• Portraits Of Andrea Palmer (Tomorrow Productions) Movie Review

    Released by: Tomorrow Productions
    Director: C. Huston, J. Lyons
    Cast: Katrina Zova, Chad Alva, Chris Cock, Joe Curtis, Li Dekker, William Margold, Sheena Rose, Richard Wright
    Year: 2017

    Shot on 16mm film by co-directors/co-writers ‘C. Huston and J. Lyons’, 2017’s Portraits Of Andrea Palmer opens with a black and white shot of a ceiling fan. The camera pans down and we see an attractive young woman asleep in her bed. This woman is the titular Andrea Palmer (played by adult film actress Katrina Zova). As she wakes, this footage is intercut with color shots of her doing different things – walking alongside a man in a ponytail, going down on a guy, ‘brushing’ her teeth. Once she’s out of bed, she smokes some pot…and we cut to a close up shot of blood coming from between her legs. After that she does a line, showers and gets dressed, ready for her day. And then she spits at her reflection in the mirror. It’s clear that all is not well in Andrea’s world. If the imagery didn’t confirm that for us immediately, the eerie, ambient music from Michael Parsons on the soundtrack does.

    At any rate, Andrea’s day involves sitting in front of a Macbook high as a kite and masturbating on her webcam. This might sound like a great way to make a living – if you could get paid to masturbate wouldn’t you? – But it’s clear that she’s unhappy with her lot in life. When she climaxes, her face is shrouded in darkness. Before she starts her second performance she looks into the mirror and says to herself “I’m a dirty fucking whore” yet when she gets a request from an audience member she doesn’t like, she curses him out, saying to herself that she would never do that while deep throating and sleeping herself in the face with a sizeable rubber dong. When a different audience member tells her not to listen to the others, that she’s “worth more than that” it’s clear that he’s gotten her attention. A minute later, her cellphone rings and she’s got an offer to head to Los Angeles to make an easy two grand… and then we cut back to that ceiling fan.

    She makes it to L.A., gets a place and soon realizes that she’s been stood up. The job she was offered never existed and now she’s broke. Without many options, she start answers an ad on Craigslist and meets up with a man named Jim Janos (Richard Wright) and two performers – Sunni (Li Dekker) and Sheena (Sheena Rose). Andrea is there to observe, to see if she’s interested in participating in a future production. She masturbates while she watches and a few minutes later, at Jim’s behest, she joins in. Jim refuses to pay her before she leaves. Still needing cash, Andrea continues to work low rent sex jobs, working as a prostitute. She gets involved with a bad seed, a drug dealer (Chad Alva), does some fetish work. It doesn’t go well. Nothing goes well for Andrea. The only bright spot is when she gets hired for a day to escort an older man who just wants to have fun and likes to talk (William Margold in his final role – judging by the amount of stuffed bears in the van, it’s a safe guess Margold was using his own vehicle here!). As they talk, we learn more about Andrea, which makes her inevitable fate all the harder to take.

    Kova is very good here. She looks a bit like Lina Romay, with those dark eyes and sculpted eyebrows and slightly big ears. She’s pretty, but it’s interesting how through most of the film Zova’s character is humanized more than sexualized. We see her chew her cereal in close-up and it’s repulsive. When she smokes weed it isn’t smooth, she coughs up a lung on the first toke. Even early in the film when she’s naked, getting dressed, she’s not made up or lit in any such way as to make her more than normal, breaking the misconception that all adult film actresses are silicone-enhanced plastic surgery disasters. Given what happens to her character later in the film, and what she’s willing to do on camera here, it’s fair to say her performance is bold. The rest of the cast are decent too. Many of the supporting players have also been involved in the adult film business, though not all of them, and they do fine work. Chad Alva is sufficiently sleazy here as the man that effectively becomes Andrea’s abusive pimp, while the late Bill Margold delivers a genuinely warm turn as the man who provides Andrea with the singular moment in the film where she seems genuinely happy.

    Visually the film is interesting. The chat scenes where Andrea is on her cam interacting with her viewers look like intertitles from an old silent movie. The movie is even broken up into chapters with title cards separating each vignette. Most of the camerawork looks to be handheld, giving all of this a documentary feel. The first time Zova has sex after the porn shoot the scene is shot with a kaleidoscope effect. The 16mm film stock is grainy, which just adds to the whole seedy feel that the film has no shortage of whatsoever. There are scenes where things look a bit hot, the natural light burning up the film stock, and some of the darker scenes do look a tad murky but overall, this is a well-shot picture – the cinematography definitely suits the bleak tone of the film. It’s well edited too, the cuts that show us ‘Andrea then and now’ serving as foreshadow for the film’s dark and eerie conclusion.

    Although the picture is definitely hardcore, it never feels like it’s trying to arouse its audience. Rather, it’s the type of movie that makes those who do watch adult pictures think about the humanity of the people on the other side of the screen. If we don’t always think about it, those performers are people too, just as human and feeling as anyone else in the world, and while it would seem that many of them do tend to be troubled the way that Andrea is, they are, in the words of the mysterious stranger who set Andrea up in the first place, “worth more than that.” Which isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with adult films or sex work (regular readers of this site know damn well we’re pro-porn!) but that it is worth remembering that they’re more than just disposable sex objects.