An Interview with Paul Thomas Anderson, Director of "Boogie Nights"
by Mark Rabinowitz
At the '97 New York Film Festival press conference for his new film "Boogie Nights", writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson commented on the 157 minute
length of the film: "You're paying more, you should get more.", and the now
notorious "dick shot" at the end of the film: "I wasn't going to subject
you to 157 minutes without showing it to you." Needless to say, Anderson
doesn't take himself too seriously, but his film is a serious look at the
porn industry in America, bridging the late 70's and early 80's and is a
study in the rise and fall of an extended "family" of actors and their
poppa figure, director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds).
About as polished and accomplished as a second film by a 27-year old can
be, "Boogie Nights" features standout performances by Mark Wahlberg, Philip
Seymour Hoffman and an Oscar caliber turn by Burt Reynolds, and it marks
Wahlberg and helmer Anderson as serious talents to watch. Several days
later we got together at his hotel suite in New York to further delve into
the world of "Boogie Nights".
indieWIRE: It's a pretty big jump from Sundance to the New York Film
Festival (NYFF) with your second feature, isn't it?
Paul Thomas Anderson: I don't know about a jump from Sundance to something
else 'cause, ya know, I think in the scope of just the movies themselves.
Yeah, it's definitely bigger...
iW: I guess what I meant really was the type of movies that are generally
at Sundance and the type of movies that are generally at the NYFF...
there's not a lot of overlap.
Anderson: No, there isn't.
iW: What did you use for research on the film?....Your own memories of the
era comprising the early part of the film can't be too adult, so....
Anderson: My memories of 1st discovering porno film in my pre-adolescence
and then my stronger memories from adolescence which is the 2nd half of the
movie are certainly the grounding for any research that I did, and you
know, I've just seen a million porno movies and I've read a lot about it.
Sort of a general fascination with it. When I wrote the script I had never
physically been to a porno set. I stayed away until after I'd written it.
(Then) I kind of went and verified what I thought was the truth and was in
fact the truth.
iW: How do you find vintage era porno films? Most stores will only stock
the new stuff.
Anderson: Yeah, I know, its getting harder and harder to find... but you
can find it. It's out there. And it's funny, I know there are sex shops in
LA that actually have a little section called "classics."
iW: "The Devil In Miss Jones"...
Anderson: "Deep Throat", "Behind The Green Door" -- sort of the standard
classics, but there are certainly a lot of others that are missing that
should be available like "Jade Pussycat", or "Amanda By Night"....
iW: Did you see (FILMMAKER Mag's) list of the fifty most (important)
influential indie films?
Anderson: Yes I did, and I think that "Deep Throat" was #50. Certainly for
whatever it cost, $10 thou., $20 thou, something like that and it made
like....by this point it's probably made $100 mil. That's a big deal
iW: It's in "The Ice Storm".
Anderson: Oh really?
iW: They made a reference to the Harry Reams defense fund, and how it was
hip for the swinging couples of the day to take their wives to see "Deep Throat".
Anderson: Yeah, I mean that's a different time, a better time I think...one
of the bigger issues about the movie, too, is going into the theaters and
watching movies in theaters. Porn movies are regular movies.
iW: In an interview we did with the director of "Shall We Dance" (Masayki
Suo) and he said that in Japan, X-Rated movies, what they call "pink
movies", are treated as normal movies.
Anderson: Great! I didn't know that.
iW: What happened to the porn industry? Was it simply video, or was there
more to it?
Anderson: My take is that video is the real enemy there, I mean certainly
drugs (were) a part of it, and I'm sure there's sort of a bigger society
picture, but that's getting into the whole political arena.... video is the
enemy to me... the moment there was a chance for [the industry] to breath
and sort of open up and develop a new genre... it was sort of taken away by
video tape. It carries over into the way music videos have affected movies,
that sort of mentality....
iW: (snapping fingers) with cuts....
Anderson: With cuts, and not thinking things through. Where's the plan?
Where is the story? Where is any sort of vision to this stuff? It's just
iW: It's been said, and I think I agree, that the 70's are the greatest
decade in American movies, so far.
Anderson: I don't know. I change all the time. Sometimes it's the 70's,
sometimes it's the 30's, you know, when you're talking about the studio
system. It's funny, I think if you were just to look at the movies, I'd
probably say the 30's or 40's.
iW: They were more literate.
Anderson: They were more literate. Those are the classics, you know? But
then I think what we get stuck on with the 70's movies -- it was really the
beginning of (when) the auteur came to America and the director really
became the king. And that's a nice thought.
iW: It was really the end of the studio system.
iW: We still have famous authors writing screenplays, like back then you
had Dorothy Parker and William Faulkner, and all those people, and we do
now, but we don't treat them the same. The studio system didn't treat
Faulkner very well, but we don't lionize writers that way. Maybe I'm
romanticizing the way the public thought about it. Maybe it takes 50 years
for you to lionize a writer.
Anderson: I think that might be true. It's kind of like we sort of complain
about the state of movies today, and I'll be the first to complain about
the state of movies today. But, it's funny you know, I've seen a ton of
shit from the 30's, 40's, 50's, and there's just as much crap that was made
the year Citizen Kane came out, 1941...
iW: Oh, sure! It just doesn't last.
Anderson: It just doesn't last, and we don't know about it, but we can look
back to 1939 and go "Oh, wow! "The Wizard Of Oz" was made then!" There's
always gonna be this sort of ratio of shit versus brilliant stuff that's
out there. I complain about this year, but last year, how can you complain
about the year that gives you "Fargo" and "Breaking The Waves" and "Secrets & Lies" and "The English Patient".
iW: "Sling Blade".
Anderson: "Sling Blade"...you can't complain.
iW: Have you ever heard the George Lucas story about how he came up with
the music for "American Graffiti"? It was very similar to how you did it.
Whatever he was listening to while he was writing whatever scene, he would
jot down notes in the margin and he would put that in the film.
iW: Which is why the soundtrack to "American Graffiti" is two double albums.
Anderson: Boy, I wish this was a double album.
iW: It's not!?
Anderson: We did 13 tracks on one CD. There'll be a volume two.
iW: They make more money that way.
Anderson: Yeah, but I'm talking them into volume two, so I won't say
anything bad right now! (laughs)
iW: If the artist wants a double album, they can do it, but since it's a
Anderson: Yeah, if you're the Beatles or The Smashing Pumpkins, you can
release a double album, but since it's a soundtrack.... It seems sometimes
to me that some movies get stuck a little bit too much in trying to make
the music in the movie very literal, or sort of thematically linking to the
scene that's happening. And that's cool when it can happen, it can be a
little cute or coy sometimes if it's nailed to perfectly, but sometimes you
just gotta go with the basic thing that the vibe works. To be unashamed
about like: "Why does that work?" "It's just cool!"
iW: Like Sister Christian isn't a good song, but it's a great bridge to the
80's from the 70's.
Anderson: That much porno and that much cocaine is gonna equal Sister
Anderson: That's just a natural progression of where that will go.
iW: Am I correct that that was the first 80's song?
Anderson: No, no, no, I mean that's certainly the 1st sort of landmark 80's
song that happens in the movie...but there's Queen of Hearts and there's
the moment when Dirk and Reed branch out in their singing career. I think
there's some juicy 80's material within that. But those are originals.
iW: You can sort of understand that Jack Horner (Reynolds), while he's a
pornographer, you intrinsically know that the only things that would make
him sick or upset him, sexually, would be animals or kids.
Anderson: Exactly. That's kind of the way that it is within the industry
too. There's a lot of moral lines within that group and they're twisted to
us for the most part, about "Well I'll take it in the ass, I'll take 2
dicks in my ass, but I would never put one in my mouth." You know what I
mean? Those are the sort of codes that they make for themselves... they
have to create them to get them through the day. But certainly the line
that everyone says "do not go there" is animals and children.... In a sort
of place where it's so demoralizing so quickly, you really have to kind of
get your parameters and make them for yourself and make them your own.
[Discussing the ending, and how an attendee at the NYFF press screening
misinterpreted it as upbeat:]
Anderson: I'm very happy with the way the movie ends, and I was sad about
that person's perception of the ending. It made me feel like I hadn't done
my job, but then I stopped and thought no, I did do my job, and maybe that
person just misinterpreted it. You know, usually what you see in a movie is
that (the characters) become smarter at the end of the movie, somehow. That
doesn't really happen here. Everybody is the same. Maybe if there's a
change, it's like one degree. Normally you see a 90 degree change in a
movie. To me, they're all pretty much the exact same people as they were at
the beginning of the movie.
iW: About (Dirk's) monologue at the end, was that inspired by "Raging Bull"?
Anderson: I was halfway through the scene when I realized I was writing
something that really closely resembled "Raging Bull". I thought I had
stumbled onto something wonderful, like here's this twisted take (on the
scene from "Raging Bull") which made perfect sense for Mark Wahlberg to be
playing Eddie Adams, to be playing Dirk Diggler, to be playing Brock
Landers, to be playing any of his sort of idols. There's an Al Pacino
poster in (Eddie's room) the beginning of the movie so you've got him
playing Brock Landers playing Robert Di Niro, playing Jake Lamotta, playing
Marlon Brando playing Terry (from "On the Waterfront") doing Shakespeare. So
you've got movie reference on top of movie reference. I just sort of
stumbled into that, and thought not to shy away from stumbling into
something that I had somehow sort of subconsciously gotten.