CTP Episode of the Day - 11.06.06 - The Post-Modern Prometheus

Today's Cherished Episode: The Post-Modern Prometheus (5x06)
Original Air Date: November 30, 1997
Written By: Chris Carter
Directed By: Chris Carter

Deep in the American heartland, Mulder and Scully encounter -- then attempt to unravel -- the twisted schemes of a modern-day Victor Frankenstein.

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"Why would you do that?"
"Because I can."

Some "The Post-Modern Prometheus" Tidbits & Musings:

-- "The Post-Modern Prometheus" paid tribute to both Mary Shelley's classic book and Universal's movie (the 1931 James Whale version starring Boris Karloff). There are references to both in the episode.

-- The title is an homage to Mary Shelley's famous book Frankenstein -- which is actually titled Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus. Prometheus was a demi-god who made men out of clay, and was the figure in Greek mythology who was responsible for a conflict between mankind and the gods. In order to help the people, Prometheus stole Zeus's fire from the sun. The people were thereby given an advantage to the animals since fire gave man the ability to make weapons and tools. Prometheus was severely punished by Zeus who chained him to a rock in the Caucasus. Every night, Prometheus was visited by an eagle that ate from his liver. During the day, however, his liver grew back to its original state.

-- "The Post-Modern Prometheus" was called "a vision within a vision." "The most idiosyncratic X-File of the fifth or any other season." "A stunningly ambitious exercise in rule-breaking." "A work that, in a collaborative and homogenized medium, represented the undiluted creativity of just one man."

-- "I always wanted to do a Frankenstein story," said Chris Carter, who had fond memories of watching Hollywood's classic black-and-white horror films as a boy. "And I wanted to tell a story as moving to me as the Frankenstein story had always been."

-- His problem: "For the longest time, I couldn't figure out how to do it. What I wanted to do went against the structures of X-Files storytelling, because the basic story was so unbelievable. Even Mary Shelley knew it was unbelievable when she wrote the original novel."

-- His solution: To consciously blur the connection between the X-Files world and the real one, therefore heightening the fantasy element while still emphasizing the episode's romantic and apocalyptic themes.

-- Said Carter, "With Season 5 we knew we were going to be hitting these very dramatic marks which were the mythology episodes and that we wanted to lighten or leaven the season with quirky episodes, with lighter fare. 'The Post-Modern Prometheus' was a kind of combination fairy-tale/folk tale revolving around the Frankenstein story using modern science. I took an old style, which was black-and-white, and an old approach which was a kind of James Whale approach to science fiction, and came up with a story about a lovelorn monster who happened to have a Cher fetish."

-- One cornerstone of Carter's approach to the episode was an atypical casting process. As was widely reported at the time "Prometheus" aired, for that episode the X-Files's creator dropped his series-long ban on hiring recognizable names and faces. The role of Shaineh Berkowitz was originally written for, and offered to, comedienne and sitcom star Roseanne Barr. She turned it down, however.

-- The role of Cher was written for Cher herself, whom Carter knew through her sister, a major X-Files fan. According to supervising producer Paul Rabwin, Cher originally agreed to appear in the episode, but later declined due to scheduling conflicts (it was also reported that she bowed out because she thought her appearance would be "a bit tacky"); however, she promised to take on a different X-Files guest role in the future (unfortunately, that never came to pass). She did agree happily to let her own recordings be used in "The Post-Modern Prometheus's" musical sequences and to allow a "body double" to impersonate her. After viewing the episode when it aired, Cher said that she regretted not taking the role when it was offered to her.

-- For the role of Dr. Pollidori, the producers chose John O'Hurley, an actor instantly recognizable for his warped rendition of mail order apparel mogul J. Peterman on television's highest-rated sitcom Seinfeld.

-- From somewhere underneath his elaborate prosthetic makeup, the Great Mutato was played by Chris Owens -- an up-and-coming actor who had already appeared twice on the show as the Young Cigarette-Smoking Man, and who would figure prominently in the near-future as another recurring character altogether, Jeffrey Spender.

-- The "actor" who played Izzy Berkowitz was actually Stewart Gale, a young guy whom Chris Carter spotted on the street on the way to his gym the previous summer. Izzy's two buddies, Goat Boy and Booger, were played by Jean-Yves Hammel, a busboy where Chris Carter got coffee every morning, and Chris Giacoletti, a snake-handler on the X-Files movie filmed the previous summer.

-- Backstage artists found themselves pushed in equally unexpected directions. The use of black-and-white film necessitated extensive test shots by the camera, makeup, costume, and art departments. "We had to make sure everything we built 'read' properly on the gray scale," said art director Greg Loewen.

-- "We got a request from Chris that we make certain people look like different animals," said hairstylist Anji Bemben. "We had to make a woman look like a chicken, one guy look like a goat, another guy look like a pig. I said 'Great! Here's where I get to be really creative.'"

-- Bemben and her assistant, Forest Sala, did some on-the-spot research by having X-Files animal wrangler Debbie Coe bring a live chicken to their trailer. "The chicken was mostly black, with very even white feathers -- a kind of checkerboard," recalled Bemben with a smile. "So since the actress who played the newspaper reporter and chicken lady had short black hair, we added white hair extensions. It looked like a funky alternative hairstyle -- until you realized she also looked like a chicken."

-- The Great Mutato's make-up, designed and constructed by special effects makeup supervisor Toby Lindala, consisted of five separate pieces; was powered by nine servo-motors, cost $40,000, and took from five to seven hours to apply to actor Chris Owens's face each morning. Fully costumed, Owens also wore special gloves, contact lenses, and dentures -- and earned Lindala's sincere admiration for actually talking coherently, and in character, from underneath several pounds of latex.

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-- Lindala's own trial by makeup came when he had to turn twin infants into Baby Mutatos for the episode-closing Jerry Springer Show sequence. "The little babies kept tearing their hair off, we kept gluing it back on," said Lindala. "I guess we finally wore one of them out. He fell asleep, we put it on him very carefully, and we kind of tiptoed around until Kim Manners [who was directing that segment] whispered, 'Okay, roll cameras.'"

-- Construction supervisor Rob Maier counted as one of his proudest Season Five accomplishments the complete renovation of a local barn and the building of a totally new facade, sufficiently isolated and insulated from the original structure, for special effects supervisor David Gauthier to set on fire, spectacularly, without harming anything else.

-- Picture car coordinator Nigel Habgood had no trouble convincing the president of the Vancouver Nash Club to lend him his 1961 Metropolitan, but he later faced an unexpected problem. In the episode's first scene, when Izzy and his two buddies got in all at once, the little car sagged; its door frame warped; and its two doors wouldn't close. The problem was solved by loading one big boy, closing the door on his side, then shoehorning his two friends through the other side and jamming their other door into place.

-- Set decorator Shirley Inget, with the help of approximately 1,000 wall-mounted postcards, turned an ordinary diner in the fishing village of Steveston into J.J.'s eclectic country eatery. Decorating the Pollidoris' gothic mansion, she added, was "outrageously fun."

-- Composer Mark Snow considered his score for "The Post-Modern Prometheus" his best work for the season, and the main theme -- "a very dark, macabre, insidious sort of nasty waltz, with, you know, sort of like a calliope sound" -- his most-memorable bit of music.

-- The Cher songs used in the episode were: "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore," "Half-Breed," "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," and "Walking in Memphis."

-- The artist who did the art work for the Mutato comic book covers as well as the ending portrait of Mulder and Scully was Claude St. Aubin, the "penciler" who did the Topps comics adaptation of "Deep Throat."

-- When Scully picks up the paper that reads "FBI Hunts Hometown Monster," outside J.J.'s Country Diner, if you pause and look closely at the small print of the article, it repeats itself three times, once in each column of the article's three columns..

-- Dr. Pollidori was named for physician Dr. John Pollidori, who was the personal physician of Lord Byron. Lord Byron was the man who suggested the ghost story competition that inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein.

-- Dr. Pollidori's wife, Elizabeth, was so-named because the infamous Dr. Frankenstein's wife was also named Elizabeth.

-- Dr. Pollidori had to leave so he could deliver an address at the University of Ingolstadt. The Ingolstadt University is the institution where medical student Victor Frankenstein first had the idea of "creating" a human.

-- Mutato watches the 1985 movie Mask starring Cher. This is also a reference to Frankenstein. In the book, the monster studied and related to John Milton's Paradise Lost, just as the Great Mutato relates to the film and its story.

-- The Season 5 DVD's contain two scenes cut from the final version of the episode, both featuring more quirkiness from the townsfolk.

-- "The Post-Modern Prometheus" was scheduled to air as the fifth episode of Season 5. However, during the second week in October when the episode was to be shot, David Duchovny was scheduled to be away from Vancouver promoting his movie Playing God. Accordingly, a preseason decision was made to postpone shooting "The Post-Modern Prometheus," which featured Duchovny heavily, and to film a Scully-centric episode during Duchovny's absence. Thus, "The Post-Modern Prometheus" became the sixth episode filmed and the fifth aired; and the two-parter "Christmas Carol/Emily" became the first two-part episode to be filmed out of order.

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-- "'Post-Modern Prometheus' was a very popular show for everyone that worked on it and for everyone who saw it," recalled Paul Rabwin.

-- Gillian Anderson said "Prometheus" was one of her series highlights. "Oh, God, that was so much fun," she said. "It was just so wonderful to be working with Chris while he was trying to do something different, to take risks. I have to tell you, I didn't always understand what he was doing while we were shooting it, but when it was all together it turned out wonderfully."

-- Others agreed with her. When Emmy nominations were announced, "The Post-Modern Prometheus" earned seven of them: for Outstanding Writing, Outstanding Directing, Outstanding Art Direction, Outstanding Cinematography, Outstanding Single-Picture Editing, Outstanding Makeup, and Outstanding Music Composition. (It won only for Art Direction.)

-- Chris Carter also received a Director's Guild of America nomination for his work on "The Post-Modern Prometheus." Unfortunately, he didn't win.

-- A highlight of the cast and crew's fifth season gag reel was an unused ad lib by David Duchvony. After the waitress at J.J.'s Country Diner dumped coffee in his lap, he complained, "Now my crotch is going to be up all night."

-- Chris Owens recalled many pleasant on-set conversations with David Duchvony -- all while he was wearing his elaborate Great Mutato makeup. "Toward the end of the episode," said Owens, "I asked David if he'd like to meet me for a drink sometime. He said, 'Sure! What do you look like?'"

-- Two cast members of this episode had small roles in last-year's Oscar-winning Capote: C. Ernst Harth (Big Man) was Lowell Lee Andrews in the film; and Miriam Smith (Elizabeth Pollidori) was Bonnie Clutter.

-- Once & Future Retreads: In addition to Chris Owens, Vitaly Kravchenko (J.J. the Diner Owner) was the Russian Truck Driver in "Tunguska/Terma."

-- Back in March 2000, Gillian Anderson interviewed David Duchovny for USA Weekend magazine, partly promotion for the show and partly promotion for his movie Return to Me. One of the questions Anderson asked was, "Any thoughts on the end of the show?"

-- Duchovny's response was this: "We'll do another movie, at least, so I don't think it'll actually end. There'll be an ending image, but by the sheer fact that it's a self-conscious ending image, I think it'll be overloaded and won't work. My favorite image of the show's seven years is the end of the black-and-white episode, where they had us slow-motion dancing. However it ends, to me, that's my favorite."

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(Thanks to chrisnu for today's pics.)

Please share your first impressions, favorite (or cringe-worthy) moments, classic lines, favorite fanfic, nagging questions, repeated viewing observations, etc., as today we celebrate "The Post-Modern Prometheus."

Polly