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Film Review: Forgotten Silver

Forgotten Silver (1995; Directed by Costa Botes and Peter Jackson)

This meticulously-crafted faux-documentary is hilarious and imaginative, and, of course, totally mischievous in that early-period Peter Jackson way. As impressive and prodigiously entertaining as his maximal-scope epics of recent years have been, any true fan of Jackson has got to miss the tone of the gleeful trickster prevalent in his early work, that giggling delight at the feeling of really getting away with something. Forgotten Silver has got that in spades while also demonstrating the superior level of technical craftsmanship that underlies his blockbusters and the film geek’s interest in the history of the medium that runs through all of his films.

Originally aired on New Zealand television, Forgotten Silver was billed as a serious documentary about an obscure domestic film pioneer, and thus irritated not a few viewers when it was revealed as a clever ruse. Purporting to tell of the exploits of Colin McKenzie (played by Thomas Robins, who would later be notable for being strangled to death by Andy Serkis’ Smeagol at the start of The Return of the King), an ambitious, innovative filmmaker who would inadvertently invent many of the touchstones of the modern cinema without anyone (even himself) realizing it, the film is a bit of a metaphor for New Zealand’s national image as a plucky, creative, self-sufficient land that is oft-overlooked down there at the ass end of the world. It’s also a self-reflexive narrativization of Jackson’s own rise from backyard DIY auteur to multi-million dollar blockbuster filmmaking mogul.

Forgotten Silver, clever and sneaky and soaked in technical film lore, is surely his most obscure film (and not all his, either, as we must credit co-director Costa Botes as well), but it’s one well worth seeking out for PJ acolytes.

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