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The 1970s porn industry might not be the most obvious subject matter for an Oscar-decorated prestige movie, but in Boogie Nights, not only did director Paul Thomas Anderson announce himself as one of the major auteur directors of the era, he also launched the careers of several major Hollywood players – not least former rapper and model Mark Wahlberg, who enjoyed the breakout role of a lifetime as the generously-endowed adult cinema icon Dirk Diggler.
Boogie Nights follows Diggler on a classic rise-and-fall narrative from a fresh-faced teen with one very special gift to a cocaine-addled porn star on the verge of obsolescence. However, the film also opens up to a vast ensemble of supporting characters – including Julianne Moore’s maternal movie queen Amber Waves, John C Reilly’s goofy second banana Reed Rothschild and Burt Reynolds’ fatherly but intimidating porn baron Jack Horner. Along the way, the film constantly subverts expectation, refusing to judge its characters too harshly even as it depicts the bleaker aspects of how the industry they work in is impacting their lives.
The film was released in 1997, and despite initial misgivings from the studio and even some of the stars, it received rapturous reviews and enjoyed a profitable box office run, quickly attaining the status of modern classic. Reynolds and Moore both received career-first Oscar nominations for acting, as did Anderson for screenwriting. Wahlberg missed out for Best Actor, which today feels like an outrageous snub – particularly as he currently languishes in far lesser roles than this astonishing breakthrough.
On this week’s episode of Beyond The Box Set, we leave our inhibitions at the door as we discuss the changing face of porn consumption, P.T. Anderson’s incredible use of tracking shots and steadicam, the tragic brilliance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, why this movie took us to bad wig nirvana and much, much more.
Anderson famously has no interest in making sequels for any of this movies, but if there’s one that could really benefit from a chance to revisit the cast, it’s probably Boogie Nights. With that in mind, we spend the latter half of this week’s episode imagining how Dirk Diggler and co might have fared in the online era – with classic adult cinema both a dying art form and also more accessible than ever before. Could Brock Landers and Chest Rockwell have become the cult cinema icons they always deserved to be? Tune in to find out…
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Next week, we’ll be looking at a very different, equally unlikely Oscar contender that helped cement one of the greatest Hollywood comeback stories of the 21st century. Until then, happy listening and remember… it’s not the size of the wand that matters…