Boogie Nights - The SSL Review

Charlie and I recently got on a Paul Thomas Anderson kick. We re-watched all his movies before we headed out to see his newest one The Master. It was enjoyable because we both do enjoy a good P.T. Anderson flick, and as luck has it, one of his movies met the criteria for an SSL review. Boogie Nights made it, unsurprisingly, since it revolves around the porn industry of the 70's. As an overview, I like this movie a lot. It's long - as most P.T. Anderson movies are - but it has great characters and keep the audience fully engaged throughout. I do recommend it. The SSL review is more mixed.

An SSL review, as you know, critiques the depictions and discussions of female sexual response. Boogie Nights was an interesting case. There was 1 depiction and then there was a speech that struck me yet really doesn't have a depiction or discussion of female sexual response, but I'll talk about it none the less.

The one depiction of female orgasm is a tricky one to critique. It was during a porn scene between Marky Mark (and yes, I will always call him Marky Mark) as Dirk Diggler and Julianne Moore as Amber Waves. It's his first on-screen scene. She's a boss. He comes in for a job interview, and well, they start doing it. She obviously has a sweet spot in her heart for Dirk Diggler, and she's very encouraging and nice. They get to the intercourse after some kissing, and she is laying on her back on the desk, and he is standing between her leaning forward. She never seems to be obviously grinding against him, so any orgasm would seem to come from just the ol' in and out. She moans and vocalizes like a porn star (as expected), but easily turns that moaning on and off when she has to deal with the technical realities of acting in a scene on film, so I feel like that gives the clue that she is not really orgasming, and reinforces the idea that women fake in porn.

However, I think there are more complicated messages here. As the two get into the doin' it, the sense is that this is a little more pleasurable for her than most porn shoots. I say this because of subtle things like little looks she gives him and because in the end, she tells him to just come inside of her, even though the plan was to pull out and come on her breasts. He does this, and if you know anything about porn, you know that this is a bit unacceptable. Almost all porn has the "money shot" where we actually see the ejaculation. She, being a veteran porn star, knows this and yet intentionally wanted this intimate act of him releasing inside of her; presumably because, for whatever reason, she was particularly enjoying herself with him.

So, she's liking it. Why she's liking it is the question. Of course, one reason is he's a cute, fresh-faced, nice studmuffin, and she's just taken a kindly liking to him. I think that's one part, but I think the scene was used to point out some other things out about ol' Dirk Diggler. Specifically that he has all the qualities a man who sexually pleases women is supposed to have. The movie already established early on that he has an extraordinarily large penis, so that's #1. In this scene, he screws her for what we are meant to perceive as a long time. While they're doing it, the film runs out in the camera. The crew seems like this is unexpected, and it's a bit of an odd inconvenience to have to switch out film reals during the sex act. We see he has staying ability, so that's #2. Then after he comes inside Amber Waves, the crew gets a bit worried because they don't have the money shot, and they are discussing how they can work this out, when Mr. Dirk Diggler speaks up and simply says something like, "If you guys need the money shot, then I can just do it again." The crew seems surprised, impressed, and pleased, and the scene ends. So, he can go again and again with little to no recovery period, so that's #3.

This scene is about a sort of "faked" sex act, so deciphering what it insinuates to the audience about female sexual pleasure is not straightforward. However, I think to some degree it reinforces the idea that men are able to "give" women orgasms through fucking, and the qualities that help them do that are big penises, the ability to screw for long periods of time, and the ability to start again right after they come. These are also just good for the aesthetics of porn. Plus, the staying power and the going again and again is good for the technical realities of shooting a film where the star needs to have a hard on for long periods of time (especially in the pre-Viagra days of the 70's). So, it also just shows he's an ideal porn star. However, I also think it dually works at keeping up the lie, so much a part of our culture, that women orgasm through stimulative friction in the vagina (which a big, filling dick is assumed to help out with) and long extended periods of intercourse (which staying power and back to back sexcapades is assumed to help with). Truth is we simply need clitoral stimulation, people, but I digress. 

The other point of discussion I'd like to get into is a little more philosophical. I think this movie, in some ways, is about the hope, excitement, and even the purity of the porn industry of the early 70's. The movie gives a sense of some truly good intentions and a hope that the kind of freedom and education that porn can provide could change the world. Dirk Diggler gave a speech that summed that up and stirred something in me when he won a porn award in the height of his career and during the height of the porn industry optimism within this movie.  
Wow. I don't know what to say. I guess...Wow. I guess the only thing I can say...is I'll promise to keep rockin' and rollin'...and making better films. It seems we make these movies, and sometimes, you know...they're considered filthy or something by some people...but I don't think that's true. These movies we make, they can be better. They can help. They really can. I mean that. We can always do better. I'm going to keep trying if you guys keep trying. Let's keep rockin' and rollin', man.
When I heard it, it reminded me of the kind of optimism we feel towards porn in our movie (Science, Sex and the Ladies). Just a ol' Dirk said, I think porn has the potential to help. We discuss in the movie how porn never received the kind of level headed feminist criticism that other aspects of our culture received during the 70's (things like school sports, places of work, education, etc). Truth was, feminists as a group were split down the middle on how they felt about porn so heavily that even speaking about it was hugely divisive. It made the topic of porn so hot-button for feminists that there simply was no progress, only in-fighting. In our movie, we discuss the possibility that we can still make porn better through thoughtful feminist critique and strategic pressure. This very influential part of our sexual culture could lead the way in creating realistic depictions of female sexual release. As it is now, the depictions of female orgasm and pleasure in porn are almost always faked and terribly unrealistic. It is a roadblock in the trail towards orgasm equality, when it could be a leader. I know it may seem weird to see porn as so hopeful, but Dirk Diggler's optimism reignited the hopefulness I have; the kind I hope is reflected in our movie. Let's keep rockin and rollin' man.

I give this movie 2 1/2 vulvas. It's pretty status quo. Nothing really progressive, and it could be scene to reinforce some of the main misconceptions about female orgasm and men's part in female orgasm. On the brighter side it made me feel kinda hopeful, so that's why it's got an extra 1/2 vulva.


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