Film Scouts Reviews

"Boogie Nights"

by Benjamin Ibrahim

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A sort of "Goodfellas" of the porn world, "Boogie Nights" romanticizes the adult-film industry in L.A. of the late 70's, and follows its decline into the eighties. The recycling theory in casting, which is becoming so popular these days, sees Burt Reynolds (Cannonball Run) return to the screen in what some say is his best role ever - as Jack Horner, a laconic director of adult films, and father-figure of the sex-film scene (a swingin' party that seems to surround him constantly). "Marky" Mark Wahlberg does an unexpectedly good job playing the film's well-endowed up-and-coming porn star "Dirk Diggler" (the character was inspired by the life of the legendary John Holmes). Julianne Moore plays the sex queen "Amber Waves", girlfriend to Jack Horner, and mother-figure to Dirk.

Aside from a slough of strong performances from a cast that looks like a "Who's Who" of obscure film and television, "Boogie Nights" leaves dangling the few questions it raises regarding the adult film industry. The fondness for the era and the people in question is expressed in what seems to be a relatively unchallenged romanticization of the porn industry as it existed in the late 70's. There seems to have been nothing wrong untill the 1980's, which were bad, according to the film, mainly because the industry switched to the use of video, and people started going a little overboard with the coke (which they snorted "healthily" in the 70's). One might argue that the film's apparent lack of commentary on its subject matter leaves it to the viewer to judge for themselves, but I would argue that, as much as any audience is "free to judge", this film is not, in actuality, very ambiguous, and its presentation of the adult film world is colored and swayed by its desire to show people having a good time to some groovy tunes (chosen by Tarantino's musical supervisor). The music is great, I'd buy the soundtrack in the store in an instant. But... should I? - Perhaps I am just neurotic,dwelling on some uncomfortable feeling that this film left me with. What would I be supporting, exactly?

Was this film about porn, or was it porn itself - presented in the guise of an art film, so that all the people who feel uncomfortable with, yet drawn to pornography, can finally watch a skin-flick and get off watching Marky Mark and Julianne Moore hump? Is the grooviness of the music too groovy, perhaps, to allow the audience to judge for themselves the subject matter - which is certainly riddled with interesting ambiguosity concerning sexual roles, abuse, morality and representation in the porn industry?

Maybe I am being neurotic. I enjoyed this film quite a bit, actually. It was a good time. But I still wonder, is it a "good" film ("good", in the way that it challenges and does not reinforce norms that oppress certain groups - women, blacks, gays, fat people)? Is a film "bad" if it is lots of fun, but incredibly racist? I'm not sure. These are, of course, questions that have been plaguing cinema since its creation, and I won't even try to go there, but it is useful, I think, watching a film like this, to question the good time you're having, and think about the buttons that are being pushed. (Art is supposed to make you think, after all). My buttons were certainly pushed. The penis-enlargement device is on the way. Heather Graham, here I come.  

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