Twenty-seven-year-old director Paul Thomas Anderson didn't grow up to the superhits of the '70s, but he's built a monument to them with his 'Boogie Nights' soundtrack

Having handpicked 40-odd songs for the soundtrack to his pornland epic Boogie Nights, filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson got nearly everything on his period-pop wish list. Only one songwriter asked to see the film before giving permission to use his tune: ELO-meister Jeff Lynne, whose ”Livin’ Thing” provides an It’s alive! punchline to the scene where smut star Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) finally comes to terms with his … gift. ”Jeff said, ‘I have two young daughters, and I have a problem with sex and violence in movies. Should I see this?’ So I screened it for him,” chuckles Anderson. At the climax, rather than fleeing, Lynne leapt up, fists raised, as ELO kicked in post-prosthesis. ”He said, ‘I don’t like sex and violence in movies, but this is the most brilliant f—in’ movie ever!”’

Lynne isn’t the only one who gets it. Boogie Nights has won acclaim for unearthing dozens of disco-era gems, which are ”not only integral to the vibe of the movie,” as scorer Michael Penn puts it, ”but also commentary, whether it’s just sort of a stupid pun or some real undercurrent of what’s happening on screen.”

Indeed, just as the story uses a proud porn auteur’s reluctance to abandon film for videotape to symbolize the freewheeling ’70s counterculture giving way to the mercenary ’80s, that changing of the guard is made musically manifest, too, in the slide from the dance fever of 1975’s ”You Sexy Thing” to the pop-metal portent of 1984’s ”Sister Christian.” Though the effect is deliberate, ”that was done for me,” Anderson laughs. ”The music did get worse; we didn’t create that. It’s like, I’m making a movie from ’77 to ’84, gotta be time accurate and specific … and, oh, here’s this Night Ranger song.”

He can wax defensive when critics tar all the nightclub selections in the early scenes with the D-word. ”Maybe people think it’s disco because you’re in a discotheque, but the Emotions’ ‘Best of My Love,’ to me, it’s a soul song — like a Supremes song, but in 1977.”

The 27-year-old director discovered most of his Me Decade faves — from Marvin Gaye to the Move — late in life. But Rick Springfield’s 1981 ”Jessie’s Girl” ”meant something to me at the time. I was 13 and had a crush on a girl. I like that I can look at Mark in that scene and hear ‘Jessie’s Girl’ and be selfish and personal about my attachment to it.” But ”this wonderful little love song” is ironic counterpoint in a violent third-act scene where Diggler, down-and-out, peddles fake drugs to gun-toting cokeheads. ”Here’s this f—ing jacka– who was the kid next door, who should have been dealing with that — wishing he had Jessie’s girl — but instead he’s selling baking soda.”

Anderson’s reasons for featuring Night Ranger’s signature song in the same sequence were less personal, more practical. ”Come on! That much porno and cocaine is gonna lead to ‘Sister Christian.’ But I dig that song. There’s a cheesy, ridiculous quality to it, but you can tell that Night Ranger buy it — and that’s all I’d ever want.” If Boogie and its recently released 14-cut soundtrack are bound to afford the power ballad a revival, he’s unrepentant: ”If I can reach just one person with the ‘Sister Christian’ message, then I’ll have done my job.”

Boogie Nights
  • Movie
  • 155 minutes