I honestly believe the 1990s was one of the best decades for filmmaking. So many of today’s greatest filmmakers had their peaks or debuts in this period – The Coen Brothers made a series of masterpieces, Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, Richard Linklater and Wes Anderson made their audacious debuts and films such as Being John Malkovich, Fight Club and Clerks helped put cerebral cinema on the map. However, there is honestly one name that I feel helps define the era, not only because it was when he made his first masterpiece, but the period that pushed him to the very top of the list of great filmmakers. That name is obviously Paul Thomas Anderson, someone who I can say with full confidence is the person who I feel is the greatest filmmaker working today.
It is not a secret that I absolutely adore Paul Thomas Anderson. I have watched each of his films multiple times, and adored each and every one of them. I don’t really need to explain why Paul Thomas Anderson is such a remarkable filmmaker, do I? Everything from the fact that he displayed qualities of a far more experienced filmmaker in his debut film Hard Eight, to his ability to create the careers of some of today’s great actors while still revitalizing the careers of some veterans (something he shares with friend Quentin Tarantino), or the fact that Anderson’s filmmaking combines technique with narrative storytelling like nobody else. I have seen Anderson compared to various people, but most of all his mentor Robert Altman, and even Stanley Kubrick once or twice (I am still trying to get my head around this comparison, but I will most certainly take it).
There is some debate as to what his best film is. Honestly, I believe it to be There Will Be Blood, which isn’t only Anderson’s best film, but also the greatest cinematic achievement of the twenty-first century. Others say that Magnolia is his finest work (and I sometimes tend to agree with this). However, I won’t go into a full analysis of the director’s career (I’ll save that for another time), but rather I’d like to take a look at the film that many people do consider Anderson’s greatest film, and while I may not agree with that sentiment altogether, I will say that Boogie Nights is a pretty brilliant film and most certainly further evidence that Paul Thomas Anderson is indeed on a completely different level as a filmmaker.
Boogie Nights, set in the 1970s, is about Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), a simple young man who is given the opportunity of a lifetime – to be a part of the adult film industry. Scouted by film director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), Eddie is thrust into the world of adult entertainment, and almost overnight, rebranded as the far more memorably-named Dirk Diggler, ascends to the heights of being a huge star, making many friends along the way, and just about the same amount of enemies. Boogie Nights chronicles the rise and fall of both Diggler himself, and the entire pornography industry, showing it from its Golden Age of the 1970s to its decline in the 1980s. The lives of various people in the industry are shown throughout this sprawling 150 minute-long postmodern social epic, and the effects of the industry are shown through the various characters in this film.
However, before you feel slightly disgusted by the content of this film, let me just assure you that Boogie Nights isn’t only about pornography – in fact, the adult entertainment industry, despite being the major framing device of this film, actually forms more of a backdrop to the real themes of Boogie Nights – namely those of family, friendships, success and fame. Boogie Nights could be about any form of the entertainment industry, and the fact that it follows the rise and fall of the adult film industry makes it all the more unique. However, this is as far from inappropriate content as you will get, and the major framing device of Boogie Nights is often pushed to the back to make way for an often hilarious, but mostly heartbreaking, journey into the lives of people trying to make a living, in a very brutal industry.
I think Paul Thomas Anderson deserves his position as an all-time great filmmaker for various reasons, one being his ability to find talent. He has the ability to discover new and exciting performers, as well as showing us new sides of already-established actors. In Boogie Nights, we are given Mark Wahlberg in the lead role. It is easy to look at Mark Wahlberg now and see him as one of the most popular and consistent actors working today – but in 1997, it seemed far more risky for someone like Wahlberg to lead a film like this. It isn’t that Wahlberg was a newcomer or someone obscure – quite the contrary, he was already someone in the public eye, often for the wrong reasons. Known in the 1990s as Marky Mark, the rebellious and troublesome rapper, Wahlberg reinvented himself as an actor, and I am beyond glad that he did. There has rarely been such a dramatic shift of career path than that of Wahlberg. In Boogie Nights, he gives an outstanding performance. He balanaces a very demanding role with such precision and brilliance, and his evolution from humble young man to fame-hungry maniac is one of the great performances of the 1990s, and one that is often not remembered when thinking about Wahlberg. I won’t dare say Wahlberg is a bad actor by any means, and even if he chooses some questionable projects, a film like Boogie Nights will always remind us that Wahlberg can be great when he wants to be.
Boogie Nights is fascinating to watch for several reasons, and one of them is seeing so many actors who perhaps were not entirely well-known back in 1997, but would go on to achieve some amazing careers in Hollywood. The ensemble of Boogie Nights is one of the greatest of all time, specifically because it gives every single character a fully-developed arc and the development is beyond incredible. John C. Reilly (who was a co-lead in Anderson’s debut film, Hard Eight) plays Reed Rothchild, and his childish arrogance is a joy to behold. Don Cheadle is touching and hilarious as Buck Swope (a very smart reference to Putney Swope, a satirical film by Robert Downey Sr., a personal hero of Anderson, who also has a small role in Boogie Nights), and of course, the incredible and utterly unforgettable (and tragically, late) Philip Seymour Hoffman collaborates with Anderson for the second time (their second of five collaborations), playing Scotty J, the shy but kindhearted production assistant. Anderson and Hoffman had such an amazing cinematic bond, and it is an absolute shame that they will never be able to collaborate again, because they were pure cinematic magic, and Anderson most certainly is responsible for helping thrust Hoffman into the acclaim he received later on in his career.
Anderson also, as I mentioned before, has a knack for giving veterans great roles. Boogie Nights features a plum role for a veteran, that of veteran filmmaker Jack Horner. The lucky person to play that role was Burt Reynolds (who beat out the likes of Bill Murray, Albert Brooks, Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson for the role), and he does a fantastic job of creating this father-like character that is as complicated as any other character in the film. Reynolds may be somewhat of a time-capsule remnant of a different time, and Boogie Nights may very well be his last great role, but it certainly was a tremendous performance. Julianne Moore is absolutely stunning in Boogie Nights as well, and this fell right at the beginning of her career as a serious dramatic film actress, and her qualities as one of the greatest actresses working today are evident here.
Paul Thomas Anderson is a magician of cinema. His filmmaking is just unbelievable – and the way Boogie Nights is made just proves that he is amongst the most innovative cinematic minds of the last few decades. The cinematography in Boogie Nights is wonderful, and while it may not be on the level of monumental epic seen in There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights does feature some truly extraordinary framing, and the way this film looks is just incredible. The entire experience – from the cinematography and editing, to the music and narrative, all combine beautifully to create a truly wonderful film.
Boogie Nights is a film with a lot of heart. Despite being about the adult film industry, it is a lot more meaningful than that. The stories of these characters are so raw and real, and it becomes far more than just a faux-biopic. It is a story of success and failure, and making the best of your situation, following your dreams and doing what you feel is right. Anderson created something truly special here, and the emotional resonance of this film is second to none. Honestly, it is easy to look back at this film and see it as a masterpiece right from the outset, but for a young, unknown filmmaker such as Anderson, making a film like Boogie Nights in the tumultous 1990s was most certainly very risky.
Boogie Nights is such a wonderful film. It just reaffirms my absolute adoration for Anderson every time I watch it. It is the perfect balance of comedy and tragedy, and the performances are absolutely amazing. The film as a whole is nearly perfect, and its long running time flies past. Boogie Nights is an absolutely incredible film and it deserves a place in the canon of all-time great films, just as Paul Thomas Anderson deserves his place in the pantheon of great contemporary filmmakers. Boogie Nights lay the groundwork for the career of one of the best directors working today, and one that I will expect to be seen as one of the most legendary cinematic visionaries there ever was, and just watching any of his films, particularly Boogie Nights, will confirm the fact that Anderson is just a remarkable filmmaker in so many ways, and I can’t wait to see where he goes next. The previous seven films have been incredible – now onto the future, which will doubtlessly be amazing, because it appears that he is incapable of making a bad film, and it all started with the very humble sophomore film that took the world by storm, Boogie Nights.