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Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson) 1997
The excitement that surrounded the release of Paul Thomas Andersonís Boogie Nights made the film sound like the Second Coming of Scorsese, and his later Magnolia seems to have proven that his backers might have been right, if a tad premature. Boogie Nights is a shockingly well-made film. It is as cinematically assured and technically proficient as anything to come out in 1997 (with the possible exception of Irma Vep). Few recent filmmakers have carved out films with so many good ideas. It can easily be argued that Boogie Nights, which is set in the porn film industry, has too many good ideas for its own good. Certainly, the milieu is a rich one, but the filmís two-and-a-half hour running time doesnít really get around to showing us as much of the skin trade as we might enjoy. Also, while the characters are full-bodied, many of their stories feel a bit truncated. Thereís a specific reason for this, however.
Anderson was not simply content to tell the story of the porn industry in the 70ís and 80ís. He chooses to tackle the state of all cinema in this time period. The concept of family and the characters arcs (which all seem to combine two cliches to become original) seem to be the least developed aspect of Boogie Nights. The film's overriding structure seems to deal instead with the assertion that the 70's made good films where artistic creativity was strived for, then in the 80's things went bad because of the creation of video (special effects) and the focus on young faces. Every character in the film takes a backseat to that theme. The story lines for almost every character accommodate it, and it feels somewhat artificial when they do. Even worse, the filmís second half feels a bit like a heavy-handed condemnation of the hedonism on display in the first act. This is unfortunate, since Anderson treats events of the first half of the film with so much of the goodwill and so little condescension that itís refreshing. The biggest complaint against the film seems to be that the bad times of the 80's feel forced, and the filmís failure to separate itís main theme from its individual character arcs is, indeed, its biggest fumble.
Nonetheless, Boogie Nights is a great flawed film. The cast is wonderful and the dialogue is superb. There is a great deal of sympathy generated when you look at the film as an allegory of the American auteur filmmaker. Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), the filmís porn director, strives to make a porn film with enough substance that people would want to stay to watch it after they got off. That so many modern films are nothing but climax makes him seem a prescient, unfortunate victim of the system. The filmís ending seems to be Andersonís admission that he really loves his characters, and had gotten in over his head in an attempt to make something great. I certainly donít want to be the one that knocks him for trying when this is his ďfailureĒ.