Boogie Nights was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. It was his second major Hollywood picture and the one that really helped him make a name for himself as one of the bright rising stars among Hollywood directors. This movie was nominated for three Academy Awards and won many major awards at film festivals around the world including the Toronto International Film Festival (T.I.F.F.) where it made its world debut. Boogie Nights has an all-star cast including Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore *(who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards), Phillip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, Heather Graham and many other recognizable faces.
Boogie Nights is a movie that was inspired by the true story of 1970s porn actor John Holmes. But the beauty of what Paul Thomas Anderson managed to do with this story is to turn it into a treatise on human connections, on love and trust and, most of all, on putting in the hard work that goes into achieving the American Dream. Anderson managed to pull this off by creating a story that consistently manages to not be what you think it is going to be. He defies expectations and disguises the traditional path taken by most storylines. For instance, Boogie Nights is set within the porn industry. It is all about sex yet, it is not sexy or titillating at all. It is a movie in which beautiful bodies pair up onscreen yet, off screen, these same people are as lonely and flawed as the rest of us. The movie shows how easily people come to believe that the facade of movie making is real and that what happens on screen can be replicated in real life. Boogie Nights starts out as a fantasy playland where everyone is being gushed over and ends up being a lesson on how much more difficult it is to make your way in the real world of bill payments and aging and changes in technology.
Mark Wahlberg stars as an unknown dishwasher who is discovered by a porn director (Reynolds) and asked to audition for one of his movies. At the start of the movie, Wahlberg is all handsome, with a chiseled physique and, we are told but never shown, an enormous physical attribute that makes him perfect for porn acting. Being the flavour of the month, Wahlberg’s character is fussed over, given lavish treatment everywhere he goes and soon comes to believe his own hype. In the process of the evolution, we get to see how unsexy the business of making x-rated movies is and how bored the actors and crew are much of the time. Needless to say, the excitement that marked the early stages of the film gives way to decadence and addiction and rejection as the movie unfolds. Walhberg’s character, Dirk Diggler, becomes addicted to cocaine, starts running out of money and is at risk of being replaced by another actor who becomes the new flavour of the month. It is at this point in the movie that our songs of the day come into play.
Both “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger and “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield were bonafide hits during the 1980s. “Sister Christian” was Night Ranger’s biggest hit. It was a power ballad written by the band’s drummer about his younger sister who was no longer a child but a young woman heading out into the world. Knowing how the world works better than she did, big brother wrote the song as his way of warning her to be careful in how she goes about looking for love and not to be too quick to turn her back on her family life at home. “Jessie’s Girl” by Rock Springfield reached #1. It was his only #1 song but it did help earn him the Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal by a Male Artist the year the song was released in the early 1980s.
In both cases, the songs have come to cast Springfield and Night Ranger as though they were more prolific and successful than they actually were. It was this sort of attention to detail.…his ability to shine a spotlight on a couple of movie characters, pairing them with a couple of one-hit wonder songs and asking the question “Is this really all there is”….that has helped Paul Thomas Anderson earn such high marks for the movies he makes. In Boogie Nights, Anderson deliberately chose songs for the soundtrack that mirrored the times in which the movie was portraying, as well as mirroring the emotional/personal states of the characters at the time, too. In the scene in which both songs play back-to-back, Walhberg and his best friend in the movie, fellow porn actor John C. Reilly, have realized that there is a shelf life to being a porn actor and are searching for other avenues of employment to help make money for themselves. By this time, they are both heavily addicted to cocaine and have snorted through their savings and are now too broke to actually explore new ventures such as paying for studio time so they can start a career as singers. So, along with another friend, they attempt to rip off the man who has been supplying them with cocaine. Like everything to do with the storyline of this movie, the “drug heist” scene is a classic example of things appearing to be one way when, in fact, they end up being the complete opposite. Anderson does a masterful job of creating tension and suspense in a scene that is long enough to last through both songs. I will provide the link to the scene below. If you haven’t seen it before then get ready, it is truly something.
If we are lucky, we are afforded the opportunity to call our own shots in life. But there are many people who subscribe to the old rock n’ roll notion that it is better to burn out than to fade away. As a result, we see people who soar to great heights very quickly in their young lives. The trick for them becomes how to remain atop the mountain. A select few manage to exhibit some sense of longevity but many others end up falling by the wayside. We use these people for our own pleasure, never thinking of what becomes of them after the bright lights are turned down and the music fades away. Boogie Nights tells this story for us. It is a cautionary tale in many regards. Whether or not you choose to heed its lessons depends, I suppose, upon whether you believe that even a brief taste of success is worth more than simply experiencing the everyday reality of normal life like most people do. For me, I have always been more of a “Steady Eddie” type than an Icarus. Whether that is the better choice, who can say? All that I know is that after I finish typing up this post, I have to peel carrots and chop celery and onions because I am making soup for supper. Such is life when you are a “Steady Eddie”.
The link to the video for the scene from Boogie Nights that shows “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger and “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield being played can be found here and here.
The link to the video trailer for the movie Boogie Nights can be found here.
The link to the official website for Night Ranger can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rick Springfield can be found here.
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