“Portrait of a Call Girl” has a lot to say

“Portrait of A Call Girl,” written and directed by Graham Travis and starring Jessie Andrews, is the type of porn film I wish I’d seen first, so that movies like “Not the Flintstones XXX” might settle into their proper perspective. It is a self-assured and sexy “Portrait,” and Andrews carries every scene.

But I wasn’t prepared to like it.

See my review and interview with writer/director Graham Travis below.

After writing about porn for several years, and having been on the receiving end of palletfuls of poorly-worded and worse-executed hype, I’m entitled to my prejudices. For one, the title “Portrait of A Call Girl” sent up a red flag; it sounded like an Afterschool Special for Adults, in which porn stars interpret the lives of escorts the way Heating & Ventilation technicians will sometimes dabble in Air Conditioning. Why should we care what practitioners of one discipline have to say about a not-so-unrelated one?

Worse, would it be one of those movies where a sex worker preaches how difficult yet ennobling her job is? Those outings make sex unsexy.

Finally, a plot description that includes language like “through a series of liberating sexual experiences she is able to unlock the doors to her own secrets and confront the darkness that she has been running from” is just the sort of sex-as-therapy/MySpace journal entry that is so cringe-worthy when strippers say it.

So take it from me: don’t look at the box of Elegant Angel’s excellent “Portrait of A Call Girl”: just watch the movie and be delighted that a story that at first appears familiar can be carried off so poignantly, elegantly, and simply without skimping on the sex.

Studio: Elegant Angel
Director: Graham Travis
Starring: Jessie Andrews, Manuel Ferrara, Mick Blue, Ramon Nomar, Alex Gonz, Alec Knight, Darla Crane, Zoey Holloway, Bill Bailey, Jay Crew, Danny Mountain, Eric John Alan Stafford, Eric Swiss

Elle (Jessie Andrews) is a baby-faced hooker with a past. As written and directed by longtime Elegant Angel employee Graham Travis, Elle’s character is soft-spoken without being coy and evasive, and tormented without relying on it as an excuse for her own bad behavior.

Gram: I didn’t really know Jessie Andrews before this movie (save for her appearance in a little film called “Marcia’s Twat”) but can’t imagine anyone else pulling off the role. Unlike any other adult film, she is the sole female performer in each scene. What was it about Andrews that made you cast her?

Graham Travis: I remembered her from the AVN award show earlier in the year when the music act was a real disaster. When the singer asked for the girls in the audience to get up on stage it was the first year I can remember that all the talent stayed in their seats. But Jessie got up there, and laughed, and made the most of it, and I thought that took a lot of guts, and from that moment I believed she had something really special. After meeting with Jessie I knew she would feel her way through the role, as opposed to trying to perform the role. She’s intuitively incredibly smart.

Elle is indeed running from something; a broken home with a wicked stepfather (the typecast Eric Swiss), a blowsy mom, and a lifelong education in manipulating men. When she finally takes off, she makes her way to Los Angeles, where she begins therapy, apparently, the same week she gets a job as a hooker.

“Portrait of A Call Girl” is rich with detail, from the radio chatter in her driver’s car (higher-tier escorts need drivers) to other bits of business, like glimpses of her bank statement and the notebook she keeps to list her encounters. We see how she dresses when she’s not working (only a little slutty, but it’s what she knows), and follow her into a movie theatre, where she enjoys a matinee on her own.

Elle chats with and gets advice from other hookers—how to deal with cops, for example—and we see why, considering the subtle judgment she receives from civilian women, she chooses to keep her occupation a secret from her friends.

As Elle, Jessie Andrews is outstanding. She doesn’t do a single porny thing. The low affect with which she delivers her lines is not because the actress doesn’t understand them, but because the character is just a little dead inside. When we flash back to scenes of how she came to be here (“I’d show him how unlovable I really was”), we see subtle changes in demeanor; she grows more self-aware from one encounter to the next.

Throughout the movie, Elle’s viewpoint on her work remains ambiguous. She tells her therapist that she doesn’t know if she’ll continue to be a call girl; she’s just figuring things out.

But what about the sex? Well, each client tells a story, too.

Elle meets an aloof businessman (Manuel Ferrara) who requests some roleplay. She must dress in leather gloves and thigh-high boots (it’s about 20 minutes into the movie before we see Andrews naked, and the wait is worth it) and interrupt his work, after which he must punish her. Then she is double-teamed by a couple of rich douchebags (who, I’ll admit it, adorably fall asleep on either side of her), she gently resists the offer of a sad-sack married client (Jay Crew) to take care of her (“It’s funny,” she says to him, “all the guys that I see; they try to be what I want them to be”), and then she has a masked and blindfolded gangbang, later going out on a wholesome date with one of the gangbang squad.

Another point in the movie’s favor is that we get to see the humanity of her clients and their effect on her. How rare is that in a business that is all about transactions? (Or is it wishful thinking in a business where men make money from women but still wish to be thought of as human?)

All the while, we watch Elle slowly connect to the world through a subtle series of moments; she witnesses a beating in an alley, and shares a non-sexual understanding with both the perpetrator and the victim.

Gram: Why is Elle a prostitute and not a porn performer?

Travis: I think its a universal type of story in a way. The context really could have been many things, including being a pornstar. At the beginning she’s very isolated, and that fits better with being a call girl. There’s also a lot of mystery and curiosity that surrounds the profession and that’s probably why so many mainstream movies get made about it + all the cinematic potential of the city at night and a criminal element to it. I think there’s a lot of other things involved in porn that might have complicated the narrative.

And this makes sense. Basically, Elle is lonely, and there is an element of solitude in that branch of sex work—a lonely journey that happens to involve other people. As an escort, Elle controls outcomes in ways that weren’t available before and, if she doesn’t come to any conclusions, she gets a lot closer.

Does every actor in “Portrait” hit his mark all the time? No. Is Elle’s voiceover occasionally precious? Yes (I would perform a “Blade Runner” on the voiceover if I could). But this movie is one to be proud of, and Travis directs the cast to their best work.

In the new age of porn parodies—some of which are awful, some of which are great, all of which are saturating the market—”Portrait” seems like a throwback. Maybe an old idea, but an original script with a shooting schedule six times the porn-standard at 12 days.  Will Elegant Angel market such a non-representative movie differently?

Travis: For the most part not really. I anticipate our broadcast deals will be different and we’re charging a slightly higher price for the movie on DVD & Blu-Ray. But, right now we’re just taking in the feedback and response. I think the possibilities for the movie will rely upon whether a lot of people really like it or not.

Gram: Do you worry, based on Elegant Angel’s catalog, that people will be unprepared for this movie?

Travis: Yes. Definitely. That’s why we released it in the summer alongside a big Gonzo release, “Gangbanged 2.” We’re a gonzo company and that’s what we do. Maybe there’s a place to do a few big creative productions like this, maybe there isn’t. Our customers will tell us.

Gram: If the customers respond well, is there more scripted work in the future?

Travis: I’ve come up with a new idea for a feature, and we’re considering shooting it towards the end of the year, called “Wasteland,” but it will depend on the response to “Portrait.” I’m a fan, too, and gonzo is where our heart is. The majority of our efforts are being put into our big Superstar September gonzo releases, and then “Massive Facials 4” and “Big Wet Asses 20” which are fan favorites. But, hopefully, Elegant Angel can go on to do both, gonzo and features. Time will tell.

Thoughtfully acted, beautifully shot, and sparsely, elegantly orchestrated, “Portrait of A Call Girl” is my favorite porn movie in a long time. Unlike 98 percent of porn out there, it is worth owning and keeping.

  • Buy “Portrait of A Call Girl” here

Previously on Porn Valley Observed: Jessie Andrews in Best of Inbox Nudes; With a name like “Marcia’s twat”…; The Ropey Volley Awards
See also: Elegant Angel

About Gram the Man 4399 Articles
Gram Ponante is America's Beloved Porn Journalist

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