Do you watch porn?
C’mon, you can tell me.
Maybe you’re one of those guys who wakes up and immediately staggers bleary-eyed across the bedroom to flip up a laptop lid, a short journey made hazardous by the combination of throbbing boner and ankle-pooled pajama bottoms that necessitate arms thrown out to the side while taking awkward little baby steps.
But bugger the possibility of a cock-snapping fall and a humiliating trip to hospital. Trampolining Thai Teens Vol. 4 has finished downloading and your morning glory is already en route to its glorious natural conclusion. Jesus Christ, why waste time attempting to embrace life’s astounding riches when it’s possible to find out if a bouncing, spread-eagled cheerleader can be fucked in midair. What’s more, this time round you plan to take things slow. Every nuanced detail will be absorbed. For today’s naked digital communion is gonna mean something and certainly not result in a collapse onto the carpet three minutes later in a sticky, self-loathing heap.
Aah, the wonderful world of porn…
I’m pleased to say I abandoned such viewing habits quite a few years ago after becoming more familiar with female genitalia than my own. I could close my eyes and instantly see all those glistening flaps and pink whorls whereas if I tried to picture my cock all I came up with was a three-inch silhouette. I mean, there was a point where porn had so corroded my libido that even if a naked woman walked up to me on her hands with a trained ferret balanced on the sole of each foot poised to plunge into her foaming, upside-down snatch, I’d merely mutter: “Yeah, seen it, babe. Ain’t cha got anything new?”
Now while online smut may be disease-free and negate the horrors of dating, it’s also repetitive, boring and demeaning to all involved, including the viewer. Some things should be kept private, you know, and involve a little mutual respect. Hey, are you rolling your eyes at me? Cut that out now. All I’m trying to say is that beforehand I was a husk of a man with a permanently sprained wrist whereas now I’m just a husk of a man. That’s progress, my friend, and I deserve some goddamned credit.
And so, to the much-lauded Boogie Nights which starts off in the late 70s during the pre-AIDS Golden Age of Porn. During its first hour director Anderson immerses us in a superficially glamorous world of poolside parties, uninhibited nookie and coked-up hedonism to the extent of ignoring pretty much everything on the outside. He adopts a non-judgmental attitude, allowing his multitude of characters to show us the error of their ways rather than wheeling on politicians, campaigners and moral guardians to condemn the tawdry high jinks (as in a similar-themed flick like 1996’s The People vs. Larry Flynt). It’s still very much a cautionary tale, though. Any professional involvement with porn clearly taints, especially if you want a bank loan, custody of a child or respect from a consumer. It also suggests it’s a gateway to hard drugs, serious crime, prison and deadly violence.
None too bright teenager Eddie Adams (Wahlberg) is going nowhere with his gigantic pork trumpet until he meets aging porno director Jack Horner (Reynolds) at a nightclub. It’s an X-rated match made in heaven. Before long Adams has renamed himself Dirk Diggler and is the hottest star on the porno block winning awards for his cockmanship left, right and center. Ultimately, though, it’s a journey up his own arse during which he cums to the conclusion his monetized gash-prodding is educating the public on the finer points of lovemaking while helping save ‘thousands of relationships’ across the country. At one particularly deluded point he even manages to compare himself to Napoleon when he was ‘king of the Roman Empire.’
Now I can’t believe I’m going to say this but Wahlberg is excellent. He’s a convincing blend of good-natured naivete and unblinking acceptance of whatever sexual act is required. A sort of fucked-up boy next door. He’s at his best in the run-up to shooting his first porno scene, demonstrating nervousness, consideration and an eagerness to please in equal measures.
Mind you, all the porno shoots are good value, especially the way they capture the minimal direction, flat acting, and mechanical delivery of ludicrous lines (“I’ve just got back from a tour of duty. It was really hard being surrounded by all those guys all day.”) Anderson has great fun here, essentially creating a series of very funny parodies.
Wahlberg is not alone in putting in a good shift. Indeed, it’s tricky to pick a favorite out of such an unusually memorable supporting cast. Yes, they’re a bunch of deadbeats and thickies, but they’re also vividly realized.
William H. Macy: Always a glorious character actor, here he plays a mustachioed, mulleted, constantly cuckolded loser. Arguably has one of the least considerate wives in the history of cinema, a faithless lady who just loves to take ‘an ass in her cock’. Macy doesn’t feature in too many scenes, but most are wonderfully deadpan as he’s confronted with his exhibitionist spouse bouncing on the dick of whatever bloke crosses her insatiable path. At some points you can see his sense of purpose and self-respect drain from his eyes, run down his chest and congeal at his feet.
John C. Reilly: As usual, offers a doofus act. This time he’s a wannabe magician convinced he looks like Han Solo. Into one-upmanship, outright fibs, toadying, and terrible attempts to showcase his diving skills at the pool. Can’t say I bought him as a porn actor, but at least he offers the odd penetrating insight: “You can’t fuck forever.”
Phillip Seymour Hoffman: A boom operator and the personification of gawky, cringe-inducing clumsiness. Makes Carrie White look sophisticated. At least she got taken to the prom, but the paunchy Hoffman’s idea of wooing is to show off his car’s new paint job and then try a pash and drunken grope. However, despite being a relentless klutz and a ‘fuggin idiot’, deserves some credit for never dropping the boom. A performance to remind us what a loss to cinema Hoffmann was.
Don Cheadle: Often gets confused. Insists having sex on camera qualifies him as an actor even though he’s literally not acting. Also thinks a cowboy outfit is a good look for a black man. Compounds his error by being into country and western music. Outside of porn he is a poor hi-fi salesman. Do not attempt to buy a stereo from him. He will only start talking about its ‘high-quality fidelity’ and the number of ‘quads’ the speakers pump out. Probably best not to accompany him to a donut store, either.
Burt Reynolds: In a much-ballyhooed return to form, Reynolds won a Golden Globe and was Oscar-nominated for playing a rich, cigar-smoking, elder statesman of porn. As an experienced director, he’s developed delusions of grandeur, determined to make art rather than smut in which the cinemagoer is compelled by his moviemaking skill to find out how the story ends rather than slope off halfway through with a tissue full of cum. “It’s my dream to make a film that is right and true and dramatic,” he says. You know everything about him is skewed, though, because he’s the sort of guy who hangs a portrait of a double murderer on his living room wall. Reynolds might nail this understated role with his distinctively coiffed, silvery hair, slightly camp necktie, and amiable sense of quiet corruption, but he doesn’t top his Deliverance turn. Still, it’s nice to hear the old boy talking about ‘Mr. Torpedo’ and ‘joy juice’.
Alfred Molina: A man comfortable enough in his own skin to greet three drug-selling clients in skimpy briefs, slippers and an open bathrobe. Likes to keep a Chinese firecracker enthusiast on hand in case… well, I’m not too sure about that. Enjoys dancing to loud music in an enthusiastic, somewhat unsophisticated manner, but will not be tied to the rigid format of shop-bought LPs and cassettes. Indifferent to what the neighbors might say whenever he chooses to shoot up the street. Interest in porn unknown.
Heather Graham: Perhaps the most memorable character, I doubt anyone can forget Rollergirl’s blonde magnificence as she zooms around wiggling her tight arse. In some sort of play on The Red Shoes, she never removes her skates, even when performing i.e. fucking. However, despite being a high school dropout and dim, coke-snorting slut, you’d better respect her otherwise she will leave wheel marks on your face.
All these characters are tied together by Anderson’s fluid writing and direction. The way he moves his camera around a room introducing and following several people is a treat. Sometimes he’ll even tag along with a bikinied girl stepping into a swimming pool, stay with her underwater and then pop back up to drop in on another conversation. Anderson also deserves credit for his authentic recreation of the 70s that includes posters of Farrah Fawcett, eight track stereos, casual sexual harassment, the glorious Sniff ‘n’ the Tears on the soundtrack, and Travolta-inspired nightclub dance moves. He doesn’t forget proper action, either, such as the disastrous donut shop robbery which perfectly illustrates what happens when a good man with a gun tries to stop a bad man with a gun.
Boogie Nights excels at showing how a porn lifestyle can seem like an alluring choice whether in front of or behind the camera. There’s little doubt that being involved with the adult film industry is fun, exciting and occasionally jaw dropping. At the very least it’s gonna conjure up some entertaining pub stories and the chance to acquire a pair of fancy initialed curtains.
But, of course, there’s the inevitable comedown: the coke ODs, the mounting self-disgust, the loss of control, the alienation from family, the ravaged souls, the odd foray into paedophilia, and the specter of the job becoming increasingly abusive and misogynistic. Most of all, there’s a sense that hearts and minds are directly connected to genitalia so it’s probably wise to look after those squishy holes and dangly bits.