Monday, September 19, 2011

Scene Stealer: Boogie Nights

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights is a provocative, complex, risky and memorable film. Boogie Nights is about the adult film industry during a time when movies were shot on film and played in theatres. Jack Horner (played perfectly by Burt Reynolds) is an adult film director who dreams of making adult movies with good stories that will keep audiences watching for more than just the sex.

Boogie Nights has many memorable scenes thanks to its superb ensemble cast and several subplots depicting how the different characters make lives for themselves in the adult film industry and what transpires when they leave it.

One of the film’s finest scenes is a startling one featuring William H. Macy. Macy plays Little Bill, a middle-aged man employed as an assistant director in the adult film industry who is married to a porn star. Little Bill’s wife (played by porn star Nina Hartley) gets it on with every man she can except for her husband and she isn’t shy about it. In one scene, Little Bill discovers his wife having sex in the driveway surrounded by appreciative on-lookers. When Bill asks his wife what she’s doing, she replies “Shut up, Bill. You’re embarrassing me.”

The startling scene comes later at a New Year’s Eve party to ring in the year 1980. Little Bill discovers his wife once again being unfaithful in the house where the party is being held. Driven to the ultimate breaking point from having been humiliated and betrayed numerous times before, Little Bill, dazed, goes out to his car, removes a handgun, and returns to the room where he discovered his wife, shoots her and her lover, then puts the gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger.

The shot sequence is itself a spectacular presentation of Anderson’s skills as a director as it’s one long steadicam shot. Anderson is a self-made film director without any formal film education, which makes his incredible aptitude of staging complicated camera movements that much more impressive. The long tracking shot is not an easy technique to master, yet Anderson uses it masterfully to film this scene stealer in Boogie Nights. The shot continuity makes the heart wrenching collapse of Little Bill powerfully startling for it’s not until he pulls the trigger that the shot is cut. What is doubly effective about this scene and its execution is how it’s used as the catalyst for the dark times that will engulf all of the characters in the 80’s.


  1. Great scene and Macy's smile at the end of it, is what really makes it truly memorable. Nice post!

  2. That's one of my favorite scenes of the film. Just as things were going well. This little moment where Little Bill just loses it and done in such a great presentation. It's a key plot-point to the film where everything starts to change though the seeds were sown once Phillip Baker Hall's Floyd arrives to talk to Jack about the idea of video.

    It's still my favorite P.T. Anderson film as I plan to do an Auteurs profile on him next year.

  3. What a fantastic scene. The long take is brilliant; it really help you get inside of Little Bill's head, and you just know something bad is going to happen. And that cut to the titlecard - "80s" - is great as well.

  4. @ Dan O - It's the scene that stands out most for me in the film and Macy is just brilliant in it - yes, that smile is something else.

    @ thevoid99 - the scene is perfect in changing the film's direction for sure, and P.T. Anderson executes it masterfully. It's also my favourite P.T. Anderson film, with Magnolia running a close second. An Auteurs piece on him would be fantastic.

    @ HARRYGOAZ - Indeed! I need to watch it again after having thought about it a lot lately.

    @ Tom Clift - The way P.T. Anderson shot the scene is brilliant and the long take does help to heighten the tension. When Little Bill closes the bedroom door and walks away, you just know he's coming back and he's going to do something about it.

  5. I saw the movie a couple of months ago and I loved it! Anderson is a fantastic director and the cast he brought together was stellar!

    I also agree with Macy's gun scene! It was a shock the first time I saw it! Still amazing!

  6. @ Aziza: agreed - it's a great film and the ensemble cast is superb. Anderson does a great job of bringing great groups of actors together in his films.

  7. Anonymous1:58 pm

    Just watched this last night for the first time in a while. Interestingly when Bill goes out to get the gun from his car, in the backround of the scene you can see Scotty (PSH) get out of his new car and return to the party, after the incident with Dirk a few minutes earlier. "I'm an Idiot"
    That is the kind of detail of a great filmmaker. Awesome!

    1. Great observation. I've been meaning to re-watch the film for some time. Maybe I'll do so over the long weekend coming up. I'll have to pay extra attention during that scene.

      PT Anderson is exceptional and his attention to detail is one of the reasons he is so good.


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