Sunday, June 10, 2012

Neglected Gem #17: Forgotten Silver (1995)

Peter Jackson and Costa Botes in Forgotten Silver.

It’s a funny thing about movies. They may get critical acclaim, even score some box office success and years later they’re barely mentioned by anyone or even remembered. And there’s often no discernible reason for their fates. I really can’t tell why Neil Jordan’s terrific and accessible heist movie The Good Thief, which got good reviews when it came out in 2002, has pretty much vanished into the ether. Or why Steve Jordan’s powerful documentary Stevie (2002) failed to match the impact of his earlier 1994 doc Hoop Dreams. Or even why impressive debuts like Jeff Lipsky’s Childhood’s End didn’t get half the buzz that considerably lesser movies (Wendy and Lucy, Ballast) have acquired upon their subsequent release. In any case, here is the latest entry in a series of disparate movies you really ought to see.

New Zealand film pioneer Colin McKenzie receives his due from two of his countrymen in this documentary, which unearths his ‘lost’ 1917 silent film Salome and shines a light on a remarkable career that saw McKenzie pioneer the use of sound and colour in motion pictures years before Hollywood did the same. The only problem is that McKenzie never existed, a ‘fact’ that allows co-directors/co-scripter’s Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and Costa Botes to spoof the whole craze for discovering obscure films and restoring the reputation of neglected filmmakers.

With the usual experts dutifully trotted out to pay homage to McKenzie, including film historian Leonard Maltin and then Miramax head Harvey Weinstein, Forgotten Silver, which was made for New Zealand TV, emerges as an uncanny deadpan take on the typical PBS or A&E biography. Utilizing wonderful ‘faked’ footage from McKenzie's life, it's the flip ‘serious’ side of This is Spinal Tap – and just as entertaining.

Shlomo Schwartzberg is a film critic, teacher and arts journalist based in Toronto . He teaches regular courses at Ryerson University 's LIFE Institute, and is currently teaching a course on American cinema of the 70s.

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