by Rich Moreland, March 2016
This is Part Two of my review/analysis of The Submission of Emma Marx: Exposed. Here we take a look at the film’s imagery.
Photos courtesy of New Sensations/Digital Sin are watermarked, all others are appropriately credited.
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“In life we sometimes play roles to mask who we really are, to hide our fears, protect our hearts.”
The above voice over opens the third installment of the Emma Marx series and defines what this movie is all about: love, devastation, and spiritual rebirth.
Throughout the Emma Marx saga, Jacky St. James shapes a meek college student with a mere flicker of sexual awareness into a fully-formed independent woman. With Exposed the feminist director completes Emma’s emotional resurrection and closes the door on a film trilogy worthy of academic study.
Jacky St. James spins this final chapter around images–masks, books, shadows, and doorways–that are used strategically to move the narrative forward. They represent Emma’s transition and rebirth.
Emma and her dominant, the wealthy Mr. Frederick, have moved across the country into a house built of stone immersed in a luscious garden: the perfect Eden for the perfect BDSM relationship.
The times are bright and sunny until the day Emma quietly walks away. At that moment, clouds hang over the house and the foliage is lifeless, dry, and brown.
As mentioned earlier, Emma’s mask is the focal point of the opening credits. She sits before a large mirror illuminated by a row of lights similar to those in a backstage dressing room. Displayed are a collection of make-up brushes. Her auburn hair is hidden beneath jet black, saddened eyes heavy with mascara are paired with scarlet red lips. She has the mien of a hooker, war painted and headed out to tough streets where services are fast and cheap.
What is happening here? Is Emma brushing over her pain to conceal her real self, metaphorically beaten into submission by forces she can’t control? Why does she remove the necklace and pendant, another sort of mask, that Frederick gives her in Boundaries, the second film? Has Emma changed?
Indeed. She is confronting redefinition in a search for the mature Emma who can holster her misery and open up to a new relationship.
Without a reawakening, Emma Marx remains as dead as the plants and shrubs she now leaves behind.
Emma and Frederick love their books. Reading hers in the kitchen while he cooks, Emma says, “Frederick and I had fallen into such a beautiful pattern. Not the kind that couples dread, but the kind that really works.”
As she does over the entire series, Jacky St. James contrasts Emma’s fetish-driven romance with her sister’s marriage that seems, at times, annoying to both Nadia and Ray.
Books are markers of acceptability, acting as props or facades to help Emma and Frederick adjust to the ordinary when their fetish is put away.
“Downshifting to conventional living at times proved challenging,” Emma tells us when she and Frederick play at being suburbanites. Not surprising, no BDSM couple lives the life twenty-four seven. Notice the scene where Emma tries to entice Frederick into some BDSM fun on one of their “days off.” He sits in the den reading, totally ignoring her. Frustrated, she storms out.
After leaving Atlanta, Emma returns to live with Nadia and Ray where books show up again to serve another purpose.
In the scene where Nadia brings Emma a plate of brownies in an attempt to console her, the setting is morose. With book in hand, Emma sits in a window well on a rainy day. Reading is her retreat, her effort to suppress or mask her pain while comforting the memory of what she once had.
Shadows and Windows
To touch upon all the shadowing employed in this film is a study in itself. Eddie Powell and his cohort, Paul Woodcrest, use light and dark in ways that are complex, sometimes despondent, and often foreboding. They rely on doorways and windows to complement their message, adding a vital element to Emma’s story. Here are a couple of artistic moments.
In a scene referred to earlier, Frederick tells Emma about Rebecca and Audrina. Emma is in her bath, relaxing in soapy water while he massages her leg. The bathroom is shot from outside its doorway with the shadows creating the effect of a time portal.
Later when Emma gets the phone call, she is lying in bed positioned to the right side of the screen with a heavy shadow subduing the left. The light that penetrates the scene comes from the left framing Emma’s metaphorical death while offering the hope of resurrection.
Shadows dominate the rest of the movie. In a dramatic shot that screams of isolation, Emma sits alone in front of a window. Hazy illumination filters in, holding back the darkness that is pressing in on her. Though the scene is melancholic, the light is a beacon, reminding the viewer of the celestial sublimity and promise that graced the films of Hollywood’s Golden Era.
Finally, shadows define the bondage scenes when Emma encounters her new dominant, Michael Sullivan. There is no airiness in these shots, only chains and cages. The shadows of the bars on Emma’s body as she is being offered the terrifying light of liberation speaks volumes.
Emma’s darkest fantasies of real pain are now upfront and personal. By the way, for seasoned BDSMers, this portion of the film will carry high appeal.
Eventually, when Emma must face her truth, Jacky St. James positions Michael and Emma in front of a window. Like the bathroom scene mentioned above, Eddie Powell’s camera is outside a doorway looking in. The submissive and her Dom are sitting, she facing forward, he in profile gazing at her. Both are silhouetted by the stark contrast of light and dark. As Emma gently turns toward him, a tear slowly makes its way down her cheek. The camera moves in, illuminating Michael as he wipes away the sadness from a now visible Emma.
The shadows are retreat. Emma is exposed.
As I went through the film, I thought about its effect on the viewer had it been shot in black and white. Emma is squeezed, or crushed, by circumstances around her until her breakaway moment occurs. The heavy shadowing used by Eddie Powell and Paul Woodcrest illustrates this theme and carries a message of sharp contrasts. Perhaps the use of low-key lighting may have been more dramatic in black and white. Just a thought.
Finally, what of the doorways? They are everywhere: the arch in the garden, the bathroom doorway we peek through each time Emma takes down the clothes Frederick has picked out for her, the one that lets us see into her bedroom when she removes her final outfit, and the doorway Emma is tied to when Nadia calls her early in the film. It is closed because at this point there is no need for a transition into renewal.
Incidentally, Nadia’s scenes lack meaningful thresholds. They are present, but never visibly used, never hinting of transition.
When her call to Emma puts her off, Nadia walks away to the right leaving the viewer looking straight into two exits she did not take. When Ray brings home the bouquet and argues with his wife, the double doors of their home are in the background. We know he probably used them, but we do not see it. On the other hand, when Emma arrives at their house, we actually witness her open and walk through those same doors.
In Nadia’s part of the story, physical entrances are ignored. The only portals she uses are electronic and impersonal like her phone and laptop. Jacky St. James reminds us that Nadia represents the limitations many women in our modern times feel. A young suburban mom ageing in her marriage, Nadia experiences little, if any, significant personal growth or transition, only grudging accommodation.
By contrast, physical passages are Emma’s gateways, placed artfully throughout the film to highlight each new “exposure.”
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The demands made of this self-identified bondage enthusiast to go from girl to woman and endure the pain of her rebirth is certainly not the kind of acting common in adult entertainment. Her range of emotion alone is extraordinary. Don’t forget, of course, that Jacky St. James’ talent brings Emma to the screen, but it is Penny who brings her to life.
And, as I’ve said before, it is hard to believe Exposed is a porn film unless we consider how the sex scenes define the narrative, the subject of our concluding look at this enduring trilogy.