The revered director Robert Altman's films are populated with a
dizzying cornucopia of characters that assault your emotions. Although
there are Altman aficionados who dote on his every movie, most people
are impressed by some but bored by others. For every brilliant SHORT
CUTS, there is a confusing KANSAS CITY.
Young director Paul Thomas Anderson's much talked about film
BOOGIE NIGHTS can be viewed as a homage to Altman's style. Set in the
San Fernando Valley in 1977-1983, the movie chronicles the life of porn
film director Jack Horner, played in his best performance in dozens of
years by Burt Reynolds. Although Jack is the story's glue, most of the
picture focuses on Jack's stars and backers and on the whole porn
industry scene of sex, drugs, and violence.
"Before you turn around, you've spent maybe 20, 25, 30 thousand
dollars on a movie," complains Jack to his "17-year-old piece of gold,"
Eddie Adams. Eddie, who later picks a new name of Dirk Diggler, is
played with charismatic intensity by Mark Wahlberg. Although Jack has
visions of making a classy porn film where people will actually stay
until the end, he knows his bread and butter is titillation. Eddie,
who tells himself that "everyone is blessed with one special thing,"
has just the right sized equipment to make it big in the "adult film
The storyline uses the descent into hell structure. Starting on
an upbeat note, the players are all one happy family even if their
ritual proclivities are certainly what most people would view as
deviant. FARGO Academy Award nominee William H. Macy plays Jack's
assistant director, Little Bill. Little Bill has to have a pretty
thick skin since his wife, played by real-life porn star Nina Hartley,
has sex with other men in every place imaginable, including the
driveway, while others watch. Macy is terrific as the hopelessly
trapped wimp of a husband.
Although one young waif ODs early on, the drug taking accelerates
as the story advances. And as the characters begin to hit bottom, they
turn with increasing frequency to violence. (Although different people
will have different levels of sensitivity, I found the most shocking
aspect of the film to be the amount of drug usage. There is more
cocaine snorting in this one movie that I've seen in the last 500
Undoubtedly the praise for the movie, which many have already put
it in the best picture of the year category, comes from the depth of
the characters and the exemplary quality of the acting. Julianne Moore
plays Jack's live-in companion and porn actress Amber Waves. Amber
approaches her fellow actors with maternal instincts even when having
sex with them on camera. My favorite minor character is Floyd Gondolli
(Philip Baker Hall), who, like the man in THE GRADUATE, has a one word
piece of advice to Jack about the future. This time it's "videotape"
rather than "plastics."
The picture has everything in it, right down to a dance routine
straight out of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, and that is the problem.
According to published reports, Anderson had only two constraints. His
contract with the studio obligated him to get an R rating rather than
the dreaded NC-17 and to bring in the picture within a two-and-a-half
hour running time. Although he did both, the pictures suffers greatly
from being too long. With fewer characters, tighter editing, and a
more focused story, it would have been much more palatable and
enjoyable. At the theater I was in, the audience all looked exhausted
when they left.
After a devastating ending, there is a upbeat and cutesy epilogue
as if to say that we should not have taken the show or its characters
too seriously. The movie BOOGIE NIGHTS suffers from too much promise
but not enough control. Anderson seems to load the film up with every
idea he's ever had. BOOGIE NIGHTS is considerably better than his last
film, HARD EIGHT, and I hope in his next one he uses better judgment
when it comes to pruning.
BOOGIE NIGHTS runs 2:32. It is rated R for sex, nudity, violence,
profanity, and massive amounts of hard drug usage. The movie is not
appropriate for teenagers.
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes