Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Forgotten Silver (Jackson/Botes, 1995)

Peter Jackson’s follow-up to the remarkable Heavenly Creatures, one of the very best films of the nineties, was Forgotten Silver, a television collaboration with Costa Botes, a man whose contribution to film is, apart from this particular picture, unknown to me. Together they have created a film, made in documentary style, about the fictional New Zealand director, Colin McKenzie. As the legend goes, McKenzie was a pioneer whose remarkable innovations such as synchronized sound, close-ups and hidden cameras went largely unrecognized due to his tumultuous and tragic life. Jackson and Botes’ central conceit is that they have stumbled upon a treasure trove of previously unseen material from Colin McKenzie, a man who is like the D.W. Griffith of an alternate universe. Mostly, it seems, the film is a thinly veiled excuse for the filmmakers to work with silent film conventions, creating scenes from McKenzie lost epic Salome, as well as installments of Stan the Man, a primitive version of Candid Camera. The major problem is that these films, supposedly created by McKenzie, do not warrant the kind of excitement that would lead the interviewed historians to place them on par with Citizen Kane. For a Peter Jackson creation, they are actually quite conservative. They are also not incompetent or ridiculous enough to inspire laughter in the spirit of satire or parody. In constructing their ruse, Jackson and Botes have aimed for plausibility and get able support from talking heads like Harvey Weinstein, Leonard Maltin and Sam Neill playing themselves. However, what they sacrifice is any spirit of fun. The gags are too sporadic and too tame when they finally do arrive. In the end, we truly know very little about the personality of Colin McKenzie apart from the fact that he is a generic impassioned director, driven by generic dreams. The story of his life is ludicrous – not in a Zelig kind of a way, but rather like his bio was hastily sketched for a first draft and then never improved. Perhaps the film’s greatest pleasure, apart from a funny sequence in which McKenzie accidentally shoots a ‘lewd’ film, is watching scruffy Peter Jackson make his way through the New Zealand jungle in ridiculously colored shorts on a mock search for the lost set of Salome. Despite its convincing deadpan and nods to film history, Forgotten Silver is short on defining gags that you will want to recount for your friends. Consequently, the film ends up eventually feeling tedious and hardly worth the effort.



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