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An ode to John C. Reilly’s hot tub love poem in Boogie Nights.

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January 22, 2021, 1:17pm

Back when Paul Thomas Anderson was in high school, before his sweeping porn industry epic Boogie Nights became a hit, he and a few friends made the The Dirk Diggler Story: a half-hour-long proto-Boogie Nights narrated by Anderson’s father. The Dirk Diggler Story and Boogie Nights are significantly different in format (mockumentary vs. narrative), content, and ending (Boogie Nights’s is significantly more hopeful)—but both films contain the exact same 40-second poem that a friend of Anderson’s improvised on the Dirk Diggler set.

Strange—but not too surprising, because the poem is incredible. It’s one of the first encounters between Dirk and his fellow porn actor and soon-to-be-friend Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), at a party their director is throwing:

The poem goes like this:

I love you. You love me. Going down the sugar tree. We’ll go down the sugar tree, and see lots of bees. Playing, Playing. But the bees won’t sting, ’cause you love me.

Or perhaps:

i love you
you love me
going down the sugar tree
we’ll go down the sugar tree
and see lots of bees
playing
playing
but the bees won’t sting
’cause you love me

The poem’s hilarious for many reasons: the potential innuendo that turns out to be literal and thus spatially confusing (going down the sugar tree?); the reader’s cadence of “playing, playing”;  the problem-solve of why the bees don’t sting. And it’s also kind of good. The idea of bees playing (rather than buzzing or working) is surprising, and it’s sweet and sincerely delivered.

But I also love the beats after the poem. Reed is embarrassed, lowering his head, ready to say that it’s not that good. But despite the poem’s humor, Dirk doesn’t laugh. He’s amazed, smiling: “That’s fucking great, man, did you write that?” Receptiveness, enthusiasm, being taken seriously despite one’s credentials—it’s the ideal response. If this happened more often, maybe more bros would be sharing poems in hot tubs.

A different movie might punish Reed for his vulnerability. But this is the wonderful thing about the world of Boogie Nights: ideas always have legs, because the characters are generous to each other. No one shuts down an idea before it has a chance to get made, and—maybe because of this—the ideas are usually good. Dirk Diggler’s name comes to him in a flash of inspiration, and it’s actually amazing; their director approves Reed and Dirk’s insane pornographic buddy action movie Brock Landers: Angels Live In My Town, and it becomes a hit. What a nice world to spend time in! The goal is to create great art, and because you’re surrounded by support, you might actually have a shot at making it. Let all our poems be received with this much kindness.

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