Kevin Brownlow

Kevin Brownlow

Kevin Brownlow (born on June 2, 1938 in Crowborough, Sussex) is a filmmaker, film historian, television documentary-maker, and author. Brownlow is best known for his work documenting the history of the silent era. Brownlow developed an interest in silent film at the young age of eleven. This interest grew into a life-long passion for the cinema and a career spent documenting and restoring film. He is without question one of the most respected and admired historians of the early cinema and has rescued many a silent film and its history from oblivion. His initiative and interest in seeking out and interviewing many largely forgotten, elderly film pioneers in the 1960s and 1970s is credited with preserving a priceless legacy of cinema that would have otherwise been lost.

"It Happened Here" and "Winstanley"

His fascination for World War II prompted the creation of an alternate-history film, It Happened Here, in which the Nazis have conquered Britain. An ambitious and optimistic youth, Brownlow began work on this film at the age of 18, and soon began to collaborate with his friend Andrew Mollo, who was 16. After 8 years of struggling against many a set-back, during which the film's content changed dramatically, it was finally completed in 1964 with the last minute aid of Tony Richardson, but not released until 1966. After this cinematic feat Mollo and Brownlow plunged into another project, "Winstanley", about a Digger commune following the English Civil War. The duo spent several years trying to gain support and, following a long and difficult shooting schedule, the film was released in 1975.

"The Parade's Gone by..."

In 1968 Brownlow's first book about silent film, "The Parade's Gone By...", was published. The book, which relied heavily on interviews with the leading actors and directors of the silent era, launched him on his career as a film historian. Brownlow spent many years garnering support for the restoration of Abel Gance's 1927 French classic, "Napoleon", a "lost" epic film that used an early example of split screen or widescreen tryptych format that Gance called Polyvision, and which was similar to the later Cinerama. Brownlow's championing of this masterpiece eventually succeeded, and the restored, re-scored version was shown in London and New York in 1980 and 1981, with the director Gance just living to see the acclaim for his restored film. Even today Brownlow continues to add newly discovered and restored footage to this film.

During this period Brownlow began his successful collaboration with David Gill with whom he would produce several award winning documentaries on the silent era. The first of these was "Hollywood", a 13-part history of the silent era in Hollywood, produced for Thames Television screened in Britain in 1979. This was followed by "Unknown Chaplin" (1983) (Charlie Chaplin), "" (1987) (Buster Keaton), "Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius" (1989) (Harold Lloyd), and "Cinema Europe: the Other Hollywood" (1996), among others. They also restored and released a large number of classic silent films through the Thames Silents series in the 1980s and 1990s, generally with new musical scores by Carl Davis.

Since David Gill's death in 1997, Brownlow has continued to produce documentaries and conduct film restoration, in collaboration with Patrick Stanbury, at Photoplay Productions. These include Lon Chaney, A Thousand Faces (2000), "Garbo", a documentary produced for Turner Classic Movies to mark the centenary of the actress' birth, and "I Am King Kong" (2005), about filmmaker Merian C. Cooper.

"How It Happened Here" (The Book)

"How It Happened Here" (re-issued March 2007, by The UKA Press, ISBN 978-1-905796-10-6) describes the making of the film "It Happened Here," and the subsequent reception that the film received. Not only does it explain how two teenage boys made a feature film, it also explores the provocative social issues raised by the movie. Brownlow had allowed genuine British Fascists to play themselves in the film, which raised the hostility of Jewish organizations. The book contains almost 100 pictures, mostly stills from the film, and an introduction by David Robinson.


*"Nine, Dalmuir West" (1962)
*"It Happened Here" (1966)
*"Abel Gance: The Charm of Dynamite " (1968)
*"Winstanley" (1975)
*"Hollywood" (1979)
*"Millay at Steepletop" (1983)
*"Unknown Chaplin" (1983)
*"" (1987)
*"Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius" (1989)
*"D.W. Griffith: Father of Film" (1993)
*"Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood" (TV series 1996)
*"Universal Horror" (1998)
*"Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces" (2000)
*"The Tramp and the Dictator" (2002)
*"Cecil B. DeMille: American Epic" (2004)
*"So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton & MGM" (2004)
*"Garbo" (2005)
*"I'm King Kong!: The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper" (2005)


*"How It happened Here". Re-published by The UKA Press, March 2007
*"How It Happened Here". Doubleday, 1968.
*"The Parade's Gone By...". Alfred A. Knopf, 1968.
*"The War, the West and the Wilderness". Alfred A. Knopf, 1979.
*"Hollywood, the Pioneers". William Collins, 1979.
*"Napoleon: Abel Gance's Classic Film". Alfred A. Knopf, 1983.
*"Behind the Mask of Innocence". Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.
*"David Lean". Faber and Faber, 1996.
*"Mary Pickford Rediscovered". Harry N. Abrams, 1999.

External links

* [] It Happened Here (1965)
* [ 2004 Interview at the NFT]
* [ Article by Dennis Doros] Upon Brownlow's receipt of the Mel Novikoff Award at the 2007 San Francisco International Film Festival
* [ Kevin Brownlow: Introduction to Silents] Brief program note by Brownlow for his lecture at the 2007 San Francisco International Film Festival, includes photo of Brownlow
* [ Article: "Winstanley"; or, Kevin Brownlow Camps Out on St. George's Hill] 2003 by John C. Tibbetts
* [ Article: Between the Map and the Painted Landscape: Kevin Brownlow’s Historical Films] by John C. Tibbetts
* [,stein,3250,20.html History Repeating, Kevin Brownlow on His Obsessive Period Reconstructions] article by Elliott Stein in the Village Voice 1999
* [ Sunday Times Article: Silents Please] by Kevin Brownlow March 24, 2007
* [ Silent Films, What was the Right Speed?] an article by Brownlow in Sight and Sound, Summer 1980
* [ Brownlow on Beckett (on Keaton)] Article by Brownlow in Film West

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