Before this revisit, having not seen 𝘉𝘰𝘰𝘨𝘪𝘦 𝘕𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵𝘴 in five or so years, I remembered the film to be a wonderfully indulgent and craftily assembled Scorsese homage, which showed promising signs of the filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson would later become— a filmmaker I’d later call my all time favourite.
However, upon this revisit, I have changed my tune somewhat… Never in doubt was the overall ambition of the film, nor the execution; nor was the precociously masterful management of an ensemble narrative up for reassessment. Rather, I had mistakenly remembered 𝘉𝘰𝘰𝘨𝘪𝘦 𝘕𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵𝘴 as a free-falling amusement ride, full of all the youthful exuberance you’d expect from a 26 year old filmmaker with the likes of Reynolds, Wahlberg, Moore, Macy, Cheadle (and so on) at his disposal. What I failed to remember was the commanding grasp and sense of maturity with which these elements are organised. Amidst all of the glitzy madness and show-stopper moments, 𝘉𝘰𝘰𝘨𝘪𝘦 𝘕𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵𝘴 is a film with something to say; and while I can’t tell you exactly what that message is, the film plays like a grand reveal of America’s glitter-shrouded insecurities.
So yes, while 𝘉𝘰𝘰𝘨𝘪𝘦 𝘕𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵𝘴 is indulgent in seemingly every regard, the film never sinks into tedium— and more to the point, indulgence seems completely appropriate for a 3 hour rise-and-fall film about a 70s pornstar, named Dirk Diggler.
The Diggler (Wahlberg) narrative is the tale at the centre of 𝘉𝘰𝘰𝘨𝘪𝘦 𝘕𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵𝘴, and chronicles the misadventures of Dirk in the porn industry: his meteoric rise to riches, and his equally rampant plummet back to poverty. But the film is a juggling act of 10 or so other offspring characters, each a colleague of Dirk’s, each equally as captivating and each imbedded in the fabric of the late 70s/early 80s L.A. porn scene.
Here, much like his follow-up film, 𝘔𝘢𝘨𝘯𝘰𝘭𝘪𝘢 (1999), PTA displays this wondrous capacity to juggle a handful of exclusive storylines, each of which progressively diverge further and further apart from one another. In spite of these deviations, he is somehow able to develop each storyline in perfect synchrony with the others, advancing them at the same velocity and intensity, and making each character seem subject to the same peculiar laws of nature which PTA imposes upon his world. What we’re left with is a collage of idiosyncratic yet unified stories which- whether they’re grounded in truth or not- give an enthralling and irresistible portrait of the world of porn.
Like so many of his films 𝘉𝘰𝘰𝘨𝘪𝘦 𝘕𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵𝘴 is set between two distinct chapters of history. In this case, the transition from the 70s to the 80s, which marked the shattering of idealism in porn, as the art-form became commercialised with the inception of VHS, and consequently turned siliconised, violent and oh, so terribly sad.
Much like 𝘛𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘞𝘪𝘭𝘭 𝘉𝘦 𝘉𝘭𝘰𝘰𝘥, released a decade later, 𝘉𝘰𝘰𝘨𝘪𝘦 𝘕𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵𝘴 unapologetically examines the corruptive qualities of a monomania. Just by linking these two films, or by linking Diggler and Plainview, we’re given a peculiar insight into the a history of LA: in 1900, it was money that was fetishised and led to the corruption and subsequent ruination of the era’s monomaniacs; whereas in 1980, it was fame: the desire to be ‘a big great shining star’…
Apologies, but I have to give this one another 5… The last twenty minutes may very well be the best twenty minutes of PTA’s to date!