I'm reminded seeing Forgotten Silver- of course after knowing that it was all a 'hoax' and that there is no filmmaker Colin MacKenzie- of a film where another hoax was played but with real filmmakers, Incident at Loch Ness. In both films the the ones making the film put themselves in the film, and the stories within the film within the films are fantastical and ambitious turns (in Loch Ness, a documentary by Werner Herzog about the search for Nessie, and in Silver, Peter Jackson's search for the elusive location and film cans of the first un-finished feature-length film made in New Zealand). In Forgotten Silver, however, the satire isn't really on high about how a film gets made from start to finish, although it does include that as part of it. It's really out to mock what was so delightful and absurd about the lengths to which filmmakers in the silent era looked to be further and further with their innovations and wild dreams of ambitious epics, but usually succumbed to the easiest thing- making people laugh.
Colin MacKenzie, the "pinoeer" presented in this mockumentary by Jackson and his collaborator Costa Botes, is such a filmmaker, and his up & downs type story is chronicled and inter-cut with the search for the missing film he took twenty years to make and had to hide away as to not have it taken away by the Russians &/or Italian mob. It's also done in a seemingly straightforward documentary way, like seeing one of the PBS specials or something (I'm also reminded of the recent mock-doc Confederate States of America). It ends up not being a laugh a minute really, and I found myself chuckling more than getting full gut-busting laughs like with some of Jackson's more twisted comedies like Meet the Feebles or Dead/Alive. What's amusing more-so to me is that the 'secret' of Colin MacKenzie- and that so many in New Zealand ended up thinking he was for real and did really film his friend beating the Wright brothers to flight by several months and things like that- came under the package of a Peter Jackson product, who before making this had three of his four works as some of the most absurd, low-budget pieces of work to ever come from that corner of the world.
But once that passes, and the idea that the hoax ends up working in showing what is great about the whole evolution and history of careers with directors in movies, as well as the kind of precision in restoring film, while at the same time putting some good touches to lampoon it. This comes out clearest in the actual silent footage itself, where MacKenzie breaks through first with color, but because he (unintentionally) shoots topless natives in the shot, he's thrown in jail after the judges deliberate long enough to watch the footage repeatedly. There's also MacKenzie's bread & butter as he tries to finance his pet project, Salome (the film Jackson and his team are sort of after in present-day), which are the random silent comedies of Stan the Man (Peter Corrigan in hilarious make-up), who goes about hitting people un-suspecting pies, as he figures that attacks that are on the innocent (which happens after he strikes a child in one of his early comedies) could work well, that is, until the Prime Minister is on the scene. And the actual footage shown of Salome is an extraordinarily mix of both goofy and sincere technical feats, as Jackson and Botes go in a fine style at the way the old epics from the likes of Griffith and De Mille, but with the bizarre touches Jackson's best at like with the main female star chopping off a character's head and playing around with it.
All of this is great fun, even if in-between there's a lot of actual sincere stuff put in, also in part fun in being a dead-pan examination of the the ups for MacKenzie (his ill-begotten but always accomplished feats of invention and creation) and downs too (i.e. losing his wife and child during filming his epic, and subsequently dying in world war 1). Stranger still with the picture is that Jackson and Botes almost have a kind of affection for the MacKenzie character- and as the former later displayed with his brawny popcorn epics- that even makes the material not too shallow in terms of approach for the viewer. It also might add frustration, I'd guess, if one didn't know that it was a big gag in the guise of professional historical research. But it ends up working better than I expected, and there's even a gut-bustlingly funny bit at the end as Harvey Weinstein expresses his confidence with his recently trimmed version of Salome, cutting out an hour out of the restored print.
For film buffs, Forgotten Silver is a weird kind of satirical keep-sake only Jackson and his Wingnut people could cook up.
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