1970s 'Boogie Nights'
(Paul Thomas Anderson)
Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of today’s most acclaimed and essential young filmmakers. He has swept the motion picture industry with a powerhouse trio of films that have breathed life and exuberance into an industry that is all too often ladened with films exhibiting massive deficiencies of originality and thought. PTA’s genuine love of filmmaking sets him apart from so many others.
PTA tends to keep himself out of the spotlight. Rarely will he pose for magazine covers or photo shoots. Details involving future projects and his personal life are often kept shrouded in secrecy. Informational pieces regarding his personal life and family history are few and far between. I’ve researched his background and unearthed a few brief factoids that are consistent amongst many sources. Included is information obtained from Cigarettes and Coffee, PTA’s unofficial website, which he often praises and contributes to.
Paul Thomas Anderson was born in Studio City, CA on January 1, 1970 to Bonnie and Ernie Anderson.
His father was a well-known voice actor who can be recognized for his work on America’s Funniest Home Videos and The Love Boat. He also created a character, Ghoulardi, who was a popular B Movie/ horror film host in the sixties. Unfortunately, Paul suffered a devastating blow when his father passed away in 1997 at the age of 73. Incidentally, he has since named his production company after his late father’s famous character Ghoulardi. PTA also has two brothers and four sisters. He is reputed to be estranged from his mother.
Academics never appealed to Paul. Being expelled from his elementary school for fighting and bad grades and his quick departure from Emerson College after two semesters demonstrated this. He also attended New York University Film School for two days before dropping out.
PTA moved on to begin his career by working as a production assistant on various television movies and game shows. After performing similar work for numerous low budget and independent films, PTA went on to write and shoot a short film titled, Cigarettes and Coffee. This 24-minute excursion into the world of film shorts made it’s premier at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival.
As a result of the buzz that Cigarettes and Coffee generated, he was afforded the opportunity to develop his first full-length motion picture, Hard Eight. It was screened at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival and the 1996 Cannes Film Festival. The picture received rave reviews for critics and audiences alike and Anderson was dubbed one of the most promising directors of 1997.
PTA lived up to the praise with his second feature, Boogie Nights. The critically acclaimed porn film-making milieu pulled in three Academy Award nominations, received the Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best New Filmmaker and the PEN Center USA West Literary Award for Best Screenplay.
Anderson returned in late 1999 with his beautifully crafted mosaic of American life, Magnolia. It appeared on more than 80 critics’ top ten lists and pulled in over a dozen awards from all over the world, including a Golden Globe Award. It also received three Academy Award nominations.
What follows is an individual breakdown and commentary on each of PTA’s first three features.
“You know the first thing they should’ve taught you at hooker school? You get the money up front.”
-Sydney to Clementine.
Hard Eight was the feature film debut of Paul Thomas Anderson. Directed in a gritty film-noir style, it is the story of a professional gambler, his young protégé, and a slow cocktail waitress who are fighting to push back the demons of their past. It is set against the casino scene of Reno, Nevada (PTA has always held a fascination for Reno’s casino nightlife), and showcases a wonderful ensemble cast, which includes Phillip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel L. Jackson, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
Hard Eight is based upon Anderson’s previous short film, Cigarettes and Coffee, which also starred Phillip Baker Hall. The short garnered a great deal of attention, especially from the Sundance Institute, and they eventually invited PTA to develop his first feature at one of their directors’ lab later that year. That project became Hard Eight. The leading role was written specifically for Phillip Baker Hall, who attended the month long lab with Anderson. Each director attends the lab with two actors. John C. Reilly was the second actor to accompany Paul. The Sundance directors’ Lab afforded Anderson and his actors an opportunity to develop the acting and concrete the storytelling. The actors experimented with their characters and improvised material. When the time came to shoot the film, Anderson called upon casting director John Lyons to help in the casting of the remaining roles. Anderson was a huge fan of Gwyneth Paltrow. Lyons approached Paltrow with the script and she immediately accepted the role of Clementine. Academy Award-nominated Samuel L. Jackson, who at that time was riding high on the success of his previous film, Pulp Fiction, took on the role of Jimmy. Anderson chose Jackson for his ability to epitomize the “classic bad guy” image. Production began in January of 1995 on location in Reno where Anderson had had chosen when writing the screenplay. “I like Reno…unlike Las Vegas, which is always so hot, Reno has a winter and the feeling of a real city-it’s like an Old West town. I think shooting Hard Eight in Reno enabled me to capture a state of mind that I wanted for this film,” states PTA. With its minimalist plot and shocking bursts of violence, this unheralded film appeared to be a well-kept secret until it began popping up on the top ten lists of several critics. Along with his follow-up feature, Boogie Nights, Hard Eight marked the arrival of a talented and promising new filmmaker. “As a kid, I became obsessed by pornos. I searched them out, obsessing over the humor and the camp—how bad the acting was, how odd it all was. By the time I was sixteen…it actually became quite sad.”
-PTA in DETAILS, September 1997 Boogie Nights is one of the key films of the nineties and arguably the most exuberant and alive American movies in years. With its amazing kaleidoscope camerawork it echoes the Robert Altman of Nashville (his signature piece) and the Martin Scorsese of Goodfellas. The script was so well crafted that it attracted actors who would not normally consider taking on such lurid material. Although Boogie Nights is loosely based upon the real life of porn legend John Holmes, it proves to be a classic Hollywood rise-and-fall fable. The film follows the lives of an extended family of pornographers in the late 70’s and early 80’s who aspire to revolutionize the adult entertainment industry. We are taken on a magnificent journey into a misunderstood world characterized by loneliness, defeat, and the occasional bout of hope. At the center of the film is how the diverse canvas of characters comes together to form a family. They share in each other’s successes and downfalls. PTA does not judge his characters or condemn their lifestyle. Instead he invites the viewer to form his or her own opinions. And, once again, Anderson brings to the screen an amazing ensemble cast. Mark Wahlberg plays the main character, Eddie Adams, who adopts the porn star pseudonym Dirk Diggler. The role was originally to be played Leonardo Dicaprio but he decided to take the leading role in Titanic, which proved to be beneficial not only for Dicaprio but also for Boogie Nights. Anderson later said that Wahlberg was definitely the right choice and that everyone was satisfied with Wahlberg’s decision to take the role. Playing the Part of Jack Horner, the “family’s” father figure and omnipotent director, is veteran actor and Hollywood legend, Burt Reynolds. The father-figure image extended beyond the role of Jack Horner to Burt himself. He often felt like the elder statesman amongst a cast of predominantly younger actors. Referring to PTA, he jokes, “I got socks older than him.” Julianne Moore plays Amber Waves, porn starlet extraordinaire and surrogate mother to her family of “damaged goods”. Moore was immediately drawn to the project. “Amber is fairly representative of the adult film actresses in that time period,” states Moore. “She’s given up all ties to anything else; she’s completely immersed in this world.” Playing Jack and Amber’s other misled child, Rollergirl, is Heather Graham. Anderson had originally considered Graham for the part after seeing her remarkable breakthrough performance in Doug Liman’s Swingers. “I was uncertain as to whether or not she would consider a role that involved nudity since I’d never seen her take her clothes off in a film before…but I guess that’s just a typical dumb guy attitude,” says Anderson. Graham saw past the shock value and joined the project after minimal convincing. Boogie Nights marks John C. Reilly’s third time working with PTA. He plays Reed Rothchild, porn actor, aspiring musician, and best friend to Dirk. Actor William H. Macy, who plays production assistant Little Bill, describes the film perfectly: “For just a nanosecond, people thought adult entertainment was going to become a legitimate art form. Boogie Nights is a microcosm of that period of that time.” “The book says, we might be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.”
-Jimmy Gator Magnolia is a gripping mosaic of American life shown through a series of intertwined vignettes. It follows twelve main characters through one random day in the San Fernando Valley. Anderson originally intended to write something “small and intimate” that could be shot in about thirty days. But his intention fell short as the story began to blossom and the characters became more complex. “I still think Magnolia is small and intimate,” states PTA. “It just took 200 pages and 90 days to get the right amount of small and intimate.” A movie of this stature, with its operatic take on love, family, and unhappiness, called for a cast willing to push the envelope. Anderson wrote the script specifically for an ensemble of actors he knows and trusts, with a few new additions thrown into the mix. At the center of the Magnolia tapestry is Earl Partridge, played by Jason Robards. Partridge is a dying man who is coming to grips with the mistakes he has made in his life and what he can do during his last days to right some of those wrongs. This was Robard’s first time working with PTA and found that playing a dead man was sort of prophetic since he himself had recently recovered from a near fatal illness. One thing that Earl wants before he passes is to make good with his estranged son, Frank T.J. Mackey, the self-proclaimed “Master of the Muffin”. He is the Tony Robbins of seduction and this is exhibited in his high priced seminars aimed at lonely men looking to gain an advantage when it comes to the ladies. Tom Cruise, who also finds himself working with Anderson for the first time on Magnolia, plays Mackey. Cruise had approached Anderson about a possible partnership after viewing Boogie Nights. The two became fast friends. Acting a liaison between father and son is Earl’s male nurse Phil Parma, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman offers a very different portrayal of a caretaker as he is very much attached to Earl. He takes pride in his work and harbors a platonic love for his patient. Hoffman’s character is the only one in the film who isn’t trying to clean up anything. He’s not fighting with his past. Also in love with Earl is his young wife Linda, played by Julianne Moore. She originally married the man for his money but has now fallen in love with him as his life draws to a close. She’s on a quest to make her marriage sincere by renouncing Earl’s will and all that comes with it. Earl Partridge’s influence extends beyond his family to the host of his most popular game show: Jimmy Gator, played by Phillip Baker Hall, hosts “What Do Kids Know?” Despite his wholesome reputation in the eye of the public, his life is a moral and ethical mess. “Jimmy has ridiculed people and trampled on people all of his life, but has the public persona of being a kind and amiable father figure, full of good television cheer,” states Hall. “Now that he’s facing the end of his life, he’s being asked question he can’t (bring himself to) answer. He’s got like 12 hours to make 60 years right, to try to come to terms with his regrets and find forgiveness from his daughter.” Among the many other characters that make up the finely woven fabric of the film are Jeremy Blackman, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Melora Walters, and Ricky Jay. While at three hours Magnolia is definitely not suited to everyone’s taste, those who exercise a bit of patience and allow the story to unfold are in for a special treat.