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Forgotten Silver

First Run Features // Unrated // December 19, 2001
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted January 27, 2002 | E-mail the Author
New Zealander Colin McKenzie was a film pioneer, an unsung film genius, who created the first sound film, the first mobile camera, the first color film, and in addition to capturing mans first flight and being a successful war cameraman, he also labored over a mammoth feature length adaptation of the biblical epic Salome

Colin McKenzie also never existed.

Peter Jackson and Costa Botes' "mockumentary" is quite a good laugh, one that straddles the line between being a convincing profile one second and a blatantly obvious comedy the next. It's sort of Monty Python meets Ken Burns... In tv documentary, Discovery Channel, PBS-like format, we see the life of Colin McKenzie, forgotten, undiscovered film pioneer. He perfected sound in 1908, but the film he made starred a cast of Chinese and Colin neglected to invent subtitles, so no one enjoyed the film. He photographed mans first flight nine months before the Wright Bros. He invented the first color film by processing berries from Tahiti, which it took four months to harvest enough berries for one twenty-two second shot. He made the first mobile camera by mounting a camera onto a bicycle, subsequently crashing into a chicken coop. And, his largest labor, was his feature length film of Salome starring himself as John The Baptist, a project that would take many, many years to complete, and would involve Colin, all by his lonesome, secluding himself in the New Zealand mountains building a scale replica of Jerusalem. His problems financing his epic, involved working with a cruel slapstick comedian called Stan the Man, who ran around pulling cruel pranks on unsuspecting people in "MTV's Jackass" style, then getting funding from communists who want all the religious overtones of the film removed, and, later, struggles to complete his film when mobsters are his backers. His is was an unsung life, leading him to run away to Algiers, and eventually the Spanish Civil War, remaining virtually unknown until his rediscovery by Jackson and crew, who find all of this lost work including the lost replica of Jerusalem and the complete, buried Salome epic.

What makes Forgotten Silver different from a mockumentary like Spinal Tap or Waiting for Guffman is that it isn't as obviously a joke, as blatant silly. Well, actually, its more that Forgotten Silver does as much conceal its joke, as it does to play the straight laughs. The format- a tv special, the archival footage, the narrator, the experts (Leonard Maltin, Harvey Wienstien, Sam Neil, Jackson, and some fake film historians) and eyewitnesses are all there to fool you, whereas anyone who thinks that Davis St. Hubbins is a real heavy metal frontman is in desperate need of having their head examined. Also, they were very bright in not just playing it all for laughs. Like any great unheralded genius, Colin McKenzie underwent a life of hardships, from unrequited love, to losing his brother, his true love, obsession, financial struggles, artistic struggles, and so forth. Yet, it also remains a really funny and a well crafted hoax. At 50 mins it also runs by at a great pace, and only begins to drag a little in the end when Salome gets its first screening to a unanimously positive reception... I would have to say my favorite jokes, beyond the Stan the Man bits, would have to be Harvey Wienstien poking fun at himself by, after he says what a great film McKenzie's Salome is, belonging alongside the greats like Citizen Kane and Gone With the Wind, Weinstein adds, "I think he would be pleased even though I cut an hour out of it."

The DVD: First Run Features Picture- Made for New Zealand television, the production appears to be , I think mainly 16mm color, and while much of it has a grainy, very tv feel, what is really impressive is the mock footage. From McKenzies archived film to still photos, they did an excellent job of aging the material and giving most of the lost McKenzie material a retro, worn out, and damaged feel, although film and photo buff will probably be able to spot that it is hoax footage (it does at times seem to share the same level of graininess). The actual footage from Salome is especially good at making one believe it is a classic silent era film. So, bear in mind it is just a tv production, so its not an upper echelon kind of image, and considering how much they got done and the scope of what they accomplished on a small budget, it is very impressive. Sound- Dolby Digital 2.0. Nothing fancy, but it gets the job done. No complaints here, other than with the commentary track, as you will see below. Extras- 10 Chapters--- About First Run Features section--- "Behind the Bull", making of doc. This great 22 min featurette detailed all aspects of the production, featuring a sit down interviews with PJ and crew. Here we see the concepts evolution, how they did the fx, the archival aging (basically taking the film and dragging it across the basement floor in many cases), as well as the public reaction in New Zealand. The latter fact was very interesting, since a lot of people actually bought into the hoax and were outraged over being fooled. This seems hard for me to believe, but it just goes to show how easily some people are fooled. You would think if McKenzie cast thousands of New Zealander's in a film, built a massive city in the mountains, someone would have heard of him or his projects? It seems very unlikely, although the film notes they did have reports of people, even film teachers, claiming to have knowledge of McKenzie after the doc aired, so I can believe that kind of ego driven fooling. But blind acceptance of this man based on the obviously comedic doc, I just cant fathom.---Deleted Scenes from "Behind the Bull", an additional 8 mins from the doc.--- Commentary by Co-Director Costa Botes. This was a bit of a letdown. In the five years I've known about Forgotten Silver I never once heard it was a co-directed project. I always heard, "Peter Jackson's Forgotten Silver", and while Botes no doubt played a huge part, he is not the selling point of anyone running out and getting this film. And, Botes doesn't make any great strides in making one forget the absence PJ not being on the commentary. Botes is largely silent, usually only offering a running commentary for what is on the screen, directly addressing it, like "That photo we used for the McKenzie family was a picture of my wife's great grandfather". While he does offer some good bits here and there, (like how the films final image was done on the same camera PJ made Bad Taste with) he seems to be under the impression that commentary is all about addressing exactly what's happening on screen, instead of taking the time to offer a long anecdote or general info as the movie plays. This is also evident in that he will refuse to speak over dialogue some times. Which brings me to another complaint- the difference between the commentary audio and the actual film audio is very close. The levels are so high on the film audio track, that you often have Botes' voice drowned out or overwhelmed. Commentary tracks usually offer the film soundtrack at a very low level (especially laserdiscs) so you mainly just hear the commentary, but here, perhaps because there are so many gaps by Botes, they mixed them too close, making it a tough listen at times and not an option most people will be likely to repeat.

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