Boogie Nights
Will the real Dirk Diggler
please stand up?

by Peter Lehman

from Jump Cut, no. 42, December 1998, pp. 32-38
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1998, 2006

BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997) was widely anticipated as a film about porn. Indeed, once the film actually appeared, many reviews and articles echoed this theme promoted by the film's advance publicity campaign. Review titles include the following: "BOOGIE NIGHTS takes trip through 70s porn industry" (Downing, 8E); "Adventures in the Skin Game" (Vorhees); and "Putting the plot into '70s porno" (USA Today). A Knight-Ridder AP Wire Service headline about the film declares,

"BOOGIE NIGHTS does for the porno industry what NASHVILLE did for country music" (Knight-Ridder).

While exactly what NASHVILLE did for country music remains unclear, clearly these and many other reviews and commentaries share an impression that BOOGIE NIGHTS mainly deals with porn and/or the porn industry. As such, BOOGIE NIGHTS takes its place along with THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT (1996), another recent Hollywood film widely received as being about porn, in this case, magazine porn rather than movie porn.

In some sense, it seems that Hollywood has a sudden interest in porn — seems is the key word here. In this essay, I will analyze the representation of porn in BOOGIE NIGHTS and relate that representation first to that in THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT and then to representations of the male body in pornography as well as in feature films of the 90s.

Several critics and commentators make a connection between BOOGIE NIGHTS and THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT, though not in the same manner I do. Janet Maslin writes,

"Some of the most distinctive American films of recent years — PULP FICTION, THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL and now this — have evoked a sleaze-soaked Southern California as an evil and alluring nexus of decadence and pop culture."

Here the connection is one of aesthetics (the "most distinctive") and setting (Southern California).

Charles Ealy makes yet another connection between the two films:

"THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT collected critical raves and Oscar nominations last winter, but the saga of the Hustler publisher sagged at the box-office."

In this case, Ealy makes his connection between the two films while speculating about the potential box-office for films about porn and so wonders whether the same box-office fate that greeted THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT awaits BOOGIE NIGHTS.

But a related aspect of BOOGIE NIGHTS has also received wide attention in the press and become part of the film's original reception context: namely the emphasis on the male body and specifically a graphic shot which occurs at the end of the film showing a close up of the main character's much discussed large penis. Again several headlines indicate this critical emphasis. Maslin cleverly titles her review, "An Actor Whose Talents Are the Sum of His Parts," while another article puns with the title, "BOOGIE NIGHTS leaves a big question" (Koltnow). I will consider not only how this emphasis on a large penis is part of how the film represents porn but, equally importantly, how such representation in BOOGIE NIGHTS relates to a number of 90s films which have also, somewhat surprisingly, graphically represented the penis.

In my JUMP CUT essay, "Will the Real Larry Flynt Please Stand Up?" I argued that the reception context for THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT essentially developed along the lines of an anti-porn feminist critique and a First Amendment freedom defense, the latter coming from Milos Forman, the film's director. Forman proudly declared that he never consumed porn and, in fact, had never even seen an issue of Hustler. In contrast, anti-porn feminists charged that the film cleaned up all Flynt's offenses both as a pornographer and a human being. Between Forman's high ground and the anti-porn damnations, porn itself became lost.

Neither the film nor its loudest detractors and defenders for a moment considered porn as a complex form of representation that fulfilled varying functions for its consumers. That there could be anything good, useful, or valuable in porn was beyond either the film's imagination or the imaginations of those who attacked or defended it. Everyone apparently knew what porn was and the only real issue was whether we should banish it to hell or die defending it so that we could have our freedom of speech. God forbid that anyone would admit to liking porn because it turned them on, amused them, or gave them insight into anything about our culture's notions of sexuality. In effect, porn itself got lost in THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT and something very similar has happened in BOOGIE NIGHTS.

If porn gets lost in First Amendment issues in THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT, it gets lost in BOOGIE NIGHTS by becoming a metaphor for the 70s and 80s. Again, several headlines of reviews and commentaries as well as the kickers accompanying them reveal this metaphoric connotation.

"The Wheeee! decade: Hollywood takes on sex in the 70s" (Ealy);

"Bring back the polyester daze with two new films" (Philpot); or

"Rakes Progress: The 70s revival isn't just about nostalgia for bell bottoms. It's about Sex. From BOOGIE NIGHTS to THE ICE STORM, the rogue male is back" (Leland).

Two of the above-cited headlines about porn even specifically mention the decade of the 70s.

Indeed, as many reviewers noted, the first part of BOOGIE NIGHTS characterizes the adventures of its hero, Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg), as part of the carefree, anything-goes era of 70s sexuality. Porn chic, casual sex and nudity a la hot-tubs and drugs are the norm, and everyone seems happy and content. There is no price to pay. The 80s, on the other hand, contain nothing but paying the price. In the 80s those associated with the world of 70s porn commit suicide, lose custody battles for their children, can't get loans to start their legitimate businesses, or get killed in drug shoot-outs. Even porn itself seems degraded from the narrative forms of 35 mm theatrical features with stories, production values, and stars to the 80s cheap amateur videos. During the 80s, it seems, we pay the piper for the 70s, and little else.

Yet a third aspect of the reception context for BOOGIE NIGHTS involves the nearly simultaneous release of THE ICE STORM (1997). As several critics have noted, THE ICE STORM also refers explicitly to 70s porno chic (indieWire). In a dinner party scene which occurs near the beginning of the film, conversation turns to Harry Reems and DEEP THROAT. The reference seems simply to indicate that these bored, upper-middle class Connecticut WASPS have an accepting, non-judgmental sexual lifestyle. Sex is in the air, as it were, the times are changing and porn is part of it. As in BOOGIE NIGHTS, however, THE ICE STORM implies that because 70s sex in some manner is excessive and depraved, it demands a price. Within this context, in THE ICE STORM porn simply connotes that sex is everywhere — from the movies, to affairs, to "key parties," to high school teens and even young teens. Absolutely everyone in that film has sex with or wants to have sex with or tries to have sex with someone they shouldn't because of marital status, age, drunkenness or some combination thereof. 70s sex in this film is represented as totally devoid of anything useful, erotic, or even human. Its one characteristic seems to be that it is everywhere. And here the reference to porno chic derives its significance. Empty, inhuman, depraved, pervasive sexuality is synonymous with the film's and much of our society's conception of porn. While never suggesting that porn causes social problems, THE ICE STORM does suggest that porn epitomizes this era's decadent sexuality. And as in BOOGIE NIGHTS, decadent sexuality has to be paid for. If parents weren't out watching porn, having casual affairs and attending key parties, young teens wouldn't be having drunken sex and wandering around alone getting electrocuted in ice storms.

Both THE ICE STORM and BOOGIE NIGHTS link 70s sexuality to near-catastrophic doom. And because THE ICE STORM reduces porn to a simple dimension, that film has a significantly different reference to porn than does BOOGIE NIGHTS. THE ICE STORM really is about 70s sexuality and not about porn. Although its sole reference to porn is from my perspective significant, that reference comes at a minor moment at the edge of a film with other things on its mind. BOOGIE NIGHTS, on the other hand, places its representation of porn and the porn industry at its center and attempts to make porn emblematic of a decade, or, more precisely, as we shall see two decades.

And what exactly is BOOGIE NIGHTS' representation of porn? John Leland begins a Newsweek article on the return of the 70s "rogue male" as follows:

"Early in the film BOOGIE NIGHTS, the character of Dirk Diggler gets his break in the dirty-movie business. Dirk, played by Mark Wahlberg, is an aspiring porn actor, and his debut is epic: a jaw-dropping, buckle-swashing marathon-sex scene that leaves even the jaded veterans on the set agape" (72).

In actuality, as presented in BOOGIE NIGHTS, Diggler's debut porn-acting scene is tame by the standards of hardcore porn, not just in terms of the obvious issue of graphic sexuality (to which I shall return) but rather in terms of what Leland calls the "marathon." Hardcore porn sex scenes are indeed commonly represented as "marathons" with the men emerging as sexual athletes — sweating, grunting, grimacing, and most of all pounding and enduring. Diggler does not do anything unusual, and the veterans on the porn production set, like just about every other character in BOOGIE NIGHTS, seem as much if not more in awe of Diggler's 13-inch penis than of his performance. Leland perceptively observes, however, that after shooting the scene, the crew worries about not getting the climactic shot; as they consider using stock footage, Diggler emerges as superhuman when he calmly offers,

"I could do it again if you need a close-up."

This single scene comprises most of the film's representation of actual porn filmmaking. Considering the movie's length, it devotes very little screen time to depicting porn films being made or shown after they are made. Indeed, much of the additional porn film footage found in the narrative shows snippets of non-sex scenes from a James-Bond-type character whom Diggler plays over and over and scenes from a documentary about Diggler made by Amber (Julianne Moore). Not surprisingly several critics have referred to the sex scenes' "discreteness." In a sense, BOOGIE NIGHTS represents porn by not representing its most notorious ingredient.

When Hollywood makes a film about the Titanic, spectators expect to see the ship sink. When Hollywood makes a film about porn, spectators don't usually expect to see porn. This partly comes from producers' concerns about ratings issue and partly from their assumption that, regardless of ratings, no Hollywood film audience wants to watch hardcore porn — it is simply too offensive. If in one sense, then, BOOGIE NIGHTS is like THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT because it does not graphically represent offending porn; in another sense, it is quite different. Whereas Milos Forman washed his hands of porn and denied any personal interest in it, BOOGIE NIGHTS' director, Paul Thomas Anderson, has spoken openly about both his love for and interest in 70s porn and his contempt for 80s porn:

"My memories of 1st discovering porno film in my preadolescence and then my stronger memories from adolescence which is the second half of the movie are certainly grounding for any research that I did, and you know, I've just seen a million porno movies and I've read a lot about it. Sort of a general fascination with it." (Rabinowitz)

Anderson is not embarrassed by nor apologetic for his "fascination" with porn but talks about it as he might any other film genre. He regrets that it is difficult now to find videos of the "classics," such as DEEP THROAT, BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR, JADE PUSSY CAT, and AMANDA BY NIGHT. When asked what he thinks happened to the porn industry, Anderson is also open and direct:

"My take is that video is the real enemy there, I mean certainly drugs were a part of it, and I'm sure there's sort of a bigger society picture, but that's getting into the whole political arena…video is the enemy to me...the moment there was a chance for [the industry] to breath and sort of open up and develop a new genre...it was sort of taken away by video tape." (Rabinowitz)

Comparing video porn to music video, Anderson observes,

"With cuts, and not thinking things through. Where's the plan? Where's the story? Where is any sort of vision to this stuff? It's just missing" (Rabinowitz).

The representation of porn within BOOGIE NIGHTS hardly reveals that Anderson has seen "millions" of porn films; however, the screenplay does delineate his partisanship for 70s, feature length, 35 mm, narrative porn vs. 80s video porn. Near the end of BOOGIE NIGHTS, Jack Homer (Burt Reynolds), a 70s porn auteur, is economically pressured to enter the video porn market. Maintaining his integrity, he initially refuses even to think about it. By the film's climax, however, we see Horner making an amateur-style video porn. As he drives around with one of his porn starlets, with camera running, he picks a stranger up off the street. The young man recognizes the starlet as someone he went to high school with, and the scene soon turns ugly when that man demands against her wishes that she satisfy him sexually. Homer orders the car stopped, throws the young man out and brutally beats him as he lies on the pavement. The film's earlier vision of pros' consensual sex while working within the structured security of a film porn set is later replaced by its ugly vision of uncontrolled, abusive amateur sex, spilling over onto the street.

Both Anderson's remarks and the film's representation of video porn are naive and inadequate. Since for Anderson porn becomes emblematic of a decade, he creates a sharp, dramatic distinction between 70s and 80s porn. The main manner in which he dramatizes this is through Jack Homer's transition from one form of porn production to the other as he goes from being a narrative, theatrical porn director to a back-seat-of-the car amateur porn one. Yet, this plot movement simplifies the history of porn in two ways. Indeed, early video porn often does appear as little more than a cheap imitation of 70s, 35 mm, narrative porn; the videos have weaker stories, no production values, and quick and cheap production processes. But 70s porn directors did not make a transition to video porn in the early 80s as Homer does. In addition, the early, clumsy phase of video porn did not include the development of "pro/am" forms such as the one represented in the film where Jack Homer drives around with a pro, Roller Girl, looking to pick up an amateur. Nor were the innovators of such amateur and pro/am tapes the old, established, 35mm 70s directors forced into a new form.

My point here is not one of realism or historical accuracy. Rather, I want to show how BOOGIE NIGHTS needs to distort historically its representation of porn in order to dramatize different styles of porn as characterizing different decades. This is not surprising for a film where the first dramatic sign of paying the price for the 70s occurs at a New Year's Eve party in January, 1980.

The manner in which video porn is represented in the film and discussed by Anderson in interviews is disturbingly simplistic. It inadequately posits video as the "enemy" and ruin of a Golden Era of porn (a discourse to which several actual porn performers and directors have themselves contributed). Film styles and markets result from massive economic, social, and cultural forces, which are complex and defy reduction to an "enemy." The demise of 70s theatrical porn was as inevitable as the 60s demise of the old Hollywood studio system or the 90s demise of the European art cinema. During the 80s, videotape, VCR saturation of the home market, and rise of video rental stores all doomed theatrical porn. The reason is clear. Why should people go out to despised, public places to watch porn when they can do so in the privacy of their home? The sexual/masturbatory nature of porn obviously makes privacy desirable. Viewers don't risk being seen by others if they watching porn at home or being exposed to what they might perceive as an undesirable element (e.g., men masturbating) in porn theaters.

BOOGIE NIGHTS does not represent this aspect of porn exhibition: it neither represents the theatrical environment for Jack Homer's features nor the home environment for new video porn. The film simply elides this aspect of porn, preferring to represent porn being made or porn being projected on screens isolated from any actual viewing environment. But Anderson clearly incorporates into the storyline his view of video as the enemy. At the 1980 New Year's Eve party, a businessman-producer tells Homer about the new video market and pressures him to enter it. Homer responds to this crass commercialism by articulating his porn auteur aesthetic, declaring that he will not degrade his vision. Later, when he has sold out to the new form, it and he are then both represented as equally degraded.

In reality, video porn is much more than the "enemy" of a romanticized notion of theatrical film porn. Indeed, such video porn auteurs as Ed Powers who came to prominence in the 90s have had as creative, accomplished careers as the Mitchell Brothers, Alex De Renzy, Henry Paris or any of the theatrical porn auteurs in the 70s. Powers and others have not just made cheaper copies of narrative theatrical porn with lower production values; they have innovated entire new forms more closely linked to documentary than fictional narrative traditions. In such series as MORE DIRTY DEBUTANTES and DEEP INSIDE DIRTY DEBUTANTES, Powers has brought entirely new erotic elements into play via the interview technique. Ironically, the lengthy interviews Powers frequently conducts with women he is about to have sex with places much more emphasis on dialogue than did 70s theatrical porn, in the process contributing a psychological erotic dimension totally absent from earlier porn film narratives. My point is not that these porn video interviews are "real" or "true," but rather that they document some psychological interaction between the participants. The women (some of whom admit it on camera) may not be using their own names, may have a history of working in the adult entertainment industry as dancers, and may even have agents and be starting porn careers. Nevertheless, something about them as actual people is documented. Similarly, Powers even has constructed a comic Woody-Allen-type Jewish persona for himself, acknowledging insecurities such as worrying about his penis size. In MORE DIRTY DEBUTANTES #72 (1997), for example, he tells one of the women he is about to have sex with that his penis is "only" five and a half inches long and asks if that "scares" her.

Furthermore, Powers and other amateur video porn makers have broken the oppressive domination in porn of limited body types. At a time when nearly all porn stars in narrative porn had silicon breast enlargements, nearly all the women in Powers' tapes do not. Women with small and average size breasts are common in Powers' tapes. Powers also features women of color and diverse ethnic backgrounds much more than was the case in the 70s.

Stylistically, Powers frequently is innovative with handheld video cameras and employing minors and monitors as stylistic devices which, among other things, reveal the production process and apparatus. Similarly he brings attention to the camera; sometimes he holds it himself while engaging in sexual activity and other times he puts it on a tripod and re-enters the scene. Some of his sequences are shot entirely by himself so that his sexual partner is the only other participant in the taping. Other times, he uses a camera to reveal the cameraperson who has been shooting the footage, and then we see the sexual partners again through that person's camera. Still other times, Powers surprisingly reveals the presence of others on the set. All of the above listed techniques can be found in DEEP INSIDE DIRTY DEBUTANTES #2 (1993) and #14 (1997) and MORE DIRTY DEBUTANTES #72.

Perhaps most important, Powers displaces a monotonous emphasis on the meat shot that had so come to characterize theatrical and video narrative porn. He also eliminates the ever-present generic music audio track intermingled with dubbed moans. Most of Powers' work involves live, unadorned soundtracks, which include actual dialogue with the participants and the sounds (and silences) of their sex. Although I believe the work of video porn makers such as Powers deserves the kind of analysis Linda Williams brings to 70s theatrical porn, my point in discussing Powers' style here is simply to show the inadequacy of viewing someone like him as a degraded version of someone like the character Jack Homer. Yet, that is precisely Anderson's vision, both in his interviews and in BOOGIE NIGHTS.

I have saved for last perhaps the most obvious way in which BOOGIE NIGHTS represents porn — the legendary size of its main character's penis and what Mark Rabinowitz calls the "notorious dick shot" (indieWlRE, 10/31/97). Anderson himself has remarked in regards to the film's 157 minute running time and the concluding penis shot,

"You're paying more, you should get more...I wasn't going to subject you to 157 minutes without showing it to you" (indieWlRE 10/31/97).

Anderson's sense of humor notwithstanding, his comment (which apparently answers a question about why he showed Diggler's penis) deflects attention away from more important questions: Why is this film so preoccupied with Diggler's much discussed, gawked at, and finally revealed 13" penis? Indeed, why is this film, which is seemingly about the porn industry and the 70s, so centered on its main character's genital endowment, so much so that Anderson can even joke about the need to show it after 157 minutes? The answer, I suggest, has more to do with the 90s than either the 70s or 80s.

A large penis is, in fact, an important part of porn during the 70s and has remained so even in video porn. In Running Scared: Masculinity and the Representation of the Male Body, I have discussed this aspect of porn. Here I would simply note that such porn strives to represent the penis as an awesome spectacle of power. Penis size enters the narratives of some classic porn films such as DEEP THROAT (1972) in this way: At the film's conclusion, Linda Lovelace informs a would-be lover that she requires a 9" penis for her sexual satisfaction. The man says he is only 4" away from fulfilling her needs. Both Lovelace and the audience presume that he has a 5" erection only to learn that he is really 13".

Similarly, INSATIABLE (1980), titled after Marilyn Chambers' character's sexual appetite, ends with a scene where several men attempt to satisfy her. After they fail, we see a figure emerge from the darkness and, with a spotlight shining directly on the genital area, momentarily stand still. It is the legendary John Holmes, who even when flaccid was extraordinarily large. The assumption underlying this shot is clear — if any man can satisfy the insatiable woman's desires, it is this man. The shot is quite unusual since porn typically does not dwell on the flaccid penis, preferring instead the spectacle of the erection. But Holmes is so large when flaccid that the filmmakers presume that even in such a state, he presents a spectacle of masculine power which the image track can visually emphasize with a spotlight rather than gloss over or elide.

Anderson's characterizing of Diggler's penis as 13-inches long is a direct reference to Holmes (a.k.a. Johnny Wadd), who was widely reputed to have been 13 inches. BOOGIE NIGHTS even refers to Holmes by name. Yet, even among the large penises that characterize porn, Holmes was a nearly grotesque exaggeration, as the above described scene in INSATIABLE illustrates. So why should BOOGIE NIGHTS choose to model its central character upon this aspect of Holmes since Holmes was more of an aberration than a norm within 70s porn? If Anderson wanted to catch the spirit of 70s porn, someone like Jamie Gillis or Harry Reems would have been a better choice. Anderson has unwittingly, it seems to me, caught a central aspect of the 90s rather than the 70s.

In Running Scared, I argue that images of men and the male body are caught within a polarity not unlike the mother/whore dichotomy which structures so many representations of women. At one pole, we have the powerful, awesome spectacle of phallic masculinity and at the other its vulnerable, pitiable, and frequently comic collapse. While I still believe that such a polarity functions centrally within current Western representations of the penis, the extreme critical praise and box-office success surrounding David Henry Hwang's play, M. BUTTERFLY, and Neil Jordan's film, THE CRYING GAME (1992), suggest the emergence of a third category which I call the melodramatic penis (Lehman, 1997b). Neither the phallic spectacle nor its pitiable and/or comic collapse, these representations of the penis are, on the one hand, challenging and, on the other hand, constitute a troubled site of representation which contains disturbing contradictions. The much-publicized 1993 Bobbitt case which centered on a severed and reattached penis may be part of this melodramatic penis discourse. Indeed, John Wayne Bobbitt's penis may well be the ultimate melodramatic penis: first it is severed, then it is lost, then it is found, then it is miraculously reattached, then it becomes a star in porn films, and then it is enlarged!

In THE CRYING GAME the revelation that one of the characters who appears to be a woman is a man is accompanied by a shot of the unexpected penis. This image is followed, in short order, by the shocked male lover hitting her, vomiting, and then rushing from the apartment, leaving "her" lying on the floor in a pose reminiscent of Lillian Gish on the ice in WAY DOWN EAST. In a flashback sequence in COBB (1994), the audience is shocked to discover that the legendary baseball great's father was shot to death by his wife's naked lover when he intruded upon their affair. The audiences' shock at the sight of the naked man is heightened by the fact that an earlier "lying flashback" had given a different account of the event, one in which there was no man present. In ANGELS AND INSECTS (1995), a husband discovers that his wife is having an incestuous affair with her brother. At the moment that the husband bursts in on her, the brother leaps from their lovemaking and stands fully nude. Lovemaking that reveals transvestitism; adultery and murder; incest — it is hard to imagine more melodramatic contexts than these. Penises, it seems, must elicit an extremely strong response from us. If awe or laughter do not define the full range of such responses, melodrama is standing by.

The "notorious dick" shot in BOOGIE NIGHTS can best be understood within this context. From the press coverage surrounding the Bobbitt case to the above-mentioned films and others such as CARRIED AWAY (1996) and KISSED (1996), the 90s are characterized by a new assault on the final taboo of sexually representing the penis. A need to talk about and show the penis is everywhere. In this regard, Anderson's dwelling on it throughout the film and showing it in the last shot can best be understood as indicating the time in which his film is made rather than the time period the film's story represents. For in 1975 or even 1985, a Hollywood film that spoke of its central character's penis would hardly end with a graphic shot of it.

On the surface, it might seem that the final shot of a penis in BOOGIE NIGHTS falls not into the melodramatic category but rather that of awesome spectacle of phallic power. But within the context of a Hollywood narrative, the shot is also melodramatic — a sort of hybrid of the two categories. After soliloquizing in front of a minor while waiting to shoot a porn scene, Diggler gets up, approaches the camera, and in a frontal close up unzips his pants and pulls out his penis. And what a penis it is. It is even larger than that of Holmes at the end of INSATIABLE. The shot's effect derives from its "impressive" spectacle. I have argued elsewhere that this kind of emphasis on the large flaccid penis results from a slippage of the erect penis onto the flaccid penis (Lehman, 1993). That is, if we are going to show the flaccid penis, it had better look as much like the supposed awesome spectacle of an erection as possible. Indeed, the flaccid penis in BOOGIE NIGHTS seems virtually indistinguishable from the 13-inch erection we have been hearing about. And the brutally frontal, nearly confrontational manner in which the penis is directly revealed for the camera also relates the shot to melodrama's excesses.

Predictably, the press picked up on this aspect of the film's showing a large penis. One review boldly declares in capital letters,

"WARNING; LEAVE BEFORE THE END OF THE FILM IF YOU DON'T WANT TO SEE IT. Or a prosthetic, or something — controversy and conflicting accounts swirl around this startling leap into a new world of fix prosthetics, if that's what the alleged body part in question is" (Downing).

U.S.A. Today observes,

"Mark Wahlberg plays a central character and buries his Marky Mark persona for good, giving emotional validity to a busboy with superstar ambitions and a 13-inch natural endowment."

Jami Bernard's review in the New York Daily News begins by declaring, "No, it's not real, it's a prosthesis." At the other extreme, an entire newspaper article, "BOOGIE NIGHTS leaves a big question" by Barry Koltnow, is devoted entirely to discussing the penis shot as ambiguous:

"What everybody wants to know is: Whose sexual organ was used for the final shot in the movie? Wahlberg's face is cleverly hidden so it could easily have been a body double. Some early media reports hint that it is a prosthetic device."

After describing how at various times the stars and director of the film have said everything ranging from claiming it is Wahlberg's penis to Burt Reynolds's penis to a prosthetic device, Koltnow concludes,

"We may never know the real answer to this puzzling mystery. My search for the truth is over. There's nothing else I can do. I'm certainly not going to follow somebody into the men's room to find out. Let it remain a mystery."

After teasing his readers by in effect asking, "Will the real owner of Dirk Diggler's penis please stand up?", Koltnow concludes we will never who or what it really is. All of this extra-textual attention to the real owner of the penis, if in fact it is a real penis, simply intensifies the film's diegetic fascination with Diggler's penis.

Koltnow's article is of particular interest since it not only typifies the press's continuing interest in the 90s to talk about penises but also for the manner in which it indicates the melodramatic nature of the penis shot. Koltnow begins his article by discussing other moments in film history that have "shocked" audiences sexually such as Clark Gable removing his shirt in IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT and Sharon Stone crossing her legs in BASIC INSTINCT. "This time the shocking moment will come in the last few frames," Koltnow notes. It is precisely this element of shock that aligns the last shot of BOOGIE NIGHTS with the melodramatic shocks of transvestitism, adultery, murder, and incest described above. In their own way, the shock effect of the representations of the penis in these films ensures that even in the 90s a penis cannot be just a penis. Even as our culture tries to assault the final taboo of the penis, it continues to reinforce the awe and the mystique of the phallus by insisting that the sight of the penis has extraordinary power.


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— — — 1997b. "Melodrama and Male Nudity in the '90s." Keynote address presented at the Emory University Institute of the Liberal Arts Graduate Student Conference, Body and Soul, Atlanta, March 21.

— — — 1993. Running Scared: Masculinity and the Representation of the Male Body. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

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Williams, Linda. 1989. Hard-Core: Power, Pleasure, and the 'Frenzy of the Visible." Berkeley: University of California Press.

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