Forgotten Silver (Costa Botes & Peter Jackson, 1995)
If we are to believe Costa Botes, Peter Jackson and their 1995 Forgotten Silver, many of the cinematic achievements of 1927 would've lost a bit of their luster. Colin McKenzie, the subject matter of the film, is an obscure Kiwi filmmaker whose padlocked chest (found in the shack beside his widow's house) opened a possible rewriting of film history. Cecile B. deMille's biblical epic film King of Kings would have to give way to McKenzie's own three-hour epic Salome, whose history and ambitious production would belittle probably everything made during that era.
McKenzie would also be credited for creating the first feature film, which also happens to be the film that first used synchronized sound, topping The Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland, 1927) by more than a decade. Aside from these innovations, McKenzie would've invented (voluntarily or involuntarily) the tracking shot (by attaching a camera to his bicycle thus eliminating the need for the hand crank), a steam-powered projector, color film (by utilizing a chemical obtained from Tahiti; wherein his test shot included half-naked Tahitians bathing; also giving him credit for producing the first pornographic film), the close-up shot, hidden camera (and irreverent reality entertainment), among other things.
However, there is really no Colin McKenzie. McKenzie is played by a Kiwi actor Thomas Robins, who among others (like producer Harvey Weinstein, actor Sam Neill, film critic Leonard Maltin) are part of Botes and Jackson's ultimate prank. Forgotten Silver infused native New Zealanders with beaming pride of their forgotten legend's achievements and their archipelago's place in cinematic history, only to be told that everything is a well-crafted lie. It is humor at it's cruellest yet most creative. It is also the reason why I consider this film as Jackson's best (yes, even against his own Salome, The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)).
I would've loved to see the film not knowing that it's a product of Botes and Jackson's wild imagination. I would've loved to feel the emotions of being had, of witnessing history being retold with earnest and excited interest by these intrepid crew of so-called film enthusiasts and historians. Yet that's clearly impossible and the next best thing is to set myself up with a mind clear from any pre-conceived notions of what I know about film history and the film itself. I must say that while the experience cannot top those who were fooled, it was something worthwhile --- my eyes were closely nitpicking aspects of Botes and Jackson's filmmaking, their characteristic humor (Stan the Man, an invented degenerate of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, the subtle touches of fantabulous revisioning of cinematic history --- that picture of the steam-powered film projector, the home video using the bicycle-powered camera, the 20-second sequence of Tahitians bathing as McKenzie was obviously aroused from testing tropical flowers) obviously surfacing above the National Geographic-type of documentary filmmaking (with talking heads, archived footages, a supposed documented quest to search for the extravagant ruins of the Salome set).
But Forgotten Silver isn't a mere prank, it's something more --- it has that unusual heart, an engrossing story of an artist, a melodramatic twist of belated accolade. It injects jealousy, romanticism, even heroism into the made-up character of the filmmaker, and everything flows along the infused plausibility of the exercise. The made-up footage of McKenzie trying to save a soldier during an attack, his ultimate sacrifice, bares a gargantuan humanistic soul from a character that was conceived to be a practical joke. The life-long affair with the actress playing the titular Salome, his tense tie-ups with Communist Russia and Italian mobs, and that tragic effect of the ongoing madness, is quite emotionally resonant.
And the ending, starting from the premiere of McKenzie's Salome (shown in bits of pieces while the narrator describes what is happening), to the last image of McKenzie operating a camera, is nothing short of genius. It's a summation that can be best described as a heartfelt, if not humorous, contrarian play on our fetish with history, of first's and titles. Forgotten Silver was such a success because it tried to rewrite history, and it will probably be most remembered as that "mock-umentary" that almost did. However, consume the film, its characters and its stories, its mocking nature will surely fade and what's left is something touching, something more rewarding.
This post is my contribution to goatdogblog: The 1927 Blog-A-Thon.