PORTRAITS OF ANDREA PALMER *** USA 2017 Dir: C.Huston, Joe Rubin. 74 mins
Co-directed by the co-founder of Vinegar Syndrome and showcasing a prominent role for the late veteran hardcore filmmaker William Margold, this is an episodic, startling hybrid of pornography, torture movie and arthouse – shot in black and white 16 mm and constructed around an astonishing performance by adult movie actress Katrina Zova in the title role. The verité, handheld approach hurls us into Andrea’s life via loosely connected “portraits” of her everyday life as an L.A. cam girl catering to the varied turn-ons of her viewership, upon whom she sometimes unleashes her rage about being better than her chosen vocation.
Set to a suitably jarring score by Michael Parsons, it fuses hardcore sex with the overriding unease and discordant soundscapes of Jorg Buttgereit, David Lynch and Abel Ferrara at their most ferocious. The movie is shot and cut in a way that makes close-ups of Andrea eating as disconcerting as her deep throating a dildo. Everything is designed to cause maximum discomfort, from a harrowing coke binge to a nod to 21st century torture-based American horror involving clothes pegs. At the core of the film is a bleak commentary on the plight of young women in Los Angeles – as one character puts it, “as long as you’ve got a cunt, you’ll never starve”. A couple of the supporting performances are a little hokey, but Zova’s no-holds-barred portrayal of Andrea goes places no mainstream actress would ever venture, both physically and emotionally. Her commitment to the role helps overcome the occasional feeling that what we’re watching is yet another nihilistic character study of a degraded woman…albeit one that happens to feature on-screen cumshots. Nonetheless, amidst a flurry of recent genre films about cam girls, it can easily count itself as the most authentically grim portrait of the world. It ends on the harshest note imaginable, the lack of end credits reinforcing the sense that we’ve gate-crashed someone’s gruelling day job with no reassuring way out.
Review by Steven West