Quentin Tarantino's unique nit-pick about Boogie Nights reveals a lot about his approach to story vs. Paul Thomas Anderson's.
In a recent podcast interview for The Ringer, Tarantino disclosed what it is that irks him about PTA's 70's porn industry epic.
What is it?
Well, it boils down to a filmmaker named Gerard Damiano.
Damiano is the writer-director behind Deep Throat, so yeah. He's a porn director. But he's probably the most well-recognized one. And if you look at more images of him you can see what Tarantino is talking about. It seems pretty clear that Burt Reynolds' character Jack Horner is based in some part at least on Damiano.
So what does that have to do with what's wrong with the movie? Well, this is where it gets super granular and... Tarantino-esque.
In Tarantino's opinion, and as far as he is concerned it sounds more like absolutely law, Damiano would be INCAPABLE of thinking he'd made a good movie when in fact he'd made something shoddy. Why is this such a problem when it comes to Boogie Nights?
Because there is one line where Burt Reynolds' Jack Horner exclaims breathlessly while watching his latest porn film starring Dirk Diggler that it's his best work yet. The film within the film in question is titled Angels Live In My Town and from what we see of it, it looks... well... not much like a masterpiece.
And there is a case to be made that nobody in their right mind would watch clips of Angels Live in My Town and think "Wow, I really nailed this whole filmmaking thing."
Particularly because later on in the movie (Boogie Nights, not Angels Live In My Town), Jack and his editor (played to perfection by Ricky Jay) watch one of Jack's VHS endeavors from the 1980s and seem nonplussed with their work.
Which implies that yes, Jack Horner does differentiate between good work and bad work, it's not all the same to him. Angels Live in My Town, for Jack, falls into the former category.
Can we take a moment just to appreciate how great a title that is?
It's a fascinating complaint, however specific, because it reminds us of how and why Tarantino is such a uniquely strange voice.
He's a cinema-savant. His love of movies and movie-making isn't specific to highbrow or low brow, but it irks him to no end that a director (one CLEARLY based on Gerard Damiano, no less) would consider something that is objectively poorly put-together as "good filmmaking."
Nobody knows "bad films" quite like QT. Well... maybe the guys on Mystery Science Theater 3000 do... but the man KNOWS his movies. He seems defensive of Damiano here, but more than that almost defensive of anyone splicing moving images together in an effort to tell a story.
In PTA's defense, the whole thing is clearly played as a joke. And the joke sticks the landing. One of the excellent qualities of Boogie Nights is that it moves so effortlessly between tragedy and comedy from moment to moment.
One question you might ask in watching it, however, is does PTA 'mock' his characters? To some extent... yes. But it's also clear that he loves them and what they represent to him.
Tarantino on the other hand just made a movie about people struggling in the more mainstream parts of the business. There is no question that he never looks down his nose for one instant at any of their work or their efforts. He would also never insult their intelligence by implying that they didn't know what was good or not.
PTA, on the other hand, didn't seem to see it that way. His characters in Boogie Nights really believed wholeheartedly that the crap they were making was actually good.
And in a way isn't that what made Boogie Nights so endearing? Where Once Upon a Time in Hollywood reminds us that even working TV stars feel like failures, Boogie Nights spun a fantasy where guys who make Angles Live In My Town can feel like Scorsese and DeNiro. It speaks to an innocent part of us that once grabbed an era-specific-recording-device in our early days and shot some footage and thought in all our naïveté "hey... I might really have something here."
We've all been there, right? Maybe before we get the outside perspective that what we did was bad on some pretty fundamental levels? That crushing blow that reality deals?
Maybe what QT was missing about Boogie Nights and Jack Horner at that moment in the movie is that it's more metaphor than reality. It's that feeling we get sometimes that what we did was awesome, even if it wasn't.... but we just don't see that yet.
It's as beautiful a moment as it is fleeting, and the older we get the harder it is to come by.