Michael C. here. On the Boogie Nights DVD commentary track, Paul Thomas Anderson tells the story of how the audience cheered at the film’s first screening during the scene where William H. Macy’s Little Bill snaps and shoots his adulterous wife. PTA recalls sinking in his seat, wondering how he stepped so wrong that the moment he intended to be a nauseating gut punch was being received as a crowd pleaser. He was relieved moments later when, as he tells it:
Bill Macy walked out and he shot himself in the face and they shut the fuck up real quick. And they weren’t laughing, and they weren’t cheering, and it was dead silence. And I thought, “Good.” I’ve done my job okay. It’s them that’s fucked up. It’s really the moment where you blame the audience and go, “No, you’re wrong.
The question Anderson asked himself in that theater back in ’97 is one that flares up every time a crowd has the “wrong” response to a movie:
How responsible is the filmmaker when a movie provokes an ugly response from the audience?