Although Mike McKown and Jim Towns did not make the list with their film, Prometheus Triumphant: A Fugue in the Key of Flesh, their short, The Sleep of Reason, certainly deserves our recognition. This eerie tale of a weird romance between a doctor and a mental patient is just what we’re looking for.
DIRECTED BY: Mike McKown, Jim Towns
FEATURING: Josh Ebel, Kelly I. Lynn
PLOT: A mad doctor reanimates the body of his loved one who has died in a plague.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Silent films have an inherently dreamlike feel to them that gives them a leg up in the weird department. Prometheus Triumphant fails to capture and exploit this feeling, leaving us with a dull and lifeless film devoid of sound, color or interest.
COMMENTS: It’s tempting to give amateur films bonus points for good intentions, but with Prometheus Triumphant it seems like the filmmakers didn’t do due diligence to create something professional looking, thinking that a cool concept alone could carry the film. The first problem, as is usually the case, is the plot, a groaningly obvious and unoriginal mix of Frankenstein and The Phantom of the Opera that’s as thin as stage blood. Action is almost nonexistent: after embarking on his grave-robbing spree, it takes “The Creator” almost ten minutes to dig up and cart away his first corpse, and most of that time is spent watching him walk with a wheelbarrow across a bleak and uninteresting field with a few prop crucifixes in the foreground.
With no surprises or suspense in the story, Prometheus needs a strong visual look to compensate, one it’s incapable of generating on its budget. A few kind critics have implied that the film evokes the look of German Expressionism, but I’m led to wonder if they’ve ever actually seen a work of classic German expressionism. It’s true that both Prometheus and its inspirations are in black and white and use Gothic imagery, but it’s impossible to imagine anyone confusing a perfectly framed and detailed still from Nosferatu or Caligari with the mundane angles and dull sets of this one. Composer Lucein Desar clearly has some talent, but not enough ideas to stretch out over 80 minutes, and the score becomes repetitive and irritating.
Not all of Prometheus‘ flaws can be forgiven due to budgetary limitations; some of them come from an endemic lack of attention to detail. A shot containing a modern steel handrail and concrete steps in 1899 might be forgiven, but a navel ring on the corpse of a dead peasant girl can’t be. Even more revealing are the mistakes that show up in the intertitles. Many people confuse “throws” for “throes,” but in this day of automatic spellcheckers, how can anyone let a goof like “existance” slip into a project that’s intended to be professional? And if you’re going to misspell a term you’re only vaguely familiar with, such as “Bürgermeister,” at least be consistent: don’t use “Bergmeister” sometimes and “Burgmeister” other times.
It may seem picky, but these mistakes help explain why the flick is so listless in the end. Everyone seems so excited by the cool overarching concept of recreating a classic silent movie that they forgot to work on the little things that make a work breathe. It’s almost as if the camerawork, imagery, acting, script, action, sets, locations, costumes, and makeup all have no higher aspiration than to be usable, and the directors were satisfied if they turned out adequate. The end result isn’t a meaningful tribute to Murnau, Wiene and Lang; if it weren’t so sincerely intended, it would be an insult. Prometheus Triumphant reinforces every negative stereotype mainstream viewers have about silent films being boring and inferior. It’s what all bad, amateur horror movies would look like today if cinema had never developed sound, color, or slashers.
The DVD contains a short film by the same directorial team, “The Sleep of Reason,” that shows a bit more promise than Prometheus actually delivered. Despite the fact that the feature didn’t work on an entertainment or artistic level, I wouldn’t write Towns and McKown off as hacks. Sometimes things just don’t come together the way the creators imagined. At least they had some fun and hopefully learned some valuable lessons; but sadly, better-made independent features are sitting on shelves, while this failed experiment gets a relatively decent distribution deal.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: