Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson’s sprawling tale of LA’s porn industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s, is very much a two-sided coin: the film has a much lighter, upbeat first half while the darker second half, which begins with the turn of the decade, is ushered in by a double murder and a suicide.

Here, in the build up to the film’s tonal switch, assistant director ‘Little’ Bill Thompson (William H. Macy) discovers his wife, an aging porn actress played by real-life ’80s adult video star Nina Hartley, having sex with an unknown man on a driveway in front of a group of onlookers. Even within this ridiculous premise there are further moments of absurdity: first she chastises her husband for embarrassing her, before the cuckold is accosted as he walks away from the scene by colleague Kurt Longjohn (Ricky Jay), who wishes to discuss the finer technicalities of a future video shoot.

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best, and Anderson’s composition here, keeping the watching crowd in the background between the mouths of the two characters in dialogue, is a great move. It accentuates the fact that Kurt is oblivious to Bill’s simmering fury, and allows for two great comic payoffs at the end: first Bill getting the words ‘cock’ and ‘ass’ mixed up, and then Kurt’s nonchalant decision to join the watching party at the end of the conversation.

Scenes like this one highlight Anderson’s commitment to the relatively-minor characters in Boogie Nights as well as his ambivalence to sexuality during the film. The movie is full of well-drawn, interesting characters like Bill, and they all have different problems to grapple with: unfortunately he isn’t able to deal with his wife’s ongoing infidelity too well…

(Warning: due to a little bit of swearing the video is NSFW.)

8 Responses to “Classic Scene: Boogie Nights (1997)”

  1. keith7198

    Oddly enough I’m the only person on the planet who finds PTA a little hit-and-miss. Boogie Nights is one of those misses for me. Please don’t shoot me. I’m a flawed man!

    • Stu

      Keith, you’re good enough to tolerate me (vaguely) disagreeing about Interstellar on your own site so I certainly won’t be shooting you over this! Although … fair warning … I have released the hounds.

  2. ckckred

    It’s an excellent scene for sure, but the moment I most remember in Boogie Nights is when Bill shoots his wife before killing himself. It’s basically the moment when PTA shifts the movie from comedy into dark drama.

    • Stu

      Yeah, that’s the one I was alluding to above! It’s a brilliant scene, especially the way the year ‘1980’ then flashes up on screen, even though it’s kind of a shame Macy’s out of the film from that point on.

  3. Three Rows Back

    Watched Boogie Nights recently and remembered why this was my favourite movie of that year. This scene is one of many that are just awesome. Nice pick Stu.

    • Stu

      Cheers Mark. I think it was my favourite of that year as well. Inherent Vice looks like a bit of a return to that kind of mix of dark and light material for Anderson so I’m really looking forward to it.

  4. Mark Walker

    A film filled with many great scenes, man. My personal favourite being Alfred Molina’s. However, “my wife has an ass in her cock” is quality stuff. Great movie!

    • Stu

      I was going to choose that scene originally. Absolutely brilliant, Molina’s only in the film for what…10 or 15 minutes? But he almost walks away with it. Such a great film, brilliantly cast. Think I’ll re-watch it soon.


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