Thursday, May 13, 2010

In short: Forgotten Silver (1995)

So, what do you do after you have created some of the core texts of the splatter comedy sub-genre out of next to no money and a lot of passion and have finished directing your first film with something of an actual budget? Peter Jackson (and his partner in crime Costa Botes) decided to make a fake documentary about the very fictitious filmmaking pioneer Colin McKenzie (Thomas Robins), a luckless genius if ever there was one.

New Zealander McKenzie invented every basic element of modern filmmaking before everyone else did, from sound film to colour film to the tracking shot to the close-up, but was hindered in his artistic endeavours by one disaster after the next, not even able to finish his magnum opus, a decades-in-the-making version of "Salome".

Forgotten Silver is often seen as an inventive parody of documentary films, but to me, it functions more as a Tall Tale about the early days of filmmaking, the early history of the last century interfering with the life of people, and people on the margins staying marginalized. Sure, Jackson and Botes also make fun of the absurd assumption that something told in the tone of a documentary must be true, even if the tale it tells is patently absurd, but this doesn't seem to be the film's main gist to me (and really, if something is as self-evident as the untrustworthiness of documentary films, there's no need to spend an hour-long movie demonstrating it).

Jackson and Botes dive into the fabulist aspect of their film with wild abandon, starting out with absurd ideas like a steam-driven film projector and don't seem willing or able to stop themselves from getting stranger from there. Even though some of the ideas or jokes by necessity fall a little flat, there's no arguing with the enthusiasm with which the directors tell their story, or moments of utter genius where love for film and filmmaking seem to give the film a warm glow. The film's final ten minutes, which consist of a condensed version of McKenzie's unfinished "Salome", the imaginary film (besides "The King in Yellow") I'd most like to see, are especially lovely in this respect.

Love seems to be Forgotten Silver's central emotion to me: it is there in the tragic love story (of course there is one) between McKenzie and his Salome May Belle (Sarah McLeod), the obvious affection for the visionaries and intellectual outlaws that were the early filmmakers (the anti-thesis to the passionless canon-building self-important middle-aged white men of today's professional film criticism), love for New Zealand, and the love for telling an outrageous made-up story for other people to fall in love with.


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