Seventy-four-year-old Robert Altman has made upwards of fifty films, among them two of the best films of the past decade. Twenty-nine-year-old Paul Thomas Anderson has directed three features, among them two of the best films of the ‘90s. Although in interviews, Anderson has been careful not to tip his hat too much to the maverick director (Anderson claims his favorite directors and the ones that influenced him most are Jonathan Demme and Martin Scorsese), in Anderson’s films, the impact of Altman is undeniable.
Like Altman’s signature pieces, Anderson’s films are a mosaic of intertwining and intersecting storylines, employing a large ensemble of outstanding character actors. In fact, Anderson uses many of Altman’s ensemble players: Julianne Moore was in Short Cuts and Cookie’s Fortune; Burt Reynolds played himself in The Player; Philip Baker Hall adapted his one-man show in Secret Honor; and Heather Graham was in Mrs. Parker and The Vicious Circle, produced by Robert Altman.
The Player and Boogie Nights are two sides of a coin, Altman’s The Player, a scathing satire of Hollywood framed in the packaging of a noir thriller, Anderson’s Boogie Nights, an almost-loving faux docu-drama of adult entertainers. However, the worlds represented in the respective films reflect the two slopes of a hill that divides the L.A. Basin from the Valley, mirror images in sleaze. And both Altman and Anderson know those worlds well.
The Player (1992)
The Subject: The Movie Industry
Studio exec Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) fears for his job when rival Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher) comes a’calling. However, Mill has even more to fear; He is stalked by a screenwriter who sends a series of ominous postcards and faxes threatening to kill him. In an arthouse theater in Pasadena, during a screening of The Bicycle Thief, Mill approaches the man he believes to be his pursuant. A scuffle in the parking lot ensues and Mill finds himself blackmailed for murder. The plot itself, although tightly-constructed (especially for an Altman film), is secondary to the sharp barbs hurled at Hollywood. The film is filled with riotously funny jokes about the process of getting films made and hilarious cameos by dozens of actors, directors and writers vying for work. (Buck Henry pitches The Graduate II. )
Quote That Sums It Up: "Further Bond Losses Push Dow Down 7.15." I see Connery as Bond.
Boogie Nights (1997)
The Subject: The Porn Movie Industry
Adult film director, Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) discovers well-endowed teenager, Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) and introduces him into the world of pornography where he works with porn matron, Amber Waves (Julianna Moore) and starlet, Rollergirl (Heather Graham). At first, Jack, Dirk and gang are riding high on a crest of ‘70s sex chic, but before long, the ‘80s and the advent of VCRs destroys the Golden Age of adult films and our heroes soon spiral into an abyss of drugs and disease and murder and commercialism. While a very funny film, the satire isn’t pointed, but rather underpins the inherent sadness of the characters. Contrasted with The Player’s film-within-a-film Habeas Corpus, Diggler’s popular cop character, Brock Landers and his film Angels Live In My Town was not an indictment of the entire industry, but a funny dig at Diggler’s increasingly-inflated ego. (His ego was, of course, completely out-of-check by the time he was recording a solo album, Feel My Heat.)
Quote That Sums It Up: “Wait a minute. You come into my house, my party, to tell me about the future? That the future is tape, videotape and not film? That it's amateurs and not professionals? I'm a filmmaker, which is why I will never make a movie on tape.”