Boogie Nights

Year: 1997
Director: P T Anderson
Writer: P T Anderson
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Heather Graham, Luis Guzman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, John C Reilly, William H Macy, Nina Hartley, Philip Baker Hall
This was the film that propelled PT Anderson into the big time, and also the last 'normal' film he made, in the sense that it told a straight story in a linear way with no Lynch-like imagery or hidden subtleties. It simply follows the plight of the characters with no real trickery or riddles like all his later work has.

Based loosely on the life of John Holmes, it follows a young LA busboy, Eddie (Wahlberg) who meets porn director Jack (Reynolds, in the first role of his post B grade, straight to video action thriller phase, the same second chance Pulp Fiction gave John Travolta). Because of his huge manhood, he seemed (and became) a natural to make it in the burgeoning adult films market.

Rather than being about sex, drugs, porn and parties (although they make up much of the content of the movie), it's a very effective relationship drama; about the father/son relationship between Jack and Eddie and the control they both try to wrest from it, the mother/daughter relationship between Jack's girlfriend Amber (Moore) and Rollergirl (Graham), both porn actresses themselves.

It's also about the economic steamroller that killed off the early renegade porn industry, and one of the most telling scenes in the film is of Jack watching an edit of his film, looking misty eyed and saying it's the one he wants to be remembered for. It's a sad picture of a man who wants to be a real filmmaker and thinks he is - but like real life figures such as Gerry Damiano, none of them could withstand the juggernaut of video that would turn adult films into a factory-produced commodity and kill off any real artistry.

A similarly brilliant character is Buck Swope (Cheadle), the most whitebread black guy you've ever seen. Despite being a porn actor, there's such an innocence about him, selecting doughnuts for himself and his girl, going for a loan at the bank for his own stereo equipment store (that they refuse to give him because of his profession).

Each character at his or heart just wants to be loved and accepted, and whether that was more the point to Anderson than just producing a historically correct account of the life and times isn't clear, but he does both with great skill. From the art direction and costumes to the choice of music and performances, Anderson paints such a realistic picture of the scene it's hard not to be fascinated.

It also draws on real life incidents, such as the drug deal at Rahad Jackson's house, depicted as it led to the Wonderland murders in Wonderland.

Anderson used all the actors he's stuck with since, some of the biggest names on the arthouse circuit, but we have to worry about Heather Graham. With the exception of Lost in Space, her first five or so major roles called for her to play a loose woman of some sort (Austin Powers in The Spy Who Shagged Me, Bowfinger).

It hailed the arrival of a great new director, and depending on your tastes, Anderson either went on to lofty subsequent heights or just went weird.

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