Forgotten Silver (1996) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Forgotten Silver is another odd movie from Peter Jackson, the Kiwi who directed Lord of the Rings. I really like this movie, which combines two of my own interests: 

  • the history of films
  • historical mockumentaries (perhaps some of you long-termers remember my less-than-chilling battle depictions from the obscure Scottish-American war, or the equally forgotten Sino-Bavarian War, which introduced the accordion to Chinese culture). 
The film tells the story of Colin McKenzie, a New Zealander whose astounding career in early films was cast into obscurity when he buried his work in a state of depression. The brilliantly innovative McKenzie made a sound film in 1908, but it bombed at the box office because he made his movie in Chinese, and had not yet invented sub-titles. Interestingly, however, the film is still being watched in China today.  


There are three anonymous Tahitian women who appear topless.
He invented color film in 1911, and filmed some beautiful test footage in Tahiti. He expected to return to New Zealand in triumph, but his film of bare-breasted Tahitian women ended up getting him sentenced to three years of hard labor.

My favorite part of the film is the mini-bio of Stan "the man" Wilson, the completely unfunny silent film comic, whose claim to fame was that he did his custard pie stunts unrehearsed, with real people, in kind of a candid camera approach. The highlight of his career was when he unknowingly pied the prime minister, and was beaten senseless by the police, all while being photographed by Colin McKenzie's hidden camera, ala Rodney King.

Years later, in inconsolable grief, Colin buried his brilliant unfinished masterpiece, Salome, in which he actually reproduced ancient Jerusalem in a New Zealand jungle. His sorrow came about when his relentless drive to finish the film caused his pregnant wife (the star) to collapse from overwork, losing her life and the baby in the process. In defense of McKenzie, he had to push that hard, because both the mafia and Stalin were after him. (Long story, better explained in the film than here.) 

DVD info from Amazon

  • produced in 4:3 ratio, for TV

  • various interviews

  • deleted scenes

  • full-length commentary

The mockumentary stars such diverse people as film critic Leonard Maltin and actor Sam Neill, lending it further authenticity. (Maltin did a great job!!) In fact, McKenzie's exploits and history's ignorance of them were explained so convincingly that many viewers were fooled into believing it, ala War of the Worlds, when this was first broadcast on Kiwi TV.

It is that insidious, weaving facts and fiction in a seamless tale, using all kinds of tricks to make the pseudo-films look like perfect recreations of the movies of that era. 

Great, silly fun, showing complete mastery and love of early film lore. 

The Critics Vote

  • Berardinelli 3.5/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.9, and yes, it is that good. 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B. Brilliant, hilarious, straight-faced presentation. Completely convincing, unless you know it's a sham.

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