By Zak Rye. Between low-brow and no-brow, this is unCultured, where we shamelessly promote and defend some of the worst films ever made. In our first issue of 2015, we delve into the porn-obsessed mind of Paul Thomas Anderson, and his 1988 short film, The Dirk Diggler Story.
One of the many things that people often find, well, creepy about me is that one my absolute favorite films is Boogie Nights. I could quote the majority of the script, go on at length about the steady cam shots, and easily sketch you a museum quality likeness of Dirk’s… gift. So, without any hesitation, I pitched The Dirk Diggler Story to our editor, thinking I would spend a week… shall we say… “researching” classic porno, revisiting my favorite PT Anderson flick, and generally bathing in the wondrous world of the seedy 70s. Instead, I found myself in desperate need of a drink, a shower, and a full body shave.
The Dirk Diggler Story was conceived in 1987 by a 17-year-old, Spinal Tap-obsessed Paul Thomas Anderson and in 1988 it was released to no one. The original concept was simple, and ripe for caricature: adapting the life of John Holmes. For our puritan readership, John Holmes was easily the most well known (and well endowed) porn star of the 70s. Holmes’ quick rise to fame, like Dirk’s, was fraught with drugs, crime, and a dangerously massive ego. Though Dirk’s life borrows from Holmes’, professionally and personally, unknown actor Michael Stein manages to infuse a child-like naiveté into the character that was surely noticed and mimicked years later by Mark Wahlberg.
Since it is technically a posthumous mockumentary, Anderson indulges in multiple talking head sections, in which the various characters in Dirk’s life testify to his greatness. Family friend and actor, Robert Ridgely, (who would later return in Boogie Nights as the Colonel James), plays Dirk’s director and mentor, Jack Horner. Ridgely’s eyebrow acting alone, though mostly hidden behind a huge pair of Blu Blockers, makes him eerily convincing as a low budget porn director. Rusty Schwimmer plays Kandy Kane, Dirk’s zaftig co-star and bricolage of a character that would, in time, evolve into both Amber Waves and Roller Girl.
Aside from also planting the seed for what would eventually become Dirk Diggler, Anderson introduces us to a beta form of the most lovable yet moronic sidekick, Reed Rothchild, played fucking flawlessly by (also unknown) Eddie Delcore. Although thirty-one minutes is less than little time to tie in much beyond a surface story, it is inferred that Dirk and Reed had a romantic relationship and, in the ten minutes that Delcore is on screen, there is absolutely no doubt that this gigantic man loves Dirk. Deeply. Without question, Delcore is the show stealer, and his interpretation of Rothchild is respectfully reflected in John C. Reilly’s later depiction.
I would feel mostly confident in assuming that the majority of readership is fully aware that our beloved P.T. Anderson has a solid reputation for dissecting, re-sculpting, and polishing his older, sophomoric projects into beautiful feature-length marvels. Still, I’d be remiss not to follow the general rule of assumption, thus, a brief clarification; The Dirk Diggler Story became Boogie Nights, Cigarettes and Coffee became Hard 8, Couch became Punch Drunk Love, and what was once an intensely long and unnamed character study of Daniel Plainview became There Will Be Blood and The Master. Obviously, this long and tedious relationship that Anderson has with his characters lends itself to the practically overwhelming themes of heartfelt humanity met with brutal naturalism that we’ve come to except from him.
As for The Dirk Diggler Story: the writing, the direction, acting, editing, what-have-you, well… it’s shitty, all of it. Having seen… every inch of Boogie Nights, hundreds of times, The Dirk Diggler Story sort of felt like a cheap knock off, even knowing that it’s the same director, and it pre-dated the feature by a decade. However, around viewing number three, I began to not only accept that this puerile movie did, in fact, give birth to a film that I have an undying, likely unhealthy, attachment to, I actually began to like it. Undeniably, it’s in his smaller works that Anderson allows for huge, eye-rolling amounts of satire to come through, but it’s often those awkward, uncomfortable, genuine moments of tragic humor that seem to instill such relatable traits in Anderson’s feature casts. Couch, Cigarettes and Coffee, and The Dirk Diggler Story served as sketchpads for Anderson to create larger, more thoughtful works that lend their importance to those earlier, rougher drafts.
Extra sexy factoids somehow related to The Dirk Diggler Story:
1) The voice of the narrator, reminiscent of 1950s after school specials, belongs to Paul Thomas Anderson’s father, Ernie Anderson.
2) The characters in The Dirk Diggler Story, (as well as Boogie Nights), are based not only on John Holmes, but also fellow pornstars Seka, Veronica Hart, Shauna Grant, and director Bob Chinn.
3) When casting began for Boogie Nights, P.T. Anderson’s first choice for Dirk was Leonardo DiCaprio, after seeing The Basketball Diaries. When things with Leo didn’t work out, he went with Leo’s Diaries co-star Mark Wahlberg.
4) Both Michael Stein and Mark Walhberg perform earth-shattering renditions of Stan Bush’s “The Touch” as Dirk Diggler. This song was not only prominently featured in 1986’s The Transformers: The Movie, it was also my voice mail greeting for most of 2006. (It’s true. Aggravatingly true. – Ed.)
5) While The Dirk Diggler Story is little more than a spoof of the John Holmes documentary Exhausted, Anderson takes it one step further in Boogie Nights, utilizing some of the exact blocking used in the Holmes documentary Wadd for Amber’s documentary about Dirk.