Monday, December 1, 2014

The Films of Paul Thomas Anderson: The Dirk Diggler Story (1988) and Cigarettes & Coffee (1993)

The Dirk Diggler Story (1988)
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson.
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson.
Starring: Michael Stein (Dirk Diggler), Robert Ridgely (Jack Horner), Eddie Delcore (Reed Rothchild), Rusty Schwimmer (Candy Kane), Ernie Anderson (Narrator).

Cigarettes & Coffee (1993)
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson.
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson.
Starring: Kirk Baltz, Scott Coffey, Miguel Ferrer, Bonnie Fidelman, Kim Gillingham, Philip Baker Hall, Michael Harris, Jennifer Kaplan.

When Paul Thomas Anderson was just 17 years old he made his first film – The Dirk Diggler Story. Inspired by a documentary he had seen about John Holmes (which I saw, years later, included on the Wonderland DVD, where Val Kilmer played the famous porn star), edited together using two VCRs, and narrated by his father, you cannot really say that The Dirk Diggler Story is a good movie – the acting is poor, and the visual quality isn’t very good (made worse by the fact that I saw it on Youtube, from a VHS rip) – but it is a fascinating movie – especially viewed in conjunction with Anderson’s first masterpiece – Boogie Nights, which he made just 9 years later. It’s interesting to see some of the changes in the basic story that Anderson made between the two films – Dirk and Reed are best friends in Boogie Nights, but actual lovers in the earlier film, the song, The Touch, is already here in its full form – but became a hit in the earlier film, and not just a joke like in Boogie Nights, and of course the ending is darker – ending with Diggler’s death. But for the most part, while he expanded Boogie Nights, and added many more characters, in many ways the two films are very similar from a story point of view.

The movie has a lot of limitations – Anderson clearly made it for nothing, and that is reflected in every scene, and the acting is not very good from anyone – not even Robert Ridgely, in the Burt Reynolds role, who would play a key role in Boogie Nights (as the Colonel). If Anderson had just left this story as it was in The Dirk Diggler Story, than I don’t think it would be anywhere near as interesting as it is now. It’s a view into the young mind of Anderson – who already knew what he wanted to do. It isn’t a great film, or even a good one, but it’s still a must for Anderson fans.

Much better was Cigarettes & Coffee (not to be confused with Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee & Cigarettes, which he was already working on when Anderson made this short for the Sundance Lab). Somehow, Anderson was able to convince Philip Baker Hall to play a key role in the film – and he, along with Miguel Ferrer, makes the acting in the film much improved from Anderson’s first short. He is also much more confident visually – it’s a simply shot film, taking place in and around a coffee shop, that follows three different stories. In one booth, Hall talks to younger man, who tells him a story of what just happened to him in Vegas – and a rash decision that he now regrets. In another booth, a young newly married couple argue over decisions they made in Vegas that didn’t turn out very well either. Then there is Ferrer, who pulls up in a car, makes a phone call, and comes into the diner. All of these stories hold off their shocking revelations until close to the end – culminating in a great finale.

In some ways, Anderson is trying a little too hard with Cigarettes & Coffee – especially in the writing, where he seems to want to show off a little too much – like he’s trying to be David Mamet. Like The Dirk Diggler Story, Coffee & Cigarettes is fascinating in that Anderson later spun it into his first feature – Hard Eight – concentrating on the Philip Baker Hall character, and jettisoning the other two storylines.

I don’t think either of these films are great – The Dirk Diggler Story isn’t very good at all, and Cigarettes & Coffee is little more than decent. But they are fascinating when viewed in the context of Anderson’s overall career – and are must sees for fans of the directors work.

No comments:

Post a Comment