to move into more seedy territory. Enter parasitic petty thief Todd Parker (Thomas Jane), the kind of leech one meets when plummeting towards raw sewage and one with grand ambitions of getting himself and his new friends shot in their ass targets. Of course, Rothchild being the Louise to Diggler’s Thelma, he unwittingly tags along too and together the three visit the digs of a certain Rahad Jackson (a wonderfully demented Alfred Molina). Their excruciatingly drawn-out botched robbery is the stuff legends are made from; darkly comic on one hand while, almost sufficient to court a coronary on the other. Night Ranger’s power ballad Sister Christian provides the backdrop, with all the snaps, crackles, and pops one associates with a crack den proving the most dubious percussion imaginable. All the while, drug lord Molina minces about in his open robe, waving his firearm about like a man not to be messed with under any circumstances. Pure simple brilliance.

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Moments such as these remind us of the repercussions for their actions but Anderson is disinterested in slaughtering lambs willy nilly and always swings the pendulum back to its fun setting before too long. Yet, for all the camaraderie on show, the shoot for Boogie Nights wasn’t all happy families. Reynolds, in particular, caused no end of unease, taking exception to Anderson and even taking a swing at his director at one point. It is widely rumored that he was on drugs during filming and perhaps that would explain why he fired his agent after watching a rough cut upon completion. I wonder whether any humble pie was eaten once he picked up his Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar for his role. Any signs of unrest are not evident as the collective synergy of its exuberant cast, coupled with a wonderfully evocative soundtrack, and Anderson’s flamboyant direction make this a success on almost every conceivable level.

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It seems only fitting to end on our Golden Phallus himself, Dirk Diggler. The question left with us isn’t “is that member really his?” but, instead, “how many inches of that member are really his?” It was a win-win situation for the former Marky Mark as he attempted to grab some headlines as the new swinging dick on the block without his now defunct Funky Bunch to back him up. Whatever the breakdown, he comes out sitting rather pretty as that’s one hell of a Frankfurter he’s packing. That’s ultimately the best way to remember Boogie Nights; well endowed and gloriously adept at swinging. It’s a wonderful, enriching experience that tells both sides of the story with equal virtuosity, without ever once needing to moralize. Now, if all that isn’t deserving of its cum shot, then I’m evidently in the wrong business.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10

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