With Peter Jackson's success with his Lord of the Rings trilogy,
people have been looking back at his earlier work. One project of
his that has just been released on DVD is Forgotten Silver, a made
for TV documentary on the New Zealand silent film director Colin McKenzie.
McKenzie was an innovator in the early days of movies who made the first
feature length film, created the first synchronized sound film, and did
some early experiments with color. Today though, he is all but forgotten.
The reason that he isn't remembered isn't because all of his films have
been lost, or that his films were never released outside of New Zealand.
The reason he's not a household name like Griffith or Edison is because
he never existed. This film is actually a very clever mock-umentary
in the same vein (excuse the pun) as Spinal Tap.
The story starts with Peter Jackson's retelling of how he came to discover
a trunk full of McKenzie's films in his widow's garden shed. There
are interviews with the archivists who first examined and realized the
importance of this find, as well as with several industry insiders such
as Harvey Weinstein and Leonard Martin who extol McKenzie's virtues.
The show then takes a look at McKenzie's life; from his childhood
on a farm to how he became interested in films and the various projects
that he helmed. Later they discuss his trouble plagued production
of the Biblical epic Salmone, and the film's final restoration.
This is a laugh out loud funny show. The reason it works so well,
is because the show always takes itself very seriously and never lets on
that it's all a gag. If you didn't know better, you would swear
that it was all real. That's because everything is very plausible.
It could have all happened. The serious tone of the film continues
into the credits were Hanna McKenzie is thanked, and the Colin McKenzie
Trust is listed as a source of archival footage.
When you realize that the show is a fake, it becomes incredibally funny,
though it is a very dry and subtle humor and some people might not pick
up on it right away. Some of the jokes are small, like in McKenzie's
feature length sound film from the early 1900's there are choppy-socky
sound effects (whip cracks and such) over the karate fight scene.
Other jokes are more broad like the fact that the same sound film was a
failure because the dialog was in Chinese and subtitles hadn't been invented
yet. "People left in droves."
My favorite scenes involved the comedy shorts that McKenzie filmed.
They were terribly bad comedies....shorts that are so dreadful, that they
are actually funny. The premise in all of them was the same: a man
would walk up to real people on the street and assault them. Push
them down or throw a pie in their faces. You could almost see a silent
comedian deciding to do something like that.
The best line in the film has to go to Harvey Weinstein though.
The head of Miramax says that McKenzie's epic is one of the best movies
ever made and that he's bought the rights for distribution in the States.
He then goes on to state that his editing of an hour out of the film actually
improved it, and that McKenzie's would agree if he were alive. I
roared with laughter.
Another reason for the show's success is because they were able to create
realistic looking silent film. Film makers often just put a vertical
scratch on a B & W image and speed the film up a bit when faking old
movies, but this production went to more trouble. They recreated
the dirt and spots on the film and included random looking nitrate disintegration.
This extra effort really helped the film.
At 50 +/- minutes, this show was just at the right length. It
had enough time to tell the story, but if they had expanded it into a short
feature I don't think it would have held up as well. As it is, this
is a very funny parody, on par with Christopher Guest's best work.
The stereo audio was adequate for this dialog based film. There
wasn't any hiss or noise in the track, and it reproduced the few audio
effects well. There are no subtitles available.
The anamorphic widescreen image is nice, though not outstanding.
There is a lot of digital noise in the picture and large patches of color
seem to have movement in them, but this isn't distracting. There
are a few other minor digital defects, but nothing really worth mentioning.
An average picture for a 90's TV program.
Behind the Bull: Forgotten Silver: a 22-minute featurette that
talked about the show through interviews with the creators and crew.
They show how the film was aged, and how some of the effects were done.
Oddly enough this piece was window boxed, with black bars on the sides
as well as the top and bottom. A nice compliment to the feature.
Deleted Scenes: 9 minutes worth of scenes that were
left out of the completed film. These are shorter excerpts, and while
some of them are funny, most of them were deservedly cut.
Commentary: Co-director Costa Botes narrates the film, pointing
out some of the inside jokes and explains where the vintage photos came
from. One of the more interesting comments was that Richard Pierce,
the man Colin films flying before the Wright Brothers, was an actual person
who really did build a flying machine and allegedly flew a short distance.
He also makes sure to point out a lot of the jokes that are obvious which
got a little old after a while. It was a shame that Peter Jackson
didn't offer his comments too.
Forgotten Silver is a very funny and entertaining show.
The show takes just the right tone, taking itself seriously so that the
jokes will be even more humorous. Fans of the movies of Christopher
Guest (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind)
will be pleased with this offering too. One of the funnier shows
I've seen this year. Highly Recommended.