They say that if you wait long enough, everything old becomes new again. Well, guess what? A couple of enterprising Pittsburgh film students have gone and made a silent film. Now, I don't mean a low budget, no frills film without a soundtrack. I mean a good, old fashioned, black and white (albeit enhanced 1.78:1) film, even "distressed" with the occasional "scratch" and other debris, with a rather evocative multi-keyboard and cello underscore that harkens back to the good old days, if indeed there's still anyone around to remember them. Prometheus Triumphant: A Fugue in the Key of Flesh is a fascinating little experiment, and an at times winning hommage to an art form that most people probably thought went largely the way of the dinosaur circa 1927. If as a film it's patently derivative, it at least provides a nice diversion from the usual summer bombast that will leave exiting the multiplex with bleeding ears.
Prometheus Triumphant combines elements of Frankenstein and The Phantom of the Opera and wraps them up in pseudo-romantic trappings that can't completely cover up the Grand Guignol underpinnings of the plot machinations. We have the probably mad scientist, intent on proving he can bring the dead back from life. We have unrequited love. We have acid thrown in someone's face and a corpse brought back to life that needs to be taught to eat and walk. So many horror movie clichés, so little time.
What Prometheus lacks in plotline innovation it somewhat makes up for in its remarkably well filmed and outstandingly underscored approach. Co-directors Jim Towns and Mike McKown have an eye for simple, understated camera placement without a lot of showy effects, and that works wonders for this production. The production was actually shot in color and then desaturated to achieve black and white, and the technical mastery shown in the brilliant use of shades of dark and light is impressive. If not quite at the level of, say, a Murnau or a Wiene, these two young men show that they have an intuitive understanding of not only the technical aspects of silent film, but its emotional foundation as well.
While some of the performances may incline a bit too much toward "indicating," that of course is a time-honored tradition in silent cinema, and it somehow suits the emotional tenor of the film quite well. What truly manages to fulfill the film's emotional ambitions, though, is the marvelous, spare underscore by Lucien Desar, a score that initially utilizes some natural acoustic synthesizer patches, achieving a sort old time movie house feel, and then subtly introduces spacier sounds, along with some great strings later in the film, to boost the film's gut level punch pretty dramatically.
Shot on an insanely low budget of $4,000 (that's right, only three zeroes after the comma), and produced at great effort over the course of several years, Prometheus Triumphant is a flawed but really very interesting film that's head and shoulders above most "student" efforts, while not quite rising to the level of an independent classic. It has the makings of a cult hit all over it, and perhaps this DVD will help further its appeal, especially to the Goth set. It certainly is more than enough to recommend Towns and McKown as two new filmmakers of note, and should provide a rather unique calling card should they venture out to La-La Land where they'll interact with people even stranger than the characters in their film.
Prometheus Triumphant is a little marvel of digital manipulation. Shot on video and then altered to look damaged and black and white, this is a grainy, middling soft image that no doubt is meant to look exactly the way it does. Where this image excels is in the really excellent contrast, so important in a dark (literally and figuratively) film like this. Props are due co-director McKown, who also served as DP and editor. This is a really fine looking effort, especially considering the paltry budget.
The DD 5.1 mix seems perhaps a tad excessive considering the rather restrained style of the bulk of the score. The surround channels really only come into play with some of the more ambient synth effects and the string writing. It's a fine soundtrack, and the score, as mentioned above, is one of the strongest aspects of the film, just don't expect anything to set your surround channels ablaze with sonic glory. The film has interstitial titles, so no subtitles are necessary.
Two pretty good commentaries are included, one with the co-directors and the other with composer Desar (being a musician, I preferred Desar's, though your mileage may vary). There are also deleted scenes, outtakes, a pretty poorly shot Q&A session with the direcotrs, and the trailer.
Not a completely successful experiment, Prometheus Triumphant is nonetheless a very interesting one that portends well for its directors. If you're a silent film buff, this might make an agreeable diversion. Patently derivative in its plot, it still is able to weave a very dank and dreary mood. Rent It for an unusual evening's entertainment.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet