Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

The Rise of Paul Thomas Anderson

Boogie Nights documents the rise of the fictional adult film star Dirk Diggler in his search for identity and his struggle against the stigma of pornography. It also portrays his subsequent downfall when his life and overwhelming ego consume him. As the director’s debut film, Paul Thomas Anderson showcased a unique aura and style. Leveraging his extensive experience in editing and cinematography, he established his distinctive style through long, continuous shots.

Anderson employs jagged camera angles that imbue the film with a sense of gritty realism amid its over-the-top representation. Moreover, the film offers profound cultural analysis. Set in the late seventies to early eighties, it incorporates elements that capture the essence of that era. With one of the best soundtracks in cinema, music plays a significant role, especially in the early scenes with a joyful disco-style atmosphere. As the film progresses into realism, the brilliant color gradations accentuate the somber events in its second half.

Conventional Cinema

Boogie Nights marked Anderson’s full artistic maturation after his struggles and frustrations with his debut film, titled Hard Eight, which he made when he was only 17 years old. A decade later, Anderson received assurances from executive producers Gordon and De Luca, who pledged not to interfere with his script. The film was released to critical acclaim, drawing comparisons to the works of directors like Altman and Scorsese, whose influence Anderson openly acknowledges.

It’s easy to spot references to these iconic directors’ films in Boogie Nights. For example, there’s a reworked nightclub entrance scene reminiscent of Goodfellas, and a mirrored rehearsal scene reminiscent of Raging Bull. However, these formal nods to his influences don’t diminish the film’s exploration of the stigma surrounding pornography and issues of identity, which would become recurring themes in Anderson’s subsequent works.

One notable aspect of Anderson’s recognition is that he often operates on the fringes of Hollywood cinema. His films typically eschew conventional emotional reassurances and moral clarity, as well as narrative conventions like poetic justice, which are staples of commercial cinema. Anderson embraces a more unconventional approach, embracing complexity and subverting stock character tropes.

Eddie as Dirk Diggler

Anderson generally uses melodramatic expressions without adhering to the most crucial reason of existence. He prefers to support or describe a clear moral position where the audience cannot reduce melodrama. Like Scorsese, moral redemption becomes irrelevant and becomes apparent in the early scenes when Eddie Adams comes home late at night after initiation into the “family” led by pornography maker Jack Horner and his surrogate “wife,” porn star Amber Waves.

When Adams has sexual intercourse on the family couch with Rollergirl, witnessed by his surrogate “dad” Jack Horner, he returns home to confront the more conventional views of morality that his mother expressed to him. Anderson actually could not, for the most part without moral judgment, surprisingly present Eddie’s mother as a screaming harridan. As a result, Eddie returns to a less judgmental environment than his “parent” surrogate.

According to the overall discourse of the film, Amber and Horner, the pornography makers, later admitted to Eddie’s mother’s hysteria with insufficient motivation. The identity in Boogie Nights ends on a reassuring stigma as Horner walks from room to room, admiring his “family” in his pornography industry. Such a sequence also ends with Amber and the camera showing her sad face in the bedroom mirror. On the other hand, Anderson is not interested in irony and prefers a central theme involving the delusions and commoditization of porn in the early 1980s. The final image of Eddie goes by the more appropriate name of Dirk Diggler, along with his 13-inch penis. It returns the film to a director’s lament about the fate of the porn industry.

The Transitional Production

The characters in Boogie Nights all undergo unique emotional development throughout the film’s duration. With a cast delivering career-defining performances, seventies icon Burt Reynolds redefined his acting career by portraying a caring father figure to Dirk Diggler, played by Mark Wahlberg, whose performance is arguably the standout. Wahlberg’s portrayal is at its most dynamic when he embodies innocence within the porn industry and then transitions into a more selfish persona during the transformative phase in filmmaking, a transition driven by the cultural changes of the 1980s, which is a central theme of the plot.

The film also touches on this fact as audiences can spot an image of Ronald Reagan in a courtroom scene during the fall montage for each character, which may serve as commentary on Reagan’s influence during the Clinton presidency. Furthermore, the prevalence of cocaine in the eighties, a documented aspect of the era, is woven throughout the film and contributes to many of the downfalls depicted in the second half.

In the film’s second half, the landscape of pornography production undergoes significant changes with the introduction of new technologies, actors, and cultural shifts.

Major Themes

Boogie Nights are full of an ensemble cast and a tremendous yet catchy soundtrack. However, the film’s central theme is a little more complex than most of Anderson’s later films. The film tells about the stigma of being a porn actor. When Amber attempted to regain custody of her child, the court would not grant her custody. It is not because she is not able to raise the child. However, it is because she works in the porn industry. By becoming a catalyst for her to continue working in pornography, such a lifestyle is not a child’s lifestyle that children have to witness firsthand.

On the other hand, Eddie dropped out of high school with his girlfriend and abusive mother. He has not been taught how to recognize himself only who he is, not because of his relationship with his mother. When he met Jack Horner, he gradually began to find his identity. Jack puts no limits on him. Instead, he let Eddie be “free” to do whatever he wanted. Eddie later became Dirk Diggler, an identity he believed in as a star. However, the truth is revealed that the same youth abused by his mother is still hurt inside at the end of the film. He started looking, at all costs, to find acceptance that he believed would only spit at her. When the audience convinced Eddie to be Dirk Diggler, he began to embrace the many evils throughout the pornography community, including drugs, jealousy, and most horribly of all, child pornography.

Anderson makes the film that does not judge the pornography community from a biased point of view. However, he creates the horror of reality that causes Eddie from the suburbs to spiral out of control to become Dirk Diggler. He is spiraling so far out of control that he cannot believe society can take him back. Thus, it returns to the theme of abuse of a systemic industry not only in the pornography industry but in general.

The Hit-the-wall Streak

While the film’s central theme is from the beginning to the end, the vocal points of the film’s conclusion are the ending of Dirk Diggler and his penis. At such point, Anderson does not see the final sequence as a comical moment of upbeat or even comedy. The characters in the film do not learn anything but instead, return to the same as in the beginning. However, such a start is full of fun and beautiful moments. Even so, it was not without signs of darkness to come.

The ending gives reason to hope it fits with a strong moralistic streak. The film gives poetic justice to producers who like underage girls. Rollergirl is back in school, and Buck Swope is making a fortune from being in a convenience store, having made his shop, fulfilling a lifelong dream after failing to get a bank loan because he and his wife had been in porn. On the one hand, one could say that the film’s radical and hit-the-wall stance might be credited with avoiding certain stereotypes.

Dirk Diggler and His Penis

Despite all the expectations Anderson puts forth in the film’s conclusion, the last sequence is at least somewhat ambivalent to Eddie. Inspired by Scorsese’s Raging Bull, Eddie sat in front of the mirror while repeating that he was a star. After which, he pulled his big but limp penis out of his pants. Anderson prefers to consider how the audience gifts the audience for seeing the film.

Audiences continue to wonder about the size of the legendary Dirk Diggler penis. It tells audiences more about sexuality in Anderson’s time than it did about sexuality in the seventies. Such pressure on the sizeable flaccid penis results in slipping the erect penis into the flaccid penis. It means if the audience is going to show a flaccid penis, it better look like a fantastic erection spectacle.

In Boogie Nights, it seems almost indistinguishable from the 13-inch erection audiences have been with it. Brutally yet confrontational, the penis directly reveals to the camera how shots with an excess of melodrama emphasize Dirk Diggler’s self-discovery. Although his mother is considered stupid and has no future, his identity is to have a sizeable 13-inch penis.

The Parallel Privilege

In addition to the last sequence showing a “plot twist,” Boogie Nights has a parallel stigma and identity between the opening and closing, namely the one shot of Jack Horner seeing his “family members” go about their daily lives in his pornography industry. When cameras tracked Horner, he saw a man unload equipment from a truck, move through the house, and meet his family. He goes to the terrace where baby Buck is in the pool with Eddie’s best friend, Reed Rothchild, goes back into the house, passes Buck, walks down the hallway where Little Bill’s portrait hangs on the wall, and to the bedroom where Amber sits in front of the mirror.

Apart from the parallels between the start and end scenes, there is another parallel between Jack Horner and Paul Thomas Anderson. Both lamented the demise of film pornography as a legitimate genre. The melodramatic commands of the nineteenth century were ultimately completely obeyed by Anderson and Horner. For the most part, Boogie Nights argue that the subject of legislation is less critical than such elegy itself. The film’s sentimentalism provides the “entertainment” that consists of the distinctive ending of elegy as a poetic form. The film flies in the face of attacks on sexual privilege, mainly heterosexual and masculinity.

The Narrative Trajectory

In essence, the narrative identity of Boogie Nights‘ ups and downs shows that the film is about the stigma of the pornography industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Rollergirl, Buck Swope, Reed Rothchild, Scotty, and Little Bill are the underdogs from their respective neighborhoods. The film’s central relationship also involves Eddie and his surrogate father, Jack Horner, a 61-year-old cast member of Burt Reynolds as Horner, who has been on television since 1958 as an actor and director. His scenes with Wahlberg, a rising star meeting a star on his way down, are exciting.

The inevitable separation between the two characters becomes the film’s most potent scene as well. It is the most personal and the most open. The fictional characterization of the character is linked to the actor’s off-screen status. It is not hard to understand why Anderson wanted Reynolds for the role. His career epitomizes the film’s narrative trajectory, as innocence and optimism give way to violence and compromise.

Paul Thomas Anderson uses his unique skill in creating space. The story is real and fantastic in depicting harsh but exaggerated realism. Ultimately, it creates a unique, if not raunchy, film. It manages to show both the good and the wrong sides of the porn industry, reflecting the company’s realities.


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2 thoughts on “Boogie Nights: Identity and the Stigma of Pornography”
  1. I could tell immediately when I saw ‘Boogie Night’ during its initial release, that Anderson was a major talent. However, I found his objectification of the female cast members disturbing (interestingly, he touches on the same 70s porn topic in his new film ‘Licorice Pizza,’ but steers clear of nudity or objectification). My favorite Anderson film was his next after ‘Boogie Nights,’ the richly thematic ‘Magnolia.”

    1. I recently watched Licorice Pizza and felt the film represented a real trademark of the PTA itself. It becomes the most interesting part when talking about his trademark especially what you mentioned. Magnolia is also my favorite movie besides There Will Be Blood. After all, most PTA works are great even the bad one where people didn’t appreciate like Inherent Vice and Phantom Thread.

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