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It is hard to believe that it’s been twenty years since Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights thrust on to the scene, announcing Anderson as a legitimate auteur and minting Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg as an A-list leading man. Anderson had made minor waves with his well-regarded previous offering, the low-key noir Hard Eight, but no one was prepared for his smash follow-up, a sprawling, epic love letter to the seedy world of 1970s pornography where the hero’s greatest attribute hangs between his legs.

It would have been an easy to approach the subject from the lowest possible angle, to condemn Boogie Nights’ characters, to wallow in the San Fernando Valley sleaze. But while Anderson allows for the depravity the story demands, he tempers it with an emotional hook; it’s all about family. Burt Reynolds’ filmmaker Jack Horner – aside from being a visionary in his warped way – is first and foremost a father to the sexed-up band of misfits, at his side Julianne Moore’s sweet, broken oedipal mother. And the arc of our protagonist – the well-endowed and comically self-named Dirk Diggler – is that of the rise, rebellion and return of the prodigal son. Pretty lofty for a movie about the golden age of porn.

These may be the qualities that make Boogie Nights resonant, but what makes it a classic is that it’s just so damn fun. Borrowing the style Martin Scorsese perfected with GoodFellas, Anderson takes us into this intoxicating world with long, moving takes, jumping from character to character, in and out of conversations but never losing the thread of the scene, always finding the heart and the humor. Music plays a major role, the wonderfully vapid era-appropriate disco hits bringing a joyful bounce to the late seventies of the film’s first half, over-produced 80s ballads counterpointing the drug-fueled panic of the Reagan-era latter. You’ll never hear Night Ranger’s syrupy “Sister Christian” the same way again.

Boogie Nights would prove influential in many ways. Aside from vaulting Anderson into the Academy Award circle, it also jump-started the careers of John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Don Cheadle, Heather Graham, Thomas Jane, Luis Guzman, Alfred Molina and Philip Seymour Hoffman. It would spawn imitators and spark a trend of 70s throwbacks, but the true legacy of Boogie Nights is its dramatic honesty and nonjudgmental approach to a subject readymade to be judged. Mirroring the aspirations of his film’s paternal pornographer, Paul Thomas Anderson found the artistry in the adult entertainment industry, and the world of cinema is still feeling the heat.


Boogie Nights will play this Saturday, May 20th at 2pm. For a full cinema schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit

Words by Sebastian O’Brien