Tonight: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy and Heather Graham in Boogie Nights.
The director, 27-year-old Paul Thomas Anderson, adapted this feature from a student film he made a decade earlier, titled The Dirk Diggler Story.
Diggler was inspired by unusually well endowed porn star John Holmes, also known as Johnny Wadd.
The Dirk Diggler Story starred Anderson’s father, Ernie Anderson, and our dear departed friend, Bob Ridgley as “Jack Horner.”
Off-screen, Ernie Anderson and Bob Ridgley had long shared booth duties as the promo voices of ABC-TV.
The role of Diggler in Boogie Nights was initially offered to Leonardo DiCaprio. He wanted to do it, but he was signed for Titanic, which created a scheduling conflict.
DiCaprio suggested Mark Wahlberg, formerly known as rapper “Marky Mark,” for the part.
Gwyneth Paltrow declined the role played by Graham as “Rollergirl.”
Warren Beatty and actor-director Sydney Pollack turned down the “Jack Horner” character. Pollack attended the premiere of Boogie Nights, and later told the media he thought he had made a mistake in declining the role.
Burt Reynolds ultimately got the role, which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He told Maxim that he researched the part by hanging around during the making of real porn films. He was so disgusted by what he saw, or so he said, that he regretted not wearing rubber gloves after each visit to a porn set. He also felt the need to take a shower immediately after each visit. Or so he said.
Everyone he met on these excursions posed the same question to him: “How can I obtain a Screen Actor’s Guild membership?”
In the cast: Robert Downey Sr., as the studio manager, plus real porn stars Summer Cummings, Skye Blue, Nina Hartley and Veronica Hart.
The film’s title is derived from a 1977 disco hit by a group named “Heatwave.” But the lead singer, Johnny Wilder Jr., is a born-again Christian and blocked use of his song, explaining that Boogie Nights was meant to celebrate dancing, not pornography.
The film was shot from July 10 through October 4, 1996, all over the San Fernando Valley.
They cut 40 seconds from the film in order to change the NC-17 rating to an R. The “F” word (and derivatives) was used 165 times in the final cut.
The budget and estimated cost of the film was $15.5 million.
Boogie Nights opened on October 8, 1997 at the New York Film Festival. It earned $26.5 million domestically and $15.5 million overseas for a total of more than $43 million—a clear commercial hit.
The critical reception for a film on this subject was surprisingly positive. The San Francisco Chronicle declared, “Boogie Nights is the first great film about the 1970s to come out since the 1970s. It gets all the details right, nailing down the styles and the music. We know we are watching a wonderful sprawling, sophisticated film . . . a panorama of recent social history, rendered in bold, exuberant colors.”
The Los Angeles Times called it “a startling film.” The New York Times enthralled “Everything about Boogie Nights is interestingly unexpected. ... Mark Wahlberg gives a terrifically appealing performance.”
Rolling Stone declared, “This chunk of movie dynamite is detonated by Mark Wahlberg, who grabs a breakout role and runs with it. ... Boogie Nights is mercilessly honest and mercilessly humane at the same time—a hilarious and harrowing spectacle. A fireball in a time capsule.”
Roger Ebert wrote, “In 1977, when the story opens, porn movies were shot on film, screened in theaters and a director could dream of making one so good that the audience would want to stay in the theater even after they had achieved what they came for. By 1983, when the story closes, porn had shifted to video and most of the movies were basically just gynecological loops. ... ‘Jack Horner’ is the father figure for a strange, extended family of sex workers. He’s a low-rent Hugh Hefner, and Burt Reynolds gives one of his best performances, as a man who seems to stand outside the sex and views it with the detached eye of a judge at a livestock show.”
Boogie Nights earned three Oscar nominations: Best Supporting Actor for Burt Reynolds, Best Supporting Actress for Julianne Moore and Best Screenplay for Paul Thomas Anderson.
Reynolds didn’t get along with Anderson, who wanted to use him again in Magnolia. Reynolds said no. In fact, Reynolds fired his agent for getting him the part. And he would do nothing to promote the film, despite the Oscar nomination it earned him and the Golden Globe that he won.
So now—from 1997—Boogie Nights.