Kevin: We kicked off our “No Small Parts” series by saluting Kim Coates’ turn as the henchman who tries to play a game of “Light or Punch?” with Bruce Willis in “The Last Boy Scout;” it did not go well for him. We were going to next highlight the S.T. (Still Fat) version of Billy Bob Thornton as a talkative mercenary in Steven Seagal’s “On Deadly Ground” until we remembered that with Halloween upon us, what better time to celebrate the 20th anniversary of “Boogie Nights,” which strangely went into wide release on this day in 1997. Although perhaps it’s appropriate that the Paul Thomas Anderson masterpiece about the porn industry in late ‘70’s and early ‘80s was unleashed on multiplexes on such a demonic date, considering that Catholic star Mark Wahlberg recently expressed concern that his involvement in the film will secure him a seat next to Satan some day:
Rather than ponder whether the road to damnation leads through “Boogie Nights,” let’s instead focus on the film’s sprawling cast full of veterans as well as newcomers, all of whom get a chance to shine. Not only did Wahlberg finally shed his Marky Marky baggage for good as Dirk Diggler, the pornstar whose penis is as big as his pronunciation of “karate” is annoying, but Burt Reynolds reminded us of why he was once the most popular movie star in the world with his turn as Jack Horner, a director whose dream is to make a film so good that the audience has to keep watching even after they ejaculate (a trait he shares with Sofia Coppola).
While Reynolds was the only cast member recognized at awards season, “Boogie Nights” is chock full of memorable characters and dialogue, such as:
Financier “The Colonel” (the late Robert Ridgely in his final role) upon meeting Wahlberg for the first time: “I’m looking forward to seeing you in action, Jack says you have a great big cock.”
The poetry of Reed Rothchild, the pornstar who looks like John C. Reilly but who sees Han Solo in the mirror: “I love you, you love me/We’ll go down the sugar tree/And see lots of bees/But the bees won’t sting, because you love me.” (One of my biggest laughs in the film is when Wahlberg earnestly responds, “That was fucking great man!”)
Theater magnate Floyd Gondolli (Philip Baker Hall) while extolling the virtues of this brand-new invention called “videotape”: “I like simple pleasures, like butter in my ass, lollipops in my mouth. That’s just me, that’s just something I enjoy.”
Dirk using a rather suspect historical analogy to explain why people are always trying to tear down those like him at the top: “It’s like Napoleon. When he was king, you know, people were just constantly trying to conquer him in the Roman Empire. So it’s history repeating itself all over again.”
Black cowboy wannabe Buck Swope (Don Cheadle) giving his pitch for the TK-421 (another “Stars Wars” reference) stereo system: “See this system here? This is “Hi-Fi”: high fidelity. What that means is that it’s the highest-quality fidelity.”
Reed as “Chest Rockwell” to Dirk’s “Brock Landers”: “Let’s go get some of that Saturday Night Beaver.”
Dirk bragging to Rollergirl (Heather Graham) about how he only wears the finest-quality clothing: “Well this is imported Italian nylon.”
Todd Parker (Thomas Jane), one of the few people in “Boogie Nights” who really does look like a gross ‘70s pornstar, even if he’s actually playing a male stripper: “Sure, introduce her to my lap!” (Like a lot of his dialogue this doesn’t necessarily seem memorable on the page, but the hilariously sleazy vibe Jane gives his line-readings makes him the secret weapon of “Boogie Nights” in my book.)
Maurice (Luis Guzman), the club owner with aspirations of porn star glory: “I’m the ultimate Latin lover, there ‘aint no other Latin lover like me.”
Reed futilely trying to navigate the realities of the music business: “Okay, now you’re talking above my head. I don’t know all of this industry jargon, Y.P., M.P. All I know is that I can’t get a record contract, we cannot get a record contract, unless we take those tapes to the record company. And granted, the tapes themselves are, uh, you own them, all right. But the magic that is on those tapes, that fucking heart and soul that we put on to those tapes, that is ours and you don’t own that. Now I need to take that magic and get it over the record company.”
And of course, some of that “magic” that Reed is referring to, Dirk’s all-time classic cover of “You’ve Got the Touch” from the 1986 animated “Transformers: The Movie”:
Of course music also plays a prominent role in the most memorable set piece in “Boogie Nights,” in which Dirk, Reed, and Todd decide to rip off a local drug dealer in Anderson’s fictionalized version of the events that lead to the infamous Wonderland murders. Now while the British-born Alfred Molina is one the last people you would have expected to play a coked-up degenerate named Rahad Jackson, once you see him on screen you can’t picture anyone else in the role. While the audience is already tense due to an unstable Todd packing a gun and a barely legal Asian boy (I’m guessing Kevin Spacey regretted not auditioning for Rahad after seeing this scene) setting off firecrackers, Molina keeps you on edge even when his character is at his friendliest and most inviting.
Although honestly apart from occasionally pulling out a gun and playing Russian roulette …
… Rahad apparently mainly uses drug dealing as an excuse to meet new people, and he actually seems like a fun guy to hang out with. Plus his taste in music is excellent, as Dirk and company arrive at Rahad’s heavily secured mansion right as Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” is kicking off, causing Molina to interrupt the drug deal in progress to jam out when the song builds up to the first “You’re motoring …”
Now as we will learn, this isn’t some random song on the radio; Rahad Jackson does not conform to the dictates of the record companies or the radio stations when it comes to how he enjoys his music (“I don’t like to be told what to listen to, when to listen to it!”). In the same way that “Boogie Nights” anticipated the current divide between filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and David Fincher when it comes to film versus digital (with Jack Horner arguing for the quality of film in porn versus the cost efficiency of videotape), Rahad is obviously an early pioneer for consumer choice in music way before anything like Napster or iTunes came along:
I will note that as someone who grew up during the 1980’s, I can confirm that this is EXACTLY how a tape like this would have been labeled at the time:
And even though we only hear three songs from his “Awesome Mix Tape #6,” it’s obvious Rahad put a lot of thought into how they were ordered. He doesn’t have the Go-Go’s followed by the Bangles, followed by Bananarama; instead he has “Sister Christian” followed by “Jessie’s Girl” (according to Rahad, “Rickey” Springfield is a buddy of his), followed by “99 Luftballons,” all three of which bring out unique emotions and add something different to the party atmosphere. Although Rahad’s obvious connection to “Jessie’s Girl” is especially infectious, especially when he adds his own commentary: “I wish that I had Jessie’s girl (Rahad: ‘I’m so jealous!’)/”I want Jessie’s girl (‘She should be with me!’).”
Now eventually Rahad does try to kill his guests with a shotgun, but in fairness they did try and rob him first, so I think he was well within his rights. Once he’s done unloading on Dirk’s orange Stingray he turns around and walks back to his house, and we never see him again in the movie. I’m assuming he just closed the door and immediately went back to jamming on another song from his awesome mix tape, and if I could have any wish in the world it would be to know what Rahad’s playlist was for his “Awesome Mix Tapes” #1-5.
So if you are staying in and handing out candy this Halloween, instead of watching a crappy horror movie, why don’t you celebrate the 20th birthday of “Boogie Nights” and Alfred Molina’s scene-stealing turn (just make sure to put the movie on mute when you answer the door so parents don’t call the cops on you). Or if you are going out, consider ditching your current costume and going as Rahad Jackson; all you need is a bathrobe, red Speedo, and a kickass ‘80s mix tape. Maybe leave the firecracker-throwing Asian boy at home though.
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