I first saw Boogie Nights in 2000, when I was a 13-year-old punk, three years after it had originally been released in theaters. At the time, the film was appealing to me for very obvious reasons (the titties, cocaine, just to name a few), but as I got older, and I continued to watch Boogie Nights, studying it, I began to develop an appreciation for not only the boldness of the film, but the mastery of director Paul Thomas Anderson.
This article from A.V. Club, written by Mike D’Angelo in July 2009, is one of the best articles I’ve ever read about Boogie Nights and PT Anderson’s risk-taking style of directing. The article discusses one of my favorite sequences in the film – Long Way Down (One Last Thing) – the chaotic conclusion of the film where Dirk Diggler officially hits rock-bottom.
Anderson cuts to a close-up of Dirk sitting quietly on the couch just as “Jessie’s Girl” begins its second verse, and proceeds to hold that close-up for 50 agonizing seconds—an eternity of screen time, given that nothing is happening.
It’s a moment of pure mystery, an inexplicable oasis amid off-the-wall chaos, and while I still find most of Boogie Nights too baldly derivative to be truly great, it was in those 50 seconds, and in this scene generally, that I first recognized the presence of a potential master.
In my opinion, that “moment of pure mystery” is cinematic gold, a telling shot, holding on Mark Wahlberg as he stares menacingly at nothing, a crooked smile etched across his drug-addled face. The soundtrack complements the shot choice, peppered with the occasional explosion from Cosmo, Rahad Jackson’s (Alfred Molina) Chinese counterpart.
The entire sequence capped off a remarkable debut film by one of the most talented filmmakers in Hollywood. And as long as PT Anderson continues making movies, we’ll all be watching them, taking notes, learning something new each time.