Reviewed by D.K. "Funky Town" Holm

Somewhere out there exists a real version of Boogie Nights , a version that runs four hours. In contrast, it must be much better than the version now in release in theaters.

At a still epic length of two-and-a-half hours, Boogie Nights is the story of a lad named Eddie Adams (Mark Walhberg) from the San Fernando Valley in the '70s, who refashions himself as porn star Dirk Diggler, under the tutelage of porn meister Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds, in an endearing, silver wigged turn). He joins a secondary, work family, like the ones in TV sit-coms, only here they take drugs, have child custody battles that they lose, or commit suicide on New Year’s Eve when they find their wife fucking someone else. From the '70s into the `80s, the family falls apart, thanks to ego, drugs, and death, but happily, in the end, it re-forms itself.

There are some films you don’t know what to make of. After reading a raving, if occasionally incomprehensible, essay in Film Comment, I was eager to see the film. But on first viewing, I found that the first hour chugged, grinding its gears waiting to go somewhere while introducing a host of characters, each of whom is individuated with but one identifying characteristic, one that is harped on relentlessly. Worse, as you sit there, you don’t know what the film is about. What’s the theme? What’s the tone? Comedy or satire? History or parody? Yet I wanted to like it, and a second viewing revealed visual motifs that indicated a subtly cunning and controlling mind behind the unwieldy messiness.

The two most influential filmmakers right now are Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino and the offspring of a Satanic alliance between them may well be Boogie Nights director Paul Thomas Anderson (Hard Eight ). This film starts like Goodfellas, with long takes that connect the dots of the characters, and ends like Pulp Fiction, with a brilliantly staged suite of scenes of comical violence and brutal beatings. In between there is a non-stop string of disco hits and other songs of the time period, reminding us that contemporary movies would be nothing without the songs that accompany them, which often do 70% of the filmmaker’s work. Nevertheless, in a cinematic landscape filled with hollow mountains and radioactive bomb craters, Boogie Nights is funny, offbeat, and unpredictable.

This chronicle of the porn industry from the `70s through the `80s is loosely – very loosely – based on the life of John Holmes, only without the criminal record and the death from AIDS. Unfortunately, Anderson, who otherwise loves the porn industry and has been making versions of the Dirk Diggler story for years, has allowed a few errors to creep in. The “tragedy” of the movie is that video eventually supersedes film, and we are told that the nation’s porn palaces are converting to video projection as early as 1980, which is historically impossible. Dirty theaters in Portland, such as the Oregon, didn’t convert until 1988 or later. And the movie is set in The Valley which, my sources tell me, could not have been the site of dirty movie making, as the police were notoriously tough on the pornography industry at the time (the filmmakers would have gone to San Francisco). Yet the film is authentic in many other ways, and ultimately presents its characters as normal people with real problems, not depraved weirdos.

In the end, after two viewings, I liked Boogie Nights. But I’m betting that the inevitable laser disc director’s cut is really the masterpiece that everyone assumes its truncated little brother to be.

Inside Boogie Nights w/ Theresa "More Than a Woman" Reed

They say there are two things that every person has: an opinion and a telephone. (Okay, I substituted the telephone.) With the new, soon-to-be-a-hit movie, Boogie Nights strutting its retro self across America’s theater screens, both of those common denominators are getting a serious workout in Porn Valley. Industry insiders’ opinions are eagerly being sought by a mainstream media which hasn’t had much good to say about porn, but which can’t say enough good things now that it’s available in an easily digestible format.

But what about folks in the know? What about the people who’ve literally had their asses on the line with a camera moving in close for that precious “pop” shot? What do they think of all the hoopla? Porn, traditionally America’s dirty little secret, couldn’t have bought the publicity that Paul Thomas Anderson, the 27-year-old director of Boogie Nights has provided free of cost.

Or is it free? The way porn veteran Bill Margold talks, Boogie Nights is the worst thing that could have happened to the people involved with cinematic sin. Margold’s chief complaints are that the film “doesn’t honor the pioneers, does not honor his (John Holmes’) memory, and does not honor or service our industry.”

Strong words. I decided to see if others in the field shared Margold’s condemnation of the film. I contacted three adult industry professionals directly involved with the making of Boogie Nights: Nina Hartley (who played “Little Bill’s Wife”), Veronica Hart (who played the child custody judge), and Ron

Jeremy (who served as the film’s consultant and whose small role near the end of the film wound up on the cutting room floor... with about half of the rest of the footage). Then, because none of these performers have a history that dates back as far as Margold’s, I spoke briefly with the incredibly busy Miss Sharon Mitchell. What I discovered was that, to paraphrase so many toothpaste and aspirin commercials, four of my five porn professionals loved the film and feel it’s a major step forward for the industry.

Nina Hartley, who Margold has called the "Eleanor Roosevelt of porn" was very supportive of Anderson’s work. “I thought it was very well done and very potent,” she stated emphatically. Although she, like Hart, would have preferred less violence, she expressed a respect for the maturity, depth, and affection with which the young director (and adult video fan) treated his subjects. His youth was, she suggested, a major factor in the film’s ability to “break new ground” in its treatment of previously taboo subjects, such as interracial love and “women who cross the line from `good girl’ to `bad girl.’” Previously, she pointed out, female characters who did not follow societies’ idea of proper behavior were required to admit their fault, be forgiven, and then die, go insane, serve time in prison, or lose everything. “In this movie, the main female characters are happy at the end! One has a wonderful relationship and a lovely child, and one has gotten her high school diploma and is moving on to better things. It’s radical at that level. And they didn’t leave pornography and they didn’t blame pornography for their problems.” Because of this and the strong interracial love story, Hartley is proud to have been a part of Boogie Nights.

Margold was unimpressed with Hartley's film character and felt that she had been tossed a “bleached bone” in her skimpy

Hartley agrees that the final cut left her a smaller role than in the full four hours, but claims the role is far from bleached. “It was a gift out of heaven and I’d be crazy not to take the opportunity for the doors it could open for me. I’m very happy to have been part of the picture.” She does wish that those involved with the film had been more daring, however, and had permitted her to be more actively involved in promoting it.

Another complaint of Margold’s was that the characters were very troubled. “If I’d been in such a dysfunctional environment I’d have been out,” he proclaimed.

The bright, quick-speaking Veronica Hart pragmatically pointed out, “It’s a movie and you gotta put some kind of conflict in it. That’s what dramatic stories are about. There’s got to be something that happens. If they had a movie where everybody was really well adjusted and everybody was fine, it would be a pretty boring movie and it really wouldn’t be typical of any life, let alone porn stars or dancers.” Hart was particularly pleased with the film’s industry focus because it acknowledged that members of the adult entertainment field exist at all. “It used to be that nobody would write about it, that nobody would do anything about it... But they set it in the porn business, which I thought was great because nobody ever pictures us as real people. I don’t think those people that they showed were bad people whatsoever. They were misguided, they were maybe a little fucked up but they weren’t bad people. These were not nasty people. These were not people going out of their way to screw people over.”

But before you begin thinking that Margold has decided that the grapes must be sour since he’s not being given any, keep the following things in mind: he saw many of his friends go to jail during the glorious Reagan and Bush years of moral purity, he was labeled “the devil incarnate” by vice squad cops in the `70s who wanted desperately to keep porn from existing and who regularly threatened to take children away from the women involved in the films. His experiences, especially as one of the early male pioneers, are unique. And he’s right. Working in the industry was legally risky. The films weren’t made in The Valley. Porn didn’t start coming out on video as early as Boogie Nights would have us believe. There wasn’t as much violence as Anderson depicts. It’s easy to forgive Margold’s acid tongue on a topic he has fought so hard to defend and takes so seriously. Perhaps, as film consultant and porn icon Ron Jeremy suggests, too seriously.

“There have been a lot of movies depicting Hollywood actresses being all screwed up with lousy families. In this case it’s porn,” he pointed out. Without Jeremy’s help the film wouldn’t have had any authentic porn performers. Thanks to his influence, Hartley, Hart, and several performers’ with bit parts, found themselves in front of a big time Hollywood camera. It’s ironic that he (and Tony Tedeshi, who played Hartley’s final, doomed conquest), found all of their footage littering a cutting room floor. There are a lot of people in Porn Valley looking forward to that four-hour director’s cut.

Jeremy also would remind Margold that “there were a lot of things that really happened that didn’t show up in the movie,” such as porn star suicides.

What everyone does agree on however, are two things:

The first is that members of the porn world, like the characters in the film, are a family which supports its members (although it doesn’t always treat its women as well as it should) and forgives its prodigal offspring. And Margold has often been the father figure who, like Burt Reynold’s character, has taken in those wayward children, including the legendary king, John C. Holmes.

The second thing everyone regretfully acknowledges, is that there has been a lot of cocaine pass through the noses of the industry’s talent. Porn, like mainstream Hollywood, has not been immune to the “party hardy” mentality of those who yearn for fame and eternal youth via the cinema.

Miss Sharon Mitchell, also a porn pioneer and now a chemical dependency specialist training to be a doctor in the field, felt the movie was right on the money. “I really thoroughly enjoyed the film. Not only the ambiance of the film and the feeling of community between people; the welcoming back of the individual no matter what you’d done, but the drug addiction, issues of low self-esteem and parent issues that the lead character went through... A lot of people have gone through those things. The need for attention; the addiction of attention and fame. These are things that happened to me. I also took the path to drug addiction and hit a very bad bottom”

Like the characters in Boogie Nights, these performers have all experienced their difficult times and none of them blame their work in porn for their problems. And, again like the movies’ characters, they have all continued to move toward their dreams, both inside and outside of the industry.

Nina Hartley has several new videos available, including Adam and Eve’s Necking and Petting, and Dancing for Your Partner. She also has an essay in the book Whores and Other Feminists, edited by Jill Nagle, and a piece entitled "How Pornography Can Save the World" in the November issue of The Gauntlet. Veronica Hart appears in non-sex roles in adult videos as well as producing and directing them. Sharon Mitchell, while reaching out to those with drug and alcohol dependency issues, has also produced a number of adult titles, including an S&M line for Fallen Angel, and a lesbian wrestling video called Battle of Millennia. Ron Jeremy keeps “popping” up in X-rated, mainstream, and rock videos alike (including a co-starring role in the upcoming Orgasmo, which is written, directed, and stars the writer of the animated series South Park), and has even recorded his own hit rap song.

Meanwhile, Bill Margold continues to be the industry watch-bear, with sharp teeth, a ready tongue, and a warm heart.

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