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This dryly funny mockumentary about the lost work of a pioneering New Zealand film genius is probably one of the best examples of the faux-documentary genre. In fact, it was so successful that when it originally aired on New Zealand television, hundreds of viewers bought the premise hook, line, and sinker. If you didn't know any better yourself, it's entirely possible you might be duped into believing the extremely tall tale of one Colin MacKenzie, an ambitious filmmaker who made the world's first talking movie (years before "The Jazz Singer"), invented color film, and created a huge biblical epic that would put Cecil B. DeMille and D.W. Griffith to shame. Filmmaker Peter Jackson ("Heavenly Creatures") shrewdly inserts himself into the film via his documentation of the "discovery" of McKenzie's lost epic, which for years was preserved in a garden shed. This hidden gold mine, which Jackson likens to finding "Citizen Kane" in an attic, will forever rewrite the history of film--a fact to which both critic Leonard Maltin and studio exec Harvey Weinstein eagerly attest. Jackson chronicles MacKenzie's fame through newspaper accounts, still photos, and keenly inventive footage showing both the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of MacKenzie's "Salome" as well as clips from that crowning film achievement; if you don't believe the filmmakers, actor Sam Neill is on hand to vouch for its importance. Jackson has the self-importance of film documentaries down pat, from the "re-creations" of past events through photos and voiceovers (the film's narration is properly stentorian), and never tips his hand once through the interviews with film historians as well as MacKenzie's "wife." Even nonfilm historians and aficionados will be won over by Jackson's subtle humor and inventiveness--you'll remember the story of Colin MacKenzie for a long time to come. "-Mark Englehart"
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No one has mentioned it in the extra material, but my guess is that "Forgotten Silver" was yet another great learning experience for Peter Jackson which helped to prepare him for "The Lord of the Rings." Jackson and Costa Botes had to shoot a wide variety of situations in different styles to get it all on film, and they accomplished this feat with the same thoroughness and attention to detail that we've come to know as hallmarks of Peter Jackson films. Public reaction to the film, where many folks were upset to learn that it was a hoax, was no doubt a major learning experience in the importance of being open and honest in discussing his work, when a joke will work, and quite significantly when it will not.
(And, sadly, I suspect that the response on the World Wide Web to his Hobbit films, released during the Age of the Troll while the Lord of the Rings films came before that horrible phase of worldwide culture which continues today, was later to be equally significant in negating his experience with being honest about his experience in making films.)
PJ is always fun when he's in front of the camera, too, and he's really the star of the show as the investigator who discovered a treasure horde of film in the long-forgotten work of a (fictitious) New Zealand filmmaker.
There are fun cameos with Sam Neill (of Jurassic Park fame) discussing his recollections of the legendary filmmaker, Colin McKenzie, and Leonard Maltin reviewing McKenzie's (fictional) work. The part of Colin McKenzie himself is portrayed by Thomas Robins, whom we would see again playing the role of Deagol (who is murdered by his cousin Sméagol when he finds the One Ring) in a flashback in The Lord of the Rings. Oddly, Robins was missed out in the credits for "Forgotten Silver."
The great idea behind mocumentaries is that you have the opportunity to create a world from the ground up. I think this was an aspect that I thoroughly enjoyed about this picture was every creative angle that Jackson took with his characters. They were flawed, but in a good way. They were real, yet in a sense very cartoonish. They gave you this dream about life that is normally missing in most films, yet these guys were never alive for you to believe in. It was funny how deeply rooted you could become with this film until you had to pull yourself away and say that it was just a work of fiction. For anyone to say that about a film means that the filmmaker is doing a spectacular job. The only director that I can think of that closely able to pull this off today is Christopher Guest, but even in his work you can tell that it is a mocumentary from the beginning. Jackson never gives you the opportunity to find the truth. Everything he hands to you has been researched and tested giving us the chance to believe in our man Colin throughout all of it.
Perhaps what I am trying to say here is that Jackson doesn't just create a story, he creates a world filled with emotion and chaos. It is easy to create a story, books are released everyday, but to put visuals with this story AND build a main character that the average Joe can relate to is much harder. While only pushing 60 minutes, Jackson had quite a bit of work on his hands. This was not an easy project. Jackson not only had to play director, but also put himself into the film that I think only helped build the mirage of truth. You kept forgetting that he created this story, yet was in it himself. It honestly takes away that feeling of cinematic rubbish that Hollywood releases daily and builds a true story.
The interventions between Harvey Weinstein, Sam Neill, and Leonard Maltin only help build more of that "truth" to the film. You hear these men from the industry talk about this fictitious man named Colin McKenzie, you begin to believe that perhaps he was alive and Jackson is just trying to tell the truth.
While I have spoken heavily about the amazing fake factoids that Jackson disperses through the film, what I found funny was the type of humor that Jackson placed intermittently throughout the film. The idea of Stan the Man is brilliant and his "Rodney King" moment proved that it is always possible for history to repeat itself. The jail time that Colin faced due to his "smut" film had me rolling in my seat. The exuberant size of the extras needed for this film kept me smiling throughout. There was just something about this humor that made me excited about my educational background.
Finally, I would like to say that the fact that the New Zealand public never realized that it was a mocumentary should already prove the worthiness of this film. I do not see why it didn't receive more press than it did, but this has been the biggest film enjoyment of the week. I remember a line from a film that went something like this, "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist". Think of this line as you witness Jackson's film Forgotten Silver. It will make you curious.
Overall, I thought that this film was beautiful. Midway through this film you will loose track of reality and think that you are watching a true documentary, and that is when you can realize that you have a master director giving you a perfect "gem". This was not a film filled with violence and annoying Gollems, but instead cunning wit and satire. Jackson continually proves that he can handle so much more than just The Lord of the Rings with this film. No CGI is needed to see the imagination and brilliance behind this visionary. For those of you that are huge Lord of the Rings fans, you may not enjoy it as much, but for me this was Jackson in his truest form.
Grade: ***** out of *****
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Forgotten Silver is a clever mockumentary that got New Zealand into a bit of tizzy, but even at an hour long it feels overlong and it produces many...Read more