A modern (2008)
silent that tries very hard to recreate the style of bygone films like
NOSFERATU and THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI. The film falls short of its
aims, but as an exercise in elegant weirdness it succeeds.
This “Fugue in the Key of Flesh” was created by
directors Jim Towns and Mike McKown, who shot the film for a reported
$4000 during 2003-05. During that time the lead actress Kelly Lynn
apparently disappeared, and her remaining scenes were completed by
another actress. Ms. Lynn’s current whereabouts are unknown.
In the manner of modern silent moviemakers like
and Simon Birrell,
Towns and McKown painstakingly attempted to reproduce the look and feel
of early 20th Century silent cinema with all manner of
digital trickery. They filmed in their hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, which
stands in (surprisingly well) for 19th Century
PROMETHEUS TRIUMPHANT played briefly in Los Angeles in
January of 2009, and is now available on DVD from Cinema Epoch.
The 1890s: Plague has ravaged the Czech village of
Birzirkenstadt. Doctor Janick discovers a revolutionary cure for the
contagion, but is branded a heretic and run out of town. In the meantime
the lovely Esmeralda, Janick’s secret flame, succumbs to the plague.
The townspeople are evacuated to Bavaria and Esmeralda
is buried. But she’s dug up by a dude in a freaky white mask who carries
her corpse to his dark castle lair.
He’s looking to bring Esmeralda back from the dead
through scientific means. This entails a lot of work on the part of the
mask-wearer, who eventually gets what he wants: the woman returns to
life. The problem is she’s lost all memory of what it means to be human,
and so must be retaught how to do literally everything. Before long,
however, Esmeralda begins doing things on her own, and even appears to
recall many of the details of her former life.
The masked man is overjoyed at this development, but
makes the mistake of removing his mask and revealing his face to
Directors Jim Towns and Mike McKown were clearly
sincere in their efforts to ape silent-era filmmaking, but the illusion
rarely comes off. Unlike Guy Maddin, who makes his silent films
utilizing film stock and equipment comparable to those of the archaic
cinema he replicates, Towns and McKown shot their film on digital video
and then altered the frame rate, reversed the color values to black and
white, and added artificial grain. There are occasional moments when the
results actually feel like an actual silent movie (such as a
sepia-tinted riverbank flashback), but for the most part the project
looks just like the tricked-out, digitally lensed no-budgeter it is.
The film is, however, well made and unique. The pacing
is measured but not too slow, and the music score by Lucien Desar is
appropriately languid and hypnotic. The overall impression is one of
quiet, even poetic apprehension, bolstered by a subdued lighting scheme
and frequent dissolves. There are also some genuinely haunting images
(such as the sight of the resurrected Esmeralda staggering around stark
naked). So clearly PROMETHEUS TRIUMPHANT works…though not entirely in
the way its makers intended.
PROMETHEUS TRIUMPHANT: A FUGUE IN THE KEY OF FLESH
Mad Monkey Productions
Directors: Jim Towns, Mike McKown
Screenplay: Jim Towns
Cinematography: Mike McKown
Editor: Mike McKown
Cast: Kelly Lynn, Josh Ebel, Shawn Morgan, Dave Yarborough, Melissa
Thoughtzmantz, Bruce Lentz, Grant Moninger