I had one of my favorite kinds of New York nights this past week. It started with an early dinner at Café Luxembourg with my friends Paul Wontorek and Angella Valentine, who were seeing The Cottage on Broadway. After a delicious tomato and watermelon gazpacho, a perfect three-egg omelet (with fries, of course), and a cafe americano, Paul and Angella cabbed down to the Hayes Theater in midtown while I walked down Amsterdam to the Walter Reade Theater on West 65th Street.
The Walter Reade is part of Film at Lincoln Center, which also includes two intimate theaters across the street at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. Whichever screen you’re seeing, Film at Lincoln Center offers a really positive filmgoing experience. And, not for nothing, good popcorn – probably the best movie theater popcorn I’ve had all year. None of the sad little Chernobyl kernels lingering at the bottom of the bucket.
As for the film, I think Boogie Nights is a masterpiece. Set in the 1970s and 1980s, the film revolves around the rise and fall of Eddie Adams, a young dishwasher discovered by adult film director Jack Horner. Eddie quickly rises to fame in the adult entertainment industry as the porn star Dirk Diggler. The film explores the highs and lows of Eddie’s career, as well as the lives of the various characters in his orbit, including fellow actors, producers, and crew members.
I saw and loved the movie when it came out in 1997, and I’ve seen it several times since on home screens over the years. It’s a personal favorite. Among other things, I see Boogie Nights as a story about our chosen families – the group of close loved ones we adopt. It’s also about changing times (with the moviemaking changing from film to video) and how you’ll get left behind if you don’t get on the train. And there is also the story of how drugs can ruin everything. Like… everything. It all comes off the rails when the drug use kicks in. Once Dirk took those first lines of coke in Amber’s bedroom at that fateful New Year’s Eve party… it all started to fall apart. That New Year’s Eve party. The 1970s were over, and so was the party, in a way. I also think the movie is about forgiveness and redemption.
Among Paul Thomas Anderson‘s many gifts as a great filmmaker, one of them is his ability to assemble a wonderful ensemble of actors. Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, Heather Graham, William H. Macy, Nicole Ari Parker, Philip Baker Hall, Ricky Jay, Luis Guzmán, and the legendary Robert Downey, Sr. in a hilarious cameo as the recording studio manager. “That’s not an ‘MP’. That’s a ‘YP’.” Beautiful.
I will never be able to hear “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger without thinking of that heart attack of a scene with Alfred Molina and his Asian rent boy with the firecrackers. It’s so deliciously tense.
But my favorite scene in the whole film has to be the opening shot in the very beginning. From a crane outside the nightclub, then down to the street, onto the sidewalk, then inside the nightclub, the camera introduces us to the entire principal cast and establishes their relationships in that glorious first three minutes, all in one take. It’s so good. I don’t know the backstory, but I’d love to know how many rehearsals and takes were needed. In terms of things that could go wrong, it was quite a high-wire act. Beautifully executed.
Seeing Boogie Nights in 70mm on the big screen again, with an audience, laughing, cheering, and sharing the experience, was fantastic.
Worth noting… the Walter Reade Theater has a seating capacity of 268. I’d say the house was about 90% sold the night I was there. For a two and and a half hour movie – an old movie – starting at 7pm on Tuesday night, an almost full house was rather unexpected and a little remarkable. It was really nice to see.
After the movie, I walked the twenty blocks to my apartment, wondering how things would have panned out for Dirk, Jack, Amber, and Rollergirl. It was a perfect New York night.
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