Magazine article The Spectator

Sex and Sentimentality

Magazine article The Spectator

Sex and Sentimentality

Article excerpt


Boogie Nights

(18, selected cinemas)

Sex and sentimentality

Mark Steyn

The last hardcore porn movie I paid any close attention to was about 15 years ago at a stag night. At two in the morning, after the ritual strippers and 28 pints, someone slammed in the first of the compulsory videos and we all dutifully settled down to watch. I dozed off and, when I came round some hours later, the leading lady was being penetrated simultaneously in every possible orifice on a snooker table (don't ask me why a snooker table - it's one of the unshakeable conventions of the genre). The camera zoomed in for a closeup, which, to the horrified fascination of those of us emerging woozily from the land of nod, accidentally revealed an astonishing collection of monstrous carbuncles in her nether regions. `Oh, my God,' we groaned as one, and staggered off to the kitchen in search of black coffee and mini-cabs home.

My point is that, even before Aids, hardcore porn was a seedy, unhealthy business whose stars rarely emerged with anything to show for their labours apart from genital herpes and unaffordable drug habits. Yet, reluctant to accept this view of its fellow toilers in the thespian arts, Hollywood is now extending its traditional sentimentality about prostitutes to pornographers. Thus, Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights, a sunny view of a dark world, in which a company of porno actors is presented as one big loving family.

For Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), it's the family he has never known. It's 1977 and Eddie is working as a busboy in a Vegas hangout patronised by the distinguished hardcore director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds). Jack is in need of a Candide type for one of those films in which a young naif is initiated into all the various pleasures of Eros. Eddie fits the bill, not least because of his magnificent endowment, and adopts the nom de porn of `Dirk Diggler'. Jack becomes a father figure to Dirk, and Jack's top star Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) a mom - with the moronic waif Rollergirl (Heather Graham), so called because she keeps her skates on even during sex, fleshing out Dirk's new family as a kind of sister.

From there on, the film gets its own skates on and glides through the coke 'n' disco heyday of LA porn to 1984. The most interesting relationship is between Eddie and Amber, with Miss Moore doing most of the heavy work. She's a serious actress, of course, not a porn star, but her skin has that luminous tingle of sexual allure and her lips are blood red. …

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