Directed by Costa Botes, Peter Jackson. Starring Peter Jackson, Sam Neill, Harvey Weinstein, Leonard Maltin, Peter Jackson, Jeffrey Thomas, Leonard Maltin, Harvey Weinstein, Sam Neill, Jeffrey Thomas. (1995, NR, 53 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 10, 1998
Kiwi auteur Colin McKenzie is the most famous filmmaker you've never heard of in this wonderfully subtle "mockumentary" from the man behind Dead Alive and Heavenly Creatures. It's so subtle, in fact, that you'd hardly know anything was amiss were it not for one brief scene featuring a Russian records czar with the improbable name of Alexandra Nevsky and Leonard Maltin's slightly over-exuberant pontificatings that run throughout. As the film opens (it's preceded by an equally excellent 15-minute-long short called “Signing Off” by Robert Sarkies), the rotund Jackson is tramping about his neighbor's garden shed in which, he reveals, he's recently uncovered an astonishing cinematic find -- an old steamer-trunk full of film canisters marked with the name C. McKenzie. Jackson goes on to tell the history of how Colin McKenzie was the first New Zealand filmmaker. Born in 1888, McKenzie was creating and showing films in his backyard at the age of 12 by using a bicycle-powered projection system and film emulsion made from egg whites. In his quest for more information on this neglected auteur, Jackson enlists the aid of everyone from the aforementioned Maltin (who calls the discovery of McKenzie's epic Salome the equivalent of discovering, say, Citizen Kane) to New Zealand actor Sam Neill and Miramax head Harvey Weinstein (who promises to lobby for the inclusion of Salome in the next Academy Awards ballot). All of this is done with such straight faces that the jokes seem less like jokes and more like a new episode of John Pierson's Split Screen, and that's the magic of this cunning web of trickery -- it's sublimely silly and perfectly believable all at once. Still, the film manages some wild flights of fancy. We're told that one recently unearthed McKenzie reel documents the first successful airplane flight by New Zealand's Richard Pearse -- a full six months before the Wright Brothers soared at Kitty Hawk -- and the fact that the filmmaker's first talkie, The Warrior Season (made over a decade before The Jazz Singer), bombed at the box office because the actors were all Chinese and the director neglected to include subtitles. Ludicrous though it may seem, Jackson and Botes work magic with an absolutely amazing collection of faux McKenzie films, stills, and archival footage that are beautifully aged, grainy, and 100% realistic. Realism, indeed, is not only the hallmark of the filmmakers but also their subject, who recruited thousands of extras and trucked them off to the most remote part of New Zealand's rainforest to build a full-scale recreation of biblical Jerusalem for Salome. It's all an elaborate hoax, of course, but one of the most entertaining ones to come down the pike in a good long while, and if offers yet more proof -- if any should be needed -- that Jackson is a gleefully, deliciously deranged filmmaker.