'Boogie Nights': Unhappy Days
by L. Brent Bozell III
It's sometimes said that "the sexual revolution is over
- and sex won." What began as a nihilistic anti-establishment experiment
in sexual liberation has devolved into what surrounds us today, as barrier
after barrier has come crashing down with the glorification of immediate
physical satisfaction and the rejection of the natural order (and therefore,
of love itself). The nihilists aren't done, though. Yet another wall has come
down this month. "Boogie Nights," a film about the porno industry in
the '70s and '80s, is out and playing at your favorite mall.
Let me dispense with the plot, as quickly as possible. Eddie
Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is a nice looking 17-year-old boy recruited by Jack
Horner (Burt Reynolds), a porno movie director looking for fresh talent.
Horner learns the lad has a special feature: a massive penis. Under the nom
de porn Dirk Diggler, the boy quickly achieves fame and fortune while
surrounding himself with a new, loving family.
This "family" is something else, even by
Hollywood's standards. Horner's the paternal figure, while his live-in
girlfriend, Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) provides the maternal role, having
abandoned that role with her own child. She also provides cocaine since she's
an addict; and to Dirk she provides her body for his first movie, since she's
a porn artist herself. (But what are families for?) There's "Rollergirl"
(Heather Graham) who will have sex with anyone, anywhere, but under No
Circumstances will she take off her rollerblades for anything. (And if you
think that's stupid, consider that she's introduced into the movie at its
start in 1977; the movie ends in 1983 and she's still wearing them.) There are
others, including the producer who longs to confirm the size of Dirk's
"torpedo"; an Hispanic assistant who longs to be a porn actor; an
assistant who longs for a gay relationship with Dirk; an assistant director
who longs not to see his wife having sex with strangers in public, including
on Horner's driveway in broad daylight with a crowd watching. This is
Hillary's Village on Acid.
For the next hour there is scene after scene of porno
shoots: the grunting, the writhing, the nudity - the works. All goes
swimmingly well until the '70s end and the greedy '80s come and the dream
world evaporates. They become drug addicts, or get themselves killed, or go to
prison. Eventually, though, there is redemption as one by one they find
fulfillment. Dirk, for example, gets hooked on cocaine, turns against Horner,
loses everything, is reduced to masturbating in front of those willing to pay
$10 to watch him do so, and almost gets himself killed. He comes back,
Prodigal Son-style, to Horner; Papa embraces and forgives him. In the final
scene our young lad's back in action, in his dressing room, preparing for
another porn shoot and this time we are given the real treat: we get
to see his giant member, too!
Silly, unsophisticated, unenlightened me. I missed the art.
The Boston Globe's Jay Carr swoons over this movie because
it "refuses to go where convention dictates and consign [the characters]
to misery...It sees them all as damaged goods [who] come together to form the
year's most unexpected extended dysfunctional family. And it embraces
them...It's ultimately about family."
Writing in the Los Angeles Daily News, Bob Strauss tells us
that "you can either look at 'Boogie Nights' as another insulting film
[about] amoral, drug-addled fools, or you can look at it as the best movie of
the past three years." To answer that, he glibly states that "if you
detach all the sex stuff" and look at the art you'll understand
that it's "not the kind of film that everyone in these parts will be
proud of. But I don't think we could have asked for anything better."
One person who doesn't want the audience to detach itself
from the rank pornography in the movie is its writer/director, Paul Thomas
Anderson. "I think, at the very least, my movie is honest," he told
one reviewer. "All I can say is that pornography's a complicated topic.
And hopefully the way I feel about it, which is pretty messy, is on the
screen: I love it, I think it's very harmful, I think it's very sexy, very
funny and very sad."
Perhaps this explains why the movie's director character is
crushed when told that the artistic porno films of the '70s are going to give
way to the mechanical porn videos of the '80s. What "Boogie Nights"
tells us, ultimately, is that in the '90s those videos have become films once
again. This time, however, they're running in our local movie theaters. And
this time it's the movie critics who are calling it "art."
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