Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Eye- (and other orifices) opening doc, AMERICAN COURTESANS on VOD/DVD

Call them courtesans, prostitutes, whores, or sex-for-money gals, whatever the moniker chosen here, we're talking about the same thing. The folk behind AMERICAN COURTESANS have chosen the classiest of those words to title their new documentary, and they have also chosen a batch of attractive, young and middle-aged-to-older women to demon-strate the film's thesis. Which is?
All over the place.

The brainchild of first-time producer/director James Johnson, shown at right (who clearly prefers not being seen) and producer/star Kristen DiAngelo, a sex worker who has worn a number of different hats over the years and now clearly wants to get her story and those of other sex workers out to the masses (the adult masses, at least). She's done it, and to relatively interesting effect, but maybe not as well nor as thoroughly as she (and the other ladies) might have originally intended. I wish the movie were more focused and its agenda clearer.

About that thesis: There are times in the documentary when it appears to want to hold prostitution up as some kind of exemplary occupation ("What a great industry this is!" enthuses one of our gals at one point in the film.) And yet, almost from the very first moments, as we hear these women talking about their childhood, tears well up in nearly every one of them as they describe something so awful that you can only wish they had not had to live through it.

Toward film's end, as Ms DiAngelo (above) describes a particularly harrowing experience involving a "john" bent, it seems, on killing his "lady of the evening" and the wretched reactions from law enforcement, the movie becomes a plea for justice. On the other hand, just previously, a woman named Emma, at right, was telling us all about the fun and money to be made here, at which point the movie turns into a kind of commercial for courtesans.

Along the way we hear at some length from nearly a dozen different women, the most interesting and certainly the oldest of whom is Pearl, shown at left, whose story is genuinely both provocative and heartening. (We also hear from her son, who knows all about his mom and her life and seems to be right proud of her, too. You will probably feel the same.)

We hear from other children of these "escorts," as well as from a parent or two, a few of those "johns," a police officer, and briefly from a few more sex workers. Other western countries manage legalized prostitution, and at times the film seems to be pushing this agenda ("Tax it, and get on with it!" exclaims one fellow). But what happens when courtesans grow older? "You had to go there, didn't ya?" notes Gina, at right, annoyed but game enough to consider the possibilities. Her story, too, is one for the books.

Another woman, having been in this this profession since age 12 (I think it was Erin, at left -- but immediately after seeing this movie, some of these stories and their tellers began to run together), explains how she has often tried to get out of the life, but the "industry," as she calls it, in some form or other, has always managed to pull her back.

"My main focus is to survive and to put a roof over my head," one woman tells us -- which could pretty much explain the instinct at the heart of most of us (except, of course, that one percent) when we're young and starting out. (That's Skylar, shown at right.)

Looking over this particular post and its visuals, TrustMovies has to admit that the post itself looks rather like a commercial for these courtesans. And that's part of the trouble with the film. It wants to have it, not just both ways, but all ways: to sound a warning (of sorts), to get better protection for sex workers, to tell these women's stories fully -- and to entice some new johns into helping these girls keep that roof over their head.

Pictured at left is Juliet, who, of all these women (save Pearl), seems the most centered and realistic. Listening to her, you can almost be lulled into the notion that here, in the still uber-Puritanical American, prostitution might someday come into its own as a legal, even decent profession. But then, Americans would have to acknowledge their need for sexual pleasure and stop hypocritically pretending that god told them "no."

American Courtesans becomes available nationwide this Friday, July 12 on VOD via all major cable networks, as well as from Amazon and iTunes. Or you can order the DVD by clicking here.

2 comments:

Bob Andelman said...

You might also enjoy this: a blunt--but clean--talk about the ups and downs, and in and outs of America's oldest profession with one of its most elite international escorts, Kristen DiAngelo. She stars in and produced the new documentary film, American Courtesans. Is it for everybody? No. But if you have an open mind, Kristen has quite a story to tell. http://www.mrmedia.com/2013/07/american-courtesan-documentary-secret-life-of-an-escort-video/#.UeGW61OVQSI

James van Maanen said...

Thanks, Bob -- for introducing me to Mr. Media. I watched a few minutes: Looks VERY interesting, so I'll watch more as soon as time permits. I appreciate the link, and I'm sure my readers will, too.