Monday, February 3, 2014

Paul Thomas Anderson | Boogie Nights

a real film
by Douglas Messerli 

Paul Thomas Anderson (writer and director) Boogie Nights / 1997

You might say that Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights was for the nineties decade what Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street is for our current times; both represent similar time periods: although Boogie Nights begins in 1977, it moves into the excesses of the mid 1980s, the period just a few years before that covered by Wolf. Both films contain numerous scenes of nudity, sex, drugs, and violence. And the goal of the characters in both films in ultimately to get rich. Despite this, however, the porn industry at the center of Anderson’s film seems a far more pleasant place to be than the outskirts of Wall Street portrayed in Scorsese’s extravaganza. And I’d far more like to meet up with the rather naïve but charming Eddie Adams (a likeable Mark Wahlberg) than the over-the-top con-man Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). While Belfort seems to be acting out his massive orgies with a sense of deficiency, at least Eddie has the real tools: a very large cock.    
     Perhaps it’s simply that the porn world—despite its cutthroat ethics and tendency to destroy its own—is far less destructive and far more in touch with the “real” world than the financial shams created by the latter. The goal of filmmaker Jack Horner (lovingly played by Burt Reynolds) is to take his smut to a new level, to make, what he describes as a “real film.” In short, even though he knows he is only producing a trashy vision of experience, his desire is to create art. Belfort does just the opposite, using art through the lie of his Stratton Oakmont, to create meaninglessness, junk stocks that have no value whatsoever. Horner’s world is filled with wacky dreamers: a would-be mother in Maggie/”Amber Waves” (Julianne Moore), a cowboy-loving would-be entrepreneur in Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), a would-be monogamous husband in “Little” Bill Thompson (William H. Macy), a serious actor in Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), and, a successful gay lover in the case of Scotty J. (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who is not so secretly enamored with Eddie. Only Eddie, transformed into porn star Dirk Diggler, seems to have no “real” dreams; he simply has a gift that demands being employed.
     Yet, while Scorsese’s characters seem, time and again, awarded for their greed, Anderson’s more loveable figures are almost all severely punished just for having participated in the filmmaking of love. It somehow seems unfair that Maggie cannot win custody of her child because she is seen as a unfit mother, that Buck cannot get a loan, for the same reason, to open his stereo shop, that Scotty J. is rejected just for attempting to declare his love, and “Little” Bill is in love with a nymphomaniac who fucks everyone in sight. Even Jack Horner is defeated by the shift in the porn world from film to video, and, in the end, must shift from his James Bond-like imitations to what has now become a porn standard, movies about a roaming automobile that picks up unsuspecting boys off the street to have sex with its occupant, Rollergirl (Heather Graham), whom oddly enough, never removes her roller skates. The sad sequence in which we see them in action results in the accidental pick-up of a boy she knew from high school, who brutally mocks his former classmate until they are forced to beat him and toss him out.      

    Many of Boggie Nights’ figures are destroyed simply through their having allowed their love-making to be recorded. And together these films, finally, say something significant about American society in that love-making is evidently a career choice that is more destructive than stealing from everyday folk, in which Jordan Belfort specializes.
      In the end, however, Anderson’s film is far more forgiving of its “sinners” than is Scorsese’s more orgiastic porn flick. For Boggie Night is a true satire, almost a snap-shot of a long ago age of excess with a bit of nostalgia thrown in. And, at film’s close, if some of its characters have been destroyed by their dreams, others go on in ludicrous belief, or, at least, in a suspension of disbelief—including Eddie, who addicted to cocaine and methamphetamine is briefly forced into prostitution before making up with Jack. By film’s end, in 1985—two years before Jordan Belfort went to work on Wall Street—Eddie is back on the job, hoping he might be able to get an erection and successfully perform in the new work before him. At last we get a quick view of the man behind the curtain—the long limp cock which everybody else has already ogled.

Los Angeles, February 3, 2014

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