When Burt Reynolds recently appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, the starstruck host reflected on the actor’s iconic status and exclaimed it was such an honor to meet him because, well, “You’re Burt fucking Reynolds!”
Indeed. Reynolds was once the premiere icon of American masculinity, the rare film star who appealed to everyone, boy or girl, young or old. That was a long time ago, though. Now, he’s a pushing 80 and out there promoting his new memoir But Enough About Me, more than happy to take a victory tour celebrating his career. However, don’t get into too big of a rush to include Boogie Nights in any kind of supercut of his career highlights, even though it represents his one and only Academy Award nomination. In it, he plays an adult film director who weathers the industry’s rocky transition from the 70s to the 80s and acts as a Father Knows Best figure to all the wayward children and lost souls who drift toward such work only to later realize polite society will never take them back. However, Reynolds hated it so much while they were filming it that he fired all of his agents. He famously took a swing at the young director, Paul Thomas Anderson making only his second movie, during a particularly heated moment on set, and he generally seemed so annoyed by the film’s existence that he arguably torpedoed any chance he had of winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
It’s now nearly 20 years later, and Reynolds’ stance on Boogie Nights hasn’t softened. Talking to The Guardian, he admitted that he “hates” it even though he’s never actually seen it. He’ll never work with Paul Thomas Anderson again, who apparently offered him a role in Magnolia despite all the tension on the Boogie Nights set. In a separate interview with GQ, Reynolds further elaborated on the generational divide which was clearly at the heart of his feud with Anderson:
“I think mostly because he was young and full of himself. Every shot we did, it was like the first time [that shot had ever been done]. I remember the first shot we did in Boogie Nights, where I drive the car to Grauman’s Theater. After he said, ‘Isn’t that amazing?’ And I named five pictures that had the same kind of shot. It wasn’t original. But if you have to steal, steal from the best.”
Boogie Nights is Paul Thomas Anderson attempting to out-Scorsese Martin Scorsese, and that opening steadicam shot Reynolds didn’t like was actively designed to one-up Goodfellas. I get Reynolds’ reaction, but, at the same time, I side with Anderson because it is genuinely amazing, even when viewed today in an age where the steadicam is back en vogue thanks to Birdman and Creed:
There is an interesting side note to all of this, though. Boogie Nights tells the fictional story of Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), a well endowed, mostly innocent young busboy who runs away from his emotionally abusive mother and straight into the outstretched arms of Jack Horner, the kindly old director who is a bit of a starmaker and helps rename Eddie “Dirk Diggler.” They soon partners on a series of hardcore film noir movies, which mostly entail Dirk screwing the femme fatale and the random girl at the bar and the hot female assassins sent to killl him and…well, you get the idea. At one point, Dirk mentions that his goal is to do a better version of what John Holmes was doing at the time with his Johnny Wadd character.
Of course, Boogie Nights is so heavily inspired by the life of John Holmes that at times it’s an unofficial biopic. Eddie/Dirk is John. Jack Horner is a composite character, but he’s most directly based on Bob Chinn, who directed most of those John Holmes Johnny Wadd films. The sequence in Boogie Nights where we watch the documentary the Julianne Moore character made about Dirk is lifted shot-for-shot from the actual documentary Exhausted: John C. Holmes, the Real Story, right down to the clips from two different Bob Chinn-directed Johnny Wadd movies. Dirk and Jack sitting in the editing room and disagreeing over exactly who’s really in charge is lifted from John Holmes and Bob Chinn having that same exchange in Exhausted.
So, what did Bob Chinn think of Boogie Nights? The Rialto Report asked him that a little over two years ago:
I knew nothing about the film [prior to its release], and was surprised when my ex-wife took me to see it. I was even more surprised by the obvious parallels between myself and the Burt Reynolds character […] They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but the way it parodied what I had done, when [Anderson] recreated those scenes from my films, making me out to be some kind of incompetent, rank amateur, was somewhat of an insult.
He’s also firmly in the camp of people who question the film’s accuracy, probably because of Anderson’s choice to compress the timeline in his chronicling of the deterioration of the industry:
Sadly, it’s a totally inaccurate depiction. Some of the fictitious characters he came up with make the industry seem much worse than it actually was. I like to believe that most of us were serious and professional, even though most of us were working on it with such low-budgets the results may appear to be amateur and threadbare, but at least we had spirit and imagination. The characters in Boogie Nights were all about money, and while we were about money it was not the main thing I thought. I think the way the industry is shown in Boogie Nights is more like it was when the video revolution took hold in the 1980s, and any backyard amateur with a camera could become a director and virtually anyone could start up a video distribution company. These were the people who were interested in the money.
Maybe Burt Reynolds is too close to all of this to be able to appreciate Boogie Nights. The same might go for Bob Chinn. After all, a lot of what he said sounds kind of like Jack Horner, thinking back to his mid-movie speech, “Wait a minute. You come into my house, my party, to tell me about the future? That the future is tape, videotape, and not film? That it’s amateurs and not professionals? I’m a filmmaker, which is why I will *never* make a movie on tape.”