How ELO’s ‘Livin’ Thing’ Got Into ‘Boogie Nights’
Screen legend Burt Reynolds died this week at the age of 82, and while he became a major movie star in the '70s thanks to films like The Longest Yard and Smokey and the Bandit, he never was fully recognized as an actor until 1997's Boogie Nights.
He received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the movie, which is set in the pornography world of the late '70s and early '80s. Reynolds plays Jack Horner, a porn director with dreams of auteurism. He recruits Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg), who becomes the biggest star in porn -- in more than one sense of the word -- before it all comes crashing down onto a giant mound of cocaine.
The movie is packed start-to-finish with rock, funk, pop and disco hits from that era, including the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows," Hot Chocolate's "You Sexy Thing," Three Dog Night's "Mama Told Me Not to Come" and the Heatwave song that gave the film its name. There was one song that writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson really wanted to use for the end credits: "Livin' Thing" by Electric Light Orchestra, but the band's frontman, Jeff Lynne, stood in the way.
”Jeff said, ‘I have two young daughters, and I have a problem with sex and violence in movies. Should I see this?’" Anderson recalled to Entertainment Weekly. So Anderson set up a screening with the song in its place.
"Paul was just sort of watching the back of his head while he was watching the movie," Michael Penn, who scored the film, told Grantland. "Then the film ends, and “Livin’ Thing” comes on and Paul just sees both Jeff Lynne’s arms shoot up triumphantly."
”He said, ‘I don’t like sex and violence in movies, but this is the most brilliant fuckin’ movie ever!”’ Anderson recalled.
Two other rock hits form the basis of another of Boogie Nights' most memorable moments: when Diggler, Chest Rockwell (John C. Reilly) and Todd Parker (Thomas Jane) look to turn around their fortunes by selling Rahad Jackson (Alfred Molina) baking soda disguised as cocaine. Jackson sets the mood with a mixtape containing Night Ranger's "Sister Christian" and Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl."
Anderson saw the Springfield hit as an ironic commentary on where Diggler should have been in his life. ”Here’s this fucking jackass who was the kid next door," he said, "who should have been dealing with that — wishing he had Jessie’s girl — but instead he’s selling baking soda.”
Still, he director thought the inclusion of the Night Ranger hit was a no-brainer, given the situation. ”Come on! That much porno and cocaine is gonna lead to ‘Sister Christian,’" he said. "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.”