Before exploding into the scene with the 2007 historical epic ‘There Will Be Blood,’ Paul Thomas Anderson already made his presence felt with ‘Boogie Nights’ and ‘Magnolia.’ It is no secret that ‘Boogie Nights’ packs a grand ensemble cast to tell its kitsch story. With Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, William H. Macy, Don Cheadle, Heather Graham, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alfred Molina, and Mark Wahlberg on board, and by the grace of a superb script, the film is a literal motherlode. Set in the San Fernando Valley, the story revolves around a production team of pornographic films.
Along with that, it also showcases the transition of America from the 70s to 80s. In its unmistakable pastiche, creation of the carnivalesque fraught with metanarrative elements, and neon-lit firecracker anxiety, the film stands out as a lasting achievement in cinema. Anderson’s director speaks through the character of Burt Reynolds in the film when he says, “It’s my dream to make a film that is true and right and dramatic.” So, is there any truth in the film’s depiction of the porn industry? Let us find out!
Is Boogie Nights Based on A True Story?
Yes, ‘Boogie Nights’ is based on a true story. The story and screenplay for the film were written by the director himself, who developed it from his own amateur mockumentary short film ‘The Dirk Diggler Story.’ Anderson came up with the idea of the film at the age of 17 when he was still a high school student. The mockumentary style figures in a sequence in the feature film where Amber is seen making a documentary on the life of Dirk Diggler, “a man of lust,” which in turn, was inspired by the 1981 documentary ‘Exhausted: John C. Holmes, The Real Story.’
The documentary throws light into the life of prolific porn actor John Holmes. The character of Dirk Diggler, you would be amazed to know, is based on the real-life legend of Holmes. To give you a context, the contribution of John Holmes in the porn industry was compared with Elvis Presley’s contribution to rock n’ roll. The rising and falling cadence of Dirk’s career in the movie mirrors the sensational life and times of John Holmes.
Like Dirk in the film, John also broke into the industry with the grace of his exceptionally large penis, which was pretty much the talk of the town. John also featured in some adult gay films in his later years. This aspect of his life has also been featured in the film via Dirk’s character. The movie also showcases John’s stint at burglary with his infamous Wonderland gang. Other than ‘Boogie Nights,’ John Holmes has also been the source of inspiration behind the 2003 James Cox film ‘Wonderland.’
To get the specifics of the porn industry on point, Anderson went to a great length. Nina Hartley, who plays the role of Little Bill’s wife, is herself a famous porn star, and she understandably provided some valuable insights. Moreover, Anderson invited illustrious porn star Ron Jeremy to consult on some scenes, and also attended some shooting events to get the feel right. Ron Jeremy appears in a cameo role in the film as the abusive cell-mate of Colonel, although we never see his face.
Speaking of the burglary, it is one of the best sequences in the movie. Todd, Reed, and Dirk go to the house of drug dealer Rahad Jackson to score a bounty, but the situation goes way out of hand. Backed by an apt score, including Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” and distracting firecrackers, the scene provides the sprawling story with a fitting climax, and after running from the scene, Dirk ends up back at uncle Jack’s house.
The firecracker scene has inspired the character of Ghoulardi, which was created by Anderson’s father for a TV show. The scene also drew some inspiration from Robert Downey Sr.’s film ‘Putney Swope,’ where a character keeps throwing firecrackers in the background. In a telephonic conversation with the veteran actor, Anderson told him that he wanted to bring the action to the foreground.
The final scene, where Dirk motivates himself in front of the mirror, is inspired by Martin Scorsese‘s ‘Raging Bull.’ Dirk repeatedly says “I’m a star,” whereas we see Robert De Niro’s character uttering “I’m the boss.” You can also spot an Al Pacino poster from Sidney Lumet’s film ‘Serpico’ in Dirk’s room. So, the director was inspired by the early masters of Hollywood, although he managed to give the film a coat of his own auteur. Lastly, if you are wondering whether Mark Wahlberg’s giant wee-wee is real or not, we are saddened to say that it is only a prosthetic appendage.
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