by Rich Moreland, May 2014
Torn is another dynamic New Sensations film from Jacky St. James and Eddie Powell. No review of mine could top the ones already published. For excellent assessments of the film, check Adult Video News’ review here and XBIZ’s assessment here.
With this article, I’m taking another avenue on this film. Rather than review the movie, I’m going to look at its imagery. In the silent film era, audio dialogue was non-existent, acting and the cinematographer’s craft drove the narrative. To move the story forward with words, filmmakers relied on the well placed title card to reveal snippets of the conversation between the characters.
My bet is that a St. James/Powell film can tell its story without dialogue because their artistry as a team is every bit as good as F.W. Murnau’s effort in the pre-sound fantasy, Nosferatu (1922), or William Wellman’s in the adventure classic, Wings (1927).
To test my idea, I decided on a two-pronged approach. First, I read the boxcover for a brief handle on the plot. Second, I did not view Torn from beginning to end. Instead, I studied the opening scenes in which the credits were superimposed on the screen then skipped to the final minutes of the film right before the last round of credits were run.
Would this sparse amount of information provide enough guidance so that the story would be meaningful if I sat through the entire film with the dialogue muted?
The answer is “yes,” because the directing, cinematography, and acting are that good.
(A disclaimer is due here. After the first silent run through, I watched the film again with the sound on so that I might fill in the names of characters and their relationships to each other. What is presented here is the story as I saw it without the dialogue, but with that information subsequently included. For the record, all photos are from Jacky St. James and are credited to Jeff Koga.)
Bedrooms: the Beginning and End
Beds reveal much about the story. In the beginning, the bed in which Christine (India Summer) and her husband Drew (Steven La Croix), occupy is immense, one of those extra wide varieties. The solid headboard is overly large, resembling a bridge between two faraway shores, or perhaps a dam or a wall that might be holding something back.
The room’s decor is subdued. As the shot is framed, the wall above the bed is blank and consumes an inordinate amount of space. The night stands are ebony (like the headboard) and the actors are dropped to the bottom third of the screen.
The feel is formal, distant, cold, and uninviting. There is brightness in windows on each side of the bed, but they are almost pushed out of the shot.
In the final scene, the camera is much closer to the bed. As in the beginning, the shot is taken from the footboard. Vastly different from the first scene, the bed is smaller, more intimate, and if the headboard is an open bridge (it consists of vertical metal strips, not solid wood), the shores are closer. No allusion to a dam, no way to hold anything back.
Color and warmth dominate the scene and the characters, Mimi (Remy La Croix) and Drew. Over the night stands on both sides of the bed are larger paintings of nature and fresh beginnings.
The opening scene imparts separation and divide, the final one intimacy and union. Knowing this, the story apparently revolves around Drew and how he moves from his wife to his much younger lover. Somewhere in this tale is a tearing away and a rebirth, at least that’s what is indicated so far.
The Afternoon Party
Drew’s life appears filled with drudgery. The snooze alarm is his morning friend and the drive to work is a bore. He has the look of “Is this all there is?” about his day-to-day existence.
An afternoon party hosted by Drew’s co-worker,Vicky (Raylene), and her husband, Roy, features an announcement of some sort. A somewhat disinterested Drew goes outside to smoke. (By the way, among the party goers is Jacky St. James a la Alfred Hitchcock, a cameo in her own film.)
The home is in the hills and Drew sits on a retaining wall, a recurring image in the film. Mimi, the photographer at the party, joins him and they chat as if meeting for the first time. The scenery overwhelms the players and at this point in the narrative sends a distinct message. Nature is primal (remember the paintings in their bedroom referenced above), existing without assumptions and conclusions. Is this what Drew and Mimi will discover because they are not so much the focus of the scene as they are the recipients of its message?
Later in their bedroom, Christine tells Drew about something that is troubling her. It is related to the goings on at Vicky’s house.
A Bathroom Hideout
During the party, Christine is interrupted while she is in the bathroom. Desperate, she hides in the walk-in shower and peeks through the shower curtain. Roy, Vicky and a friend (Samantha Ryan) have three-way sex that features girl/girl oral, unusual for a Jacky St. James romance.
Apparently Vicky and Roy are swingers.
All the while, Christine is in the shower and her dilemma is told by the camera.
The angle is shot from above, an image akin to looking down an empty elevator shaft. Christine is trapped. Confined like the walls she has built around her marriage, Christine is devoid of the sexual passion right within her reach. At this moment, she gives the flimsy shower curtain an unassailable power over her. St. James’s message is clear: we only need rip away our self-imposed barriers and face what troubles us to free ourselves from its tyranny.
As the sex romps just beyond her, Christine sits on the shower floor, physically smaller, frustrated, and seemingly exhausted.
After the bathroom empties, Christine yanks back the curtain. Disgusted and upset, she washes her hands repeatedly and vigorously, much like the recurring imagery of tooth brushing that dominates bathroom scenes in the movie. What are the characters trying to cleanse in this tale of love’s failures and renewal?
The next day at the office, Drew talks with Vicky. Her surprise is followed by laughter, Vicky indicates Christine should have joined in. Drew gives her an “are you kidding me?” look.
A Living Room, then a Studio
A fireplace with large crucifix above the mantle dominates a room whose size stresses the divide between Drew and his wife. Christine is sitting in a loveseat under a huge mirror that reflects the crucifix on the opposite wall. Does the image comment on the sanctity of marriage and sexuality within it?
Hiding a piece of red lingerie behind his back, Drew approaches Christine. Incidentally, he wears a shirt that is also red, the color of passion. She doesn’t like the gift; rejection covers his face. Later he surprises her amorously in the laundry room but she pushes him away. Unfortunately, nothing is going to reignite passion in this marriage.
Mimi, who happens to be Vicky’s niece, shows up at the office. Remembering Drew from the party, the twenty-something wants to photograph him and they go to her studio.
In the foreground of the scene, Mimi loads her camera and Drew sits in a director’s chair some distance away. Mimi’s image fills the entire screen and is totally shaded. As the scene continues, Mimi emerges from the shadows, moving closer to him. Two close-ups of his hands emphasize his wedding ring.
The scene is playful and refreshing, smiles all around, the exact opposite of the deadness the viewer gets with Christine. But is Mimi about to dominate Drew’s emotions? Is she a harbinger of trouble to come?
As he leaves, the middle-aged Drew drops all decorum and kisses Mimi. She is stunned, but not unpleasantly. She did, after all, set this up.
The affair begins. Drew faces a relationship where second chances are rarities, but will Mimi become the dreaded other woman, the mistress destined to be shunted aside when tensions arise?
* * * * *
One of the difficulties in eliminating dialogue is losing the nuances it adds to a film, a richness we appreciate more fully when sound is turned off and words are gone. But clearly the visual operates on its own, proving that filmmakers of the silent era handed down their skills to a modern generation with, of course, the complements of the title card.
The second part of Torn is coming shortly.