Reviews and notes
Imagine the surprise of New Zealand director Peter Jackson when a casual remark led him to a cache of ancient nitrate stored in a shed at the bottom of a neighbor's garden. Found there were "the most extraordinary collection of films, films I never heard of. Imagine if a film like Citizen Kane
suddenly came out of the blue."
Imagine also the surprise of the viewers of FORGOTTEN SILVER
(playing for one week at the Nuart in West Los Angeles) as they come to realize that the man who directed those lost silent films, New Zealander Colin McKenzie, never really existed.
For what Jackson (whose impudent sense of humor was on display in Heavenly Creatures
and The Frighteners
) and co-director Costa Botes have created is a classic mockumentary, a charming tongue-in-cheek jest that is both cleverly conceived and exceptionally well executed.
Owing a great deal to the spirit of Woody Allen's Zelig
as well as This Is Spinal Tap
, FORGOTTEN SILVER
combines interviews with real people like actor Sam Neill, film critic Leonard Maltin and Miramax Chairman Harvey Weinstein with elaborately faked silent film footage and still photographs that really look as if they were created between the turn of the century and the 1920s.
If you are going to create an imaginary director, you might as well make him a master, and SILVER
is rife with deeply felt encomiums to McKenzie as one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived, delivered with magnificent straight faces by all concerned.
Born and raised in rural Timaru, young Colin had a passion for mechanical invention, and is given overdue credit here for creating the world's first tracking shot - even though the bicycle he mounted his home-made camera on promptly crashed.
This penchant for disaster was a sad constant in McKenzie's career. Having come up with an egg-based film emulsion, his need for more and more film led to the following provocative headline in the local newspaper: "2,000 Dozen Eggs Stolen."
Another gleeful theme of FORGOTTEN SILVER
is how important pint-sized New Zealand would be if the true history of the 20th century could be written. For instance, a piece of splendidly splotchy film taken by McKenzie reveals that it was N.Z. farmer Richard Pierce, not the Wright Brothers, who should be credited with the world's first manned flight.
Further triumphs and setbacks followed, like the first use of sound in a feature (1908's Warrior Season), marred by the fact that all the dialogue was in Chinese - leading New Zealand audiences, Maltin somberly informs us, to "just walk out in droves."
FORGOTTEN SILVER is mostly concerned with McKenzie's masterpiece, the four-hour Salome, the only biblical epic to be jointly financed by a crude slapstick clown, a gang of mobsters and Joseph Stalin. Dragging 15,000 extras and the woman you love to a huge biblical city constructed in the center of the jungle couldn't have been easy, and Jackson and Botes have considerable fun with Salome's shaggy-dog travails.
It can't be overemphasized how carefully FORGOTTEN SILVER's sham edifice is constructed, and with what a sharp sense of humor. Seeing Weinstein say that if McKenzie were alive today, he'd prefer the newly truncated version of Salome to his original is a scene for the ages.
-Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times, 16 January 1998.
Weblink: Film Review by James Berardinelli
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