Judge Gordon Sullivan thinks German Expressionism is a living dead genre.
What would you do to bring back the one you love?
Prometheus Triumphant: A Fugue in the Key of Flesh is an odd little film, and I'm not just talking about that mouthful of a subtitle. Although it was made in the twenty-first century, the film attempts to evoke silent-era classics like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Using digital technology, the film reproduces the look (including black-and-white photography, print damage, and intertitles), as well as the thematic obsessions of some of the German Expressionist masterpieces. Although the film is successful in evoking those famous classics, it is ultimately a phyrric victory, as the film doesn't present much that's new.
I have to give tremendous credit to co-directors Mike McKown and Jim Towns. Every aspect of Prometheus Triumphant feels period. The intertitles are appropriately elevated in their language, the costuming is wonderfully gothic in its fashion, and the look of the film has that canted atmosphere that marks many of the silent horror classics. The story is also creepy in that classic way, evoking the themes of Frankenstein, Golem, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. In Prometheus Triumphant, we are transported to Europe at the end of the nineteenth century, where the plague ravishes the countryside. A young doctor, Janek (Josh Ebel), hopes to cure the plague with his radical theories about the relationship between electricity, life, and death. This should sound familiar to fright fans, and it comes as no surprise that the love of Janek's life, Esmerelda (Kelly I. Lynn), succumbs to the disease while he is helpless to cure her because of the conservative views of the local medical establishment. All seems to be lost, but a masked figure called The Creator appears to whisk young Esmerelda off to perform experiments intended to rescue her from the dead.
As I said, the film earns lots of points for faithfully re-creating the feel of those early cinematic classics. However, a couple of things keep the film from having more impact. One is that the film feels like cinematic necrophilia. I certainly think there's still a place for silent cinema in the modern era, but to slavishly recreate a dead aesthetic seems totally unnecessary. The film left me totally impressed with the talents of everyone involved, but also wishing that they'd directed their creative energies to developing something new instead of looking back to something old. Second, the entire German Expressionist aesthetic has been so thoroughly absorbed (and, let's not forget, parodied) that seeing it in an undiluted state is problematic. It was very difficult to get into the film because the aesthetic has been so completely aligned with pretentious student filmmakers that it was difficult not to laugh at what first appears to be pretention on the part of the filmmakers. Even once it's obvious that the film is meant to be taken seriously, the slow nature of this cinematic form made it difficult to watch.
Whatever my feelings about the film, however, the DVD gets very high marks. The anamorphically enhanced widescreen image shows the film's budget, but is remarkably free of distracting compression problems. The 5.1 surround audio presents a rather lush soundscape for the excellent score by composer Lucien Desar. Also, they didn't skimp on the extras. We get a commentary by co-directors Jim Towns and Mike McKown (who are joined by other members of the cast), and they discuss the project from pre-production through to distribution. The group is lively and obviously loves the film. The second commentary is by the composer as he discusses his involvement with the project. The score is obviously a huge part of a silent film like this, but I was still surprised at home much he had to say throughout the film. We're also treated to 12 minutes of outtakes (which include numerous shots of one of The Creator's contraptions caressing a woman's bare breasts), and a Q&A with the film's creators that runs for almost 25 minutes. We also get eight deleted or extended scenes, as well as a short film from the same directors entitled The Sleep of Reason. The disc rounds out with a teaser and a trailer for the film.
Obviously I'm of two minds about Prometheus Triumphant. It's certainly an impressive attempt to evoke a bygone era of silent filmmaking. However, it's also a difficult to swallow exercise showcasing creative energies which might be better spent elsewhere. Fans of the silent era, and anyone looking for an interesting bit of modern filmmaking, are urged to give the flick a rental.
Prometheus Triumphant: A Fugue in the Key of Flesh is acquitted for its ability to bring a long-dead genre back to life.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cinema Epoch
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