Forgotten Silver Review

The Film
Peter Jackson certainly gets about a bit. Not content with a certain hobbit-infested epic he has also tackled gore, comedy horror, Muppets, serious drama and now mockumentary. Peter Jackson and Costa Botes shot this film for a New Zealand TV documentary series. It was shot at around the same time as The Frighteners making it one of the last two things he did before Lord of the Rings. Upon release New Zealanders were amazed at the hidden history it revealed and they were none too pleased when they discovered it was a hoax (and an incredibly funny one at that). I came across the film purely by chance as I was perusing Jackson’s profile on IMDB. Being a Jackson fan I just had to have it when I discovered it had been released on DVD.

At just 52-minutes this film depicts the life story of the legendary filmmaker Colin McKenzie. This unknown Kiwi made the first colour film, the first talkie and the first full-length feature film. His brother was at Gallipoli and shot the only surviving footage of that campaign. The fact that this unsung hero is lost in history is partly to do with the fact that Colin McKenzie was a sporadic filmmaker who struggled but mainly because he is a figment of Jackson and Botes’ imaginations.

This is an absolutely hilarious mockumentary that has a soul. We open with Jackson (literally) leading us down the garden path to where he has discovered some old film cans. These cans contain McKenzie’s early work. What follows is an in depth documentary tracking the great man as he manages to make his own film stock and completely misunderstand the first principle of the talkie. Jackson and his crew go on location trying to find the mythical city McKenzie built for his ambitious film, Salome and make an amazing discovery. McKenzie’s tale is tinged with sadness and this is where the mockumentary really hits its stride. Comedy is always best when it is balanced with pathos and this has it in spades. By the end of the film I was mourning for poor McKenzie and his misfortune whilst making his biblical epic Salome.

This is a short film that has very few shortcomings. The direction and acting throughout is assured and believable. The documentary style is pretty much perfectly realised. The old footage shown is amazingly authentic; Jackson obviously knows his silent films as all the hallmarks of the early silent era are here. Also the film quality is very bad in places and the way they have dirtied the film makes it look very authentic. Appearances by Harvey Weinstein, Sam Neill and especially Leonard Maltin are a really nice touch. Maltin is so believable and enthusiastic about McKenzie that I had to keep reminding myself it was a hoax.

My only criticism is the tendency in the last 10-minutes to show too much footage of Salome… It’s not that it is bad (quite the opposite it is funny and incredibly accurate) it just seems that for those few minutes we leave the documentary format behind.

Overall this is a hidden gem in Jackson’s career. This is as funny as Spinal Tap but in a much more subtle way. I would recommend it not only to Jackson fans but also to anyone who loves spoofs, hoaxes and documentaries.

The Disc
I seem to be getting quite a few badly presented discs recently and this one is no different. The DVD case is a cheap nasty one and there is no chapter card inside let alone a booklet. None of this detracts from the contents of the disc but I wish these smaller studios would consider first impressions and pay out the extra few quid on decent packaging. Upon loading the disc it certainly looks the part. The menus are simple and functional. There are 9 chapter stops to cover the 52-minute running time.

The documentary is presented in its original aspect ratio of non-anamorphic 1.66:1. The picture itself is hard to grade. The numerous pieces of footage are obviously bad quality as they are meant to be and they look authentic enough to me. The documentary footage seems reasonable enough with a fairly solid picture. There is little or no print damage and the colours seem strong and vibrant. The black level and contrast seem good but not outstanding and grain is minimal. The DVD transfer seems average with not too much damage done. There is some artifacting but it won’t be that noticeable to the majority.

The sound track is a standard DD 2.0 track. Being a documentary there is really no need for a 5.1 track and I certainly didn’t miss it. The soundtrack is strong and the dialogue always clear and audible. Again the film footage audio was ropey but that is intentional.

At first glance the extras seem like a great package but looks can be deceiving.

First up we have a commentary from one of the directors. Unfortunately it isn’t Jackson but his partner Botes. Watch out for etailers who say that the commentary is by both of them, it definitely isn’t. The commentary is nothing to write home about anyway. Botes is not that interesting a commentator and he spends most of his time telling us that the film is a hoax (we know) or he is giving us an anecdote/fact that is already in the making-of documentary.

Next we have “Behind the Bull” which is the making-of documentary. At 20-minutes this is a great extra which gives a lot of information in it’s short running time. This reminds me a lot of the “Good Taste made Bad Taste” documentary. There are interviews with both Jackson and Botes along with behind the scenes footage and coverage of the furore this created on release in New Zealand. Many people criticise making-of documentaries as being dull or unnecessary. This one breaks the mould by actually complementing the film perfectly.

Next we have 8-minutes of deleted scenes. Botes introduces them and expresses regret that they didn’t make the final cut. Quite honestly they aren’t anything special and I can see exactly why they were cut.

Finally there is a one page “extra” telling us what First Run Features do.

This is a marvellous mockumentary and Jackson deserves a pat on the back for the silent film footage alone. The disc is the usual mixed bag. The picture is fine as is the sound but the extras are a minor letdown given their description. This is an essential purchase for Jackson fans and a disc that comedy/mockumentary fans should own.

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