FORGOTTEN SILVER (1995) is an entertaining "mockumentary" from director Peter Jackson (Heavenly Creatures, The Frighteners, and the upcoming Lord of the Rings trilogy). If you've seen Rob Reiner's THIS IS SPINAL TAP, you have a sense of the style of FORGOTTEN SILVER -- except Jackson uses the early days of film as his subject matter instead of the early days of heavy metal. Spoofing Lumiere instead of Led Zeppelin, if you will.
The "documentary" concerns Colin MacKenzie, an early pioneer in filmmaking from New Zealand. While toiling in obscurity, Mackenzie was responsible for inventing many early cinematic firsts including the tracking shot, sound film, color footage, and other achievements. Later in his life, he attempts to create a biblical epic SALOME -- and the last half of the documentary focuses on his many failed attempts to complete his masterpiece.
There are several laugh-out-loud moments in FORGOTTEN SILVER, including the unique uses of bicycle parts in MacKenzie's early inventions and the way that his color footage became labeled "obscene". I find it amazing that anyone who watches this film could not understand that it's a joke, but apparently many viewers were fooled. Even though it remains serious and never gives away the joke overtly, the situations depicted are so preposterous that it's incredible that it managed to trick anyone -- people are more gullible than I give them credit for, I guess.
Interviews with real-life people such as Harvey Weinstein, Leonard Maltin, and actor Sam Neill are integrated into the program and add to the fun. The whole production is very well-constructed and has a wonderful attention to detail. Overall, I enjoyed this program very much; however, I'm not sure if it has much rewatch value. I would think that watching this film multiple times would become very tedious.
FORGOTTEN SILVER was made for New Zealand television, and is therefore presented full-frame. The "faked" nature of the program makes it difficult to judge the quality of the video. That being said, the picture quality is adequate, although there are definitely flaws. The image is usually clear, but there are moments of fuzziness. On-screen text is rarely solid, with noticeable bleeding. However, the overall quality is fine and appropriate for the subject matter. The various types of footage used are rendered very well and none of the flaws are distracting.
The English mono soundtrack is fine and I noticed no major problems. The audio consists of mostly interviews and narration -- and both are always clear and understandable.
The DVD actually includes quite a few extras -- which is good, since the program itself is only 52 minutes long. There is an entertaining audio commentary with co-writer/co-director Costa Botes, where he talks in detail about the making of the project. There is also a 20-minute documentary with interviews and discussion about how many people took the satire seriously. About 8 minutes of brief deleted sequences are also provided as a supplement. There are no subtitles.
Fans of film history, Peter Jackson, subtle humor, or brilliantly executed hoaxes will likely enjoy FORGOTTEN SILVER. It is a very well made and entertaining satire, and the DVD is created with care, providing some interesting and informative extras. However, this program (due to its length and lack of replay value) is likely to be more appropriate for most as a rental, rather than a purchase.