PrometheusTriumphantA 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 Guy Maddin 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 Czechoslovakia.

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 Esmeralda…

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.

Vital Statistics

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