If you replaced the gangsters in Goodfellas with pornographers, you'd have Boogie Nights. I have seen Scorsese's Goodfellas twenty-seven times. I guess you could easily say that it is my favorite film of all time. I have studied the film at great length in attempts to understand what makes it so awesome and I would say that if asked I could explain it. The film has elements that just make it so damn popular, and they are as follows: a story about decadence and greed, fast pacing and active camera, humor and comedic debauchery, suspense, danger, complex characters, and pop music.
In the years following it's release, young filmmakers everywhere were imitating the film to varying degrees of success and fighting their way to the top of a new generation of directors. Goodfellas opened the floodgates for many young artists looking to stretch film to new boundaries. Really, nothing like it had existed before (okay, maybe Breathless). Chaos ensued, especially after the Scorsese inspired Pulp Fiction was released in 1994. Not only were new filmmakers playing with a new style, but they were using it to gain the attention of the world, thanks to the new demand for edgy independent films. Well, I said in my previous article that Paul Thomas Anderson first gained attention with Hard Eight, but it was really Boogie Nights that took hold of the world and brought him huge success.
"You don't know what I can do! You don't know what I can do, what I'm gonna do, or what I'm gonna be! I'm good! I have good things and you don't know about! I'm gonna be something! I am! And don't fucking tell me I'm not!" - Eddie "Dirk Diggler" Adams
The year is 1977; the place is the San Fernando valley; the kid is Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg). This nightclub dishwasher of seventeen has big dreams, and an even bigger penis. One busy night at the club (the scene following one of the most stunning longtakes I've ever seen), he is approached by Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), a popular porn director on the lookout for the next big thing (no pun intended). After a night at Horner's home studio that gets him kicked out of his parent's house, Eddie is thrust (again, no pun intended) into the wild world of 70s porn. There he befriends costars Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), Rollergirl (Heather Graham), and Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), as well as Horner's crew Little Bill Thompson (William H. Macy), Kurt Longjohn (Ricky Jay), and the tragic, Scotty (Philip Seymour Hoffman). It doesn't take long for Eddie, under the stage-name of Dirk Diggler, to rise to the top of the world of porn and become the star he always dreamed himself to be.
As you would expect from any story of success in a world of debauchery, there is a fall, and boy, do they all fall hard (just don't). Dirk, Reed, and their friend, Todd (Thomas Jane), a male stripper, find themselves consumed by cocaine as Horner and crew find themselves in jeopardy after switching from film to video. And it all just gets worse from there.
Boogie Nights is nothing short of a masterpiece. It is a tale of debauchery, sexuality, greed, ego, and redemption. It is a cyclical story that ultimately leaves you shaking your head with awe. The film is told at a rapid fire pace, moving quickly between less important episodes, while slowing down at more important ones to let you take it all in. It's funny and quotable as all hell, while also being sad, cynical, and strangely inspiring (in it's own twisted way).
This is where the world realized Paul Thomas Anderson was a master.
At the ripe old age of 27, Anderson showed an incredibly mature grasp of the film language, using pacing and tension to create a thoroughly exciting film. It was a huge critical success and was nominated for three Oscars. Every time I watch it, I cannot turn it off. I would definitely rank it in the top 5 movies of the 90s, right above Pulp Fiction, and right below Casino (try to figure out the rest). Yet, I would rank it fifth overall in my ranking of Anderson's work. Why? We'll get to that soon enough.
Following the immense success of Boogie Nights, New Line gave him creative control over his next film telling him to "do whatever he wants" (thanks Wikipedia). Regardless of their exact words, he did exactly that. Yes, it's as glorious as you'd hope.
Up Next: Frogs and feels