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It started like any other piece of home-shot video. Blurry, patchy, grainy, underlit. TV on in the background, its transmission lines rippling with static. Bright blotches of jewelry scattered on the counter next to the TV. For the first few seconds the television audio is the clearest thing about the image: It’s the 6 p.m. newscast from KTTV, the Fox affiliate in Los Angeles.

Then the fleshy smudges in the foreground take on definition and shape. The lens is adjusting to the low light. There’s movement, moaning. You see a man’s body lying on a bed. A woman, a brunette, is going down on him, her bobbing head positioned in the center of the frame. Okay, so what’s the deal? It’s just somebody’s amateur porn.

Why was this forwarded to me?

But 12, 13 seconds into it, the woman raises her head. She looks up at her partner and smiles at him, checking his reaction. That’s when you realize this isn’t simply some random tape. There are the pouty, heart-curved lips, famously kept plump with Blistex balm. There’s the brown mole just above the left side of her upper lip. There are the eyes—large, almond-shaped and somehow, despite her life, peaceful. There’s the mermaid tattoo on her right shoulder, the tattoo they tried to hide with body makeup for her nude scenes in I’m Still Waiting but finally had to digitally conceal.

No mistake: It’s Amanda Eston. It’s the Disney darling who turned tween and teen queendom into a film career filled with sweaty-palmed reviews and movies that routinely grossed $100 million plus. It’s the actress who managed to hold onto her sweetheart fanbase despite emotional breakdowns, mood swings, episodes of depression, drunken displays, drug overdoses, emergency hospital visits and prolonged rehab stays.

The man’s face is never seen. All you can catch are snatches of his chest, hips, thighs. His one claim to video fame: A large, wine-colored, football-shaped birthmark on the side of his average-size cock. Otherwise he’s anonymous. The fixed camera is angled to showcase Amanda Eston’s performance. The focus stays on her, in porn as in life.

She goes back to work, providing more lip service. All right—this is mildly, if grimly, interesting. It’s high-wattage erotica and you watch it with a kind of breathless voyeurism, though what you’re seeing is oddly tranquil for sex.

Then there’s a moment when it all turns.

It comes from the sound on the TV. In the course of reporting a story, one of the newscasters mentions the day’s date and year. And if you know anything about Amanda Eston, you know that her body will be found hours later. In this same room. In this same bed.

If you know anything about Amanda Eston, you know this is the last time she’ll be seen alive.

You’re looking at the prelude to her death, the foreshadowing of her end. Everything about the video—the grain, the blurs—has been touched by what’s going to happen.

This isn’t porn anymore. Porn keeps you out, keeps you watching the performers as objects. But this thing, this pulls you in. This draws you into itself. This makes you feel connected to what you’re seeing, as if hidden messages are being carried through the bytes and bandwidth and are entering your body through your eyes.

Which explains why this one minute and 18 second video is on your screen. Which explains why it was posted on a small, obscure site in Amsterdam and picked up worldwide in a record 30 minutes.

It’s infused with dreamspun danger, with night and terror. You know what’s coming. You know what’s going to happen. You know that death is rushing through every frame.




About Richard Sanders

I worked as an Executive Editor at Entertainment Weekly for 11 years and (in two separate stints) at People magazine and for 12 years. I often speak to young journalists and try to use myself as an example for inspiration—a guy who spent time in jail, rehab and a psych ward and somehow went on to become a successful editor at Time Inc. and managed to stay sane and alive. I’ve tried to reflect those experiences in my books. View all posts by Richard Sanders

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