Boogie Nights: 10 Facts You Didn’t Know

gomoviesDecember 7, 2019

“You know, this is the film I want them to remember me by.” These are the words spoken by Jack Horner, the adult film director in Boogie Nights (played by the late Burt Reynolds) who aspired to create art where most saw trash. The same can be applied to the film’s actual director, Paul Thomas Anderson, who wanted to create an epic tale of a surrogate, unconventional family of societal cast-offs and discovering one’s self-worth. It just so happened to be set in the chaotic world of 1970’s pornography.

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Anderson, who grew up in the San Fernando Valley in the seventies, was fascinated by the other films being made in Southern California at the time. After a frustrating experience on his first film, PTA was determined not to repeat history with his second film. That film was Boogie Nights. Here are 10 Facts You Didn’t Know About Boogie Nights.

10 Leonardo DiCaprio Was The Initial Choice To Play Dirk Diggler

Mark Wahlberg has come a long way since his days as the frontman in the Funky Bunch. The one-time Calvin Klein underwear model has gone on to become an A-list star in Hollywood. However, his breakout role in Boogie Nights (and arguably his most memorable) almost didn’t happen. The part of naive teen busboy Eddie Adams turned mega-porn star Dirk Diggler nearly went to Leo. Anderson had wanted DiCaprio for the role, but Leo had to turn it down, as he was already committed to James Cameron’s Titanic. Joaquin Phoenix was also considered for the role before Wahlberg ultimately landed the part. PTA has since said Wahlberg was definitely the right choice.

9 Burt Reynolds Hated The Movie

Reynolds, an A-list star in ’70s and ’80s Hollywood, was not too fond of doing a movie set in the world of porn. He was eventually convinced to take on the role of auteur director Jack Horner after several attempts to land the former college football star. (Warren Beatty, Sydney Pollack, and Bill Murray were also offered, and turned down, the part.) During production, the hot-tempered Reynolds famously clashed with the young director, nearly coming to blows with Anderson on one occasion. In Grantland’s oral history on Boogie Nights, first assistant director John Wildermuth stated, “Burt was frustrated because Paul was not allowing him to do free takes (improvise).” Reynolds, who would win a Golden Globe and be nominated for an Oscar, did not change his mind when he saw a rough cut, but he did eventually warm to the film after it received a stellar critical reception.

8 Inspired by Two Different Films

Disappointed with his first film, Hard Eight/Sydney, which he did not have full creative control over, PTA turned to an earlier short film of his for inspiration, the mockumentary The Dirk Diggler Story. Made when he was a teenager, the 32-minute short tells the tale of Diggler, who was bisexual and died of an overdose in that version. 

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Many elements would find their way into the feature-length version, such as Reed Rothchild’s hilarious hot tub poetry. Anderson also used the 1981 documentary Exhausted: John C. Holmes, The Real Story as a creative resource for Boogie Nights. In fact, PTA recreated several scenes from that doc for his film, with the “I-do-my-own-blocking” and the “excellent” restaurant scenes as examples.

7 The Drug Deal Scene Was Based On Real Events

One of the high points in the film comes when Diggler, Reed Rothchild, and Todd Parker attempt to pull off a bait-and-switch scam with drug lord/madman Rahad Jackson, played by Alfred Molina. The scene is brimming with tension as Diggler and crew attempt to sell Jackson some fake cocaine. What you may not know is that the sequence is based in part on a real-life robbery and home invasion and the subsequent retaliation, the Wonderland murders. In 1981, porn star John Holmes (whom Diggler was partially based on), was allegedly involved in a home invasion of Nash’s residence, in which Nash’s bodyguard, Gregory Diles, was shot and injured. Nash, Diles, and Holmes were then apparently involved in a bloody attempt to recover Nash’s property from the Wonderland gang house, which resulted in four brutal murders.

6 The Opening Tracking Shot Was An Attempt To Out-Scorsese Scorsese

If you’ve seen Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, you no doubt remember the sequence where Henry Hill and his girlfriend Karen enter the Copacabana to the tune of The Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me,” all in one unbroken shot. Allegedly, PTA wanted to flex his filmmaking muscles by opening his film with his own long take. While Scorsese’s unbroken shot actually lasts about ten seconds longer (3:03 vs 2:53), Anderson’s long take employs a crane shot into a Steadicam tracking shot that first follows Luis Guzman’s Maurice Rodriguez (that’s a “G,” not a “Q”) into Hot Traxx before shifting focus to Jack and Amber, then Roller Girl, and finishing with Eddie Adams (from Torrance), who, of course, would become Dirk Diggler.

5 Nina Hartley Gave The Cast Interesting Wrap Gifts

Hartley, who played William H. Macy’s “Little” Bill’s wife, was one of several actual adult stars to appear in the film. Perhaps due to her day job or her open nature, or both, Hartley says many of the other performers, especially the females, were not too warm to her. However, in the Grantland oral history, Hartley claims that Macy “treated me with respect and professionalism. And I really appreciated that.” Maybe that is why Hartley decided to be the better person and provide the cast with gifts after filming wrapped…even though those gifts was her deluxe box set of, um, “instructional” videos.

4 Transformers Connections

Sharp-eared fans of the 1980’s Transformers animated series instantly recognized that the off-key track Dirk Diggler records in the movie (besides “Feel the Heat”) is “The Touch,” originally recorded by Stan Bush for the 1986 film Transformers: The Movie

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Anderson had used the tune for a similar scene in The Dirk Diggler Story and decided to replicate it in Boogie Nights. But the connections don’t stop there, as 17 years later Mark Wahlberg would go on to star in the live-action Transformers: Age of Extinction and then Transformers: The Last Knight.

3 The Boogie Nights House Recently Sold

During pre-production on Boogie Nights, an extensive search was launched to find a location for pornographer Jack Horner’s house. A period-accurate spot was vital, as many scenes from the film would be shot there. The production eventually found a house in West Covina, just outside L.A., that hadn’t been remodeled since the seventies. It was perfect for the film. Then in August 2017, the L.A. Times reported that the iconic party house was sold for $1.21 million after five months on the market. A bargain at any price!

2 Little Bill’s Double-Murder Suicide Was Originally More Graphic

As the seventies are about to give way to the eighties, Jack Horner’s dysfunctional gang gathers at his house to ring in the new year. Little Bill, played by William H. Macy, decides he’s finally had enough of his wife’s unfaithfulness when he catches her in the act yet again. The sequence, once again shot in a continuous take (and loosely based on the real-life suicide of porn actor Cal Jammer), ends with Bill shooting his wife and her lover and then himself. The scene is incredibly devastating, effectively transitioning us into the darker second half of the film. But it was originally much more disturbing, as PTA showed the two victims being brutally shot in the laundry room. The decision was made to scale the scene back.

1 The Final Scene Is An Homage To An Homage

PTA’s erotica epic ends with a cleaned-up Dirk Diggler getting a second chance in the adult film industry. As Diggler is preparing to shoot a scene, he sits in front of his dressing room mirror psyching himself up and getting into character. The scene is a direct homage to the final scene in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (itself an homage to Marlon Brando’s iconic speech in On the Waterfront) in which aging boxer Jake LaMotta prepares to go on stage for his one-man show. The dialogue may be different, but it is a near-exact replication of the scene.

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