By Don Simpson | February 1, 2016
Director: Paul Taylor
Writer: Paul Taylor
Starring: Joslyn Jensen, Paul C. Kelly, Michael Fentin
Who ever said that silent film was dead? Whoever it was, writer-director Paul Taylor certainly was not listening to them.
Taylor’s Driftwood is an incredibly ambitious feature film, one that has no dialogue or inter-titles to convey the narrative (except for ambient noises, there is no sound at all). But Taylor proves that words are not necessary when working in an inherently visual medium.
Despite the absence of verbal exposition, Driftwood‘s narrative is as clear as day. A man (Paul C. Kelly) finds a young woman (Joslyn Jensen) washed up on the beach. She is quite literally an empty vessel (as dumb as a piece of driftwood, you might say), with no knowledge or memory. The man never attempts to speak to her, suggesting that he has seen cases like her’s before (either that or he’s unable to verbally communicate).
The man’s intentions are questionable, but she is most likely his dream wife. She is youthful, does not speak, and has no perceived notions about life or relationships. He will be able to teach her from scratch what to do and how to behave. First he teaches her how to eat, bathe and use the toilet; then, he teaches her to clean and cook. Before she knows any better, he puts an engagement ring on her finger and keeps her chained up. As Driftwood progresses, the film has much more to say about traditional gender roles, albeit without the use of words.
Channeling films like Being There and The Man Who Fell to Earth, Driftwood follows the learning and adjusting process for someone who is totally alien to the modern world. Joslyn Jensen fulfills her role with the bombast of a silent film starlet, wearing her emotions (or lack there of) on her face and brilliantly capturing the naiveté and disorientation of an adult human [re]entering the world as a blank slate with all of the awkwardness and amazement that it entails. When Jensen’s character experiences something for the first time (such as opening a door), we clearly sense her wonderment and confusion. Most importantly is the way Jensen conveys her character’s growing sense of isolation, as well as her natural intuition that she needs to escape.
Taylor’s film is a truly immersive experience that forces the viewer to play a very active role. Driftwood will definitely leave the audience with a ton of unanswered questions, but that seems to be the point of making a modern day silent film — let the audience fill in the blanks. But do not let that scare you, Driftwood is positively a must see film.