Sunday, November 7, 2010
Momentum III: Boogie Nights
Boogie Nights is a film that is bursting with feverish exuberance and takes turns down dimly lit paths. This dynamic is called for by the subject of the movie at hand: porn. But to be more elaborate, a family dynamic of a group of characters in the adult entertainment industry.
Boogie Nights would be the first film of PT Anderson's that I would see. This would be around late 2003. Having been a big Dream Theater fan at the time (my interest in them has since wained), I was apart of the drummer's forum. One of the things the drummer had on there was a list of his top ten films. Boogie Nights would be amongst them. My curiosity peaked. & it only deepened once I found out the band sampled the Frank Mackey/Earl Partridge deathbed scene from Magnolia (my favorite PTA film) in one of their songs (Honor Thy Father). Now at the same time, I had counted GoodFellas near the top of my favorite films of all time. I was always on the lookout for a film that matched the energy that film had. Upon my first viewing of Boogie Nights, I had finally found a film with that type of energy...or at least came very close. Whenever I have the chance to introduce people to PTA's work --which I rarely get the opportunity to-- Boogie Nights is the first film I have them watch. It has everything you could want: great cast, great idea. It's funny, tense and depressing. In addition to all of this, the virtuoso camerawork and themes are all there.
One detraction that I have found amongst people is how the first act is riddled with Scorsese-esque camerawork. The signature tracking shot into the club, the pool scene that's reminiscent of I Am Cuba, etc. While it may bother some, I actually find it visually invigorating. We have GoodFellas in the back of our minds when watching the intro to this film. But what Anderson does is brings that energy to a film based in the 70's about a 'family' of porn stars. I don't think you can do it any other way & if there are people who think they know another way, I'm all ears. To be sure, the first half is not perfect. But that stems from problems of my own. I personally feel that if there was one more celebration scene then it would have thrown the film off kilter.
The subject matter of porn is a tough marketing angle to begin with. The film has such a big canvas because there is such a variety of stories of that industry to draw from. Having already beat out certain story elements with his Dirk Diggler short, PT is better for having fleshed out that material on a bigger scale. Albeit, with a much more mature sense of storytelling. Because, let's be honest, porn can only take you so far. It's when it branches off into it's multiple narratives that it achieves it's greatness.
Tonally, there is a balance between dark comedy and drama. This whole balancing act comes to a head at a key transitional point in the film: the 80's New Years Eve Party. At the party, Horner is confronted by Floyd Gondoli about the advent of video and how the industry is in a period of change. It is this scene, not unlike the Billy Batts beatdown in GoodFellas, where characters end up having a dark cloud hang over their horizons up until the end of the film. & this is only punctuated by Little Bill's murder-suicide. A scene in which PT observes had portions of the audience cheering one moment and a gasp at the next.
What's striking about the characters of the film is just how accepting they are. Amber Waves, Jack Horner & co. are basically a surrogate family to Dirk. As Julianne Moore assesses on the commentary, it's not until they interact with the outside world, that things end up becoming harsh. Everything comes crashing down at once on top of these characters. Adherence to melodramatic scenes is something that will pop up frequently in his next film, Magnolia. In retrospect, the scenes of Rollergirl in the limo that play out at the same time Dirk is getting beat by the band of thugs is needed to balance everything out.
One of the things that makes the film so rewatchable is how it's wallpapered with a soundtrack. It would be the one film of PT's that is like this. There's just too much goodness on this soundtrack: Livin' Thing, God Only Knows, Brand New Key, etc. Then there's the scene we all know and love: the Sister Christian/firecracker scene. Some people know this scene alone from Boogie Nights because it sticks out the most. Admittingly, it is a fascinating stretch of film. & it's unfolding of tension amongst Dirk, Reed & Todd is palpable.
Amongst the joy, depression, coke, porn, and firecrackers, PT paints all of these characters in an honest and humane light. For all their misgivings, they are simply surviving the everyday struggles brought forth. As the ELO song that closes out the film so proudly exclaims: It's a livin' thing and it would be a terrible thing to lose.