Forgotten Silver – #87 of 100 Top Hoaxes

It says here that my number 87 hoax was proclaimed by Guinness World Records as the greatest film hoax in history. But if any lessons should be taken from this countdown, it’s don’t trust random pieces of information you read on the internet.

In 1995, film directors Peter Jackson and Costa Botes released their documentary, Forgotten Silver, about a forgotten filmmaker named Colin McKenzie, who “presented as the first and greatest innovator of moderncinema, single-handedly inventing the tracking shot (by accident), the close-up (unintentionally), and both sound and color film years before their historically documented creation. The film also shows fragments of an epic Biblical film supposedly made by McKenzie in a giant set in the forests of New Zealand, and a ‘computer enhancement’ of a McKenzie film providing clear evidence that New Zealander Richard Pearse was the first man to invent a powered aircraft, several months prior to the Wright Brothers.”

The hoax wasn’t held up for very long at all, it was revealed the day after the film’s release. But it was an ingenious tribute to the classic film styles that Peter Jackson loved:

Jackson is ultimately a film nut, and “Forgotten Silver” gave him the opportunity of his dreams: to become a part of the medium’s history. Or at least to pretend he was.

The set-up is simple but ingenius. Jackson, tipped off by his neighbor, investigates some old, discarded films. A fan of New Zealand culture, he plans on taking them to the country’s film archive but after viewing what he has in hand there he sees something more incredible than he could have imagined: the lost films of fabled New Zealand director Colin McKenzie. McKenzie was, as he explains, a pioneering director whose works were long thought destroyed, and due to this the man’s legacy in film history had been lost. It turns out, McKenzie in fact pioneered the tracking shot and close-up, not to mention creating the first sound and color films years, sometimes decades, before previously thought. Jackson and Botes explain exactly how monumentally these change the face of film history as we know it and head off in search of McKenzie’s masterpiece, an adaptation of Salome nearly completed before its torturous shooting schedule killed his wife (and unborn child).

It’s a remarkable tale that shows both genuine scholarship and fine documentary work. It’s also, of course, completely and totally fake. Enlisting the help of film historian/critic Leonard Maltin and distributor/sleazeball Harvey Weinstein, Jackson and Botes managed to convincingly convey that they may have made the discovery of a century. The pair also had a journalist friend write up the film in the New Zealand Listener before the broadcast in order to create publicity…

Ultimately, though, the hoopla that surrounded the movie is a lot less interesting than the film itself. Its higlights are the impressively, almost mind-bogglingly perfect recreations of old movie styles… Jackson’s turn-of-the-19th-century-style shorts are done with a loving level of accuracy that’s ultimately what made the entire film so believable.

This hoax is an example of how trickery can be an art form, and how it can be used positively to bring attention to ingenuity.

See a list of hoaxes counted down so far after the jump.

100. Bridezilla Freaks Out About Her Hairdo
The Joe Schmo Show
The Crying Indian
Ivar’s Underwater Billboards
Well to Hell
Great Comics Switcheroonie
American Cannibal
Nacirema Tribe
Indian Rope Trick
Eruption of Mount Edgecumbe
Republic of San Serriffe
Sydney Iceberg
88. Donald Crowhurst
87. Forgotten Silver


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