Kevin Brownlow

Kevin Brownlow (born 2 June 1938) is a British film historian, television documentary-maker, filmmaker, author, and film editor.[1][2] Brownlow is best known for his work documenting the history of the silent era. Brownlow became interested in silent film at the age of eleven. This interest grew into a career spent documenting and restoring film. He has rescued many silent films and their history. His initiative in interviewing many largely forgotten, elderly film pioneers in the 1960s and 1970s preserved a legacy of early mass-entertainment cinema. Brownlow received an Academy Honorary Award at the 2nd Annual Governors Awards given by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on 13 November 2010.[3] This was the first occasion on which an Academy Honorary Award was given to a film preservationist.[4]

Kevin Brownlow
Born2 June 1938 (age 81)
Crowborough, Sussex, England
OccupationFilm historian, television documentary-maker, filmmaker, author, and film editor
RelativesPeggy Fortnum (aunt)

It Happened Here and Winstanley

Brownlow's interest in World War II prompted the creation of his alternative-history film, It Happened Here in which the Nazis have conquered Britain. Brownlow began work on the film at the age of 18 and soon began to collaborate with a friend Andrew Mollo, who was 16. After eight years of struggle, during which the film's content changed dramatically, it was completed in 1964 with the last-minute aid of Tony Richardson.[5] The film was widely seen in the UK at film festivals, and it was picked up for major distribution by United Artists (UA). There were negative reactions in the media to parts of the film, complaints from some Jewish groups, and in October 1965 UA's American president, Arthur B. Krim, said the film would not see theatrical release unless the offending parts were cut out. Brownlow and Mollo tried to convince UA to run the film complete, but they were outmanoeuvred. The film finally began its theatrical run in May 1966, minus the disputed scenes. It was seen in London, New York, Copenhagen, Paris, Stockholm, Los Angeles and Haifa, and was reviewed positively. After the run, UA reported to Brownlow and Mollo that all of the box office receipts had been used to pay the advertising and distribution costs. The two filmmakers did not make any money from the film.[6]

In 1968, Brownlow published a book, How It Happened Here, which described the making of the film, and the reception it received. Not only does it explain how two teenage boys made a feature film, it also explores the provocative social issues raised by the film. Brownlow had allowed genuine British Fascists to play themselves in the film, which angered some Jewish organizations. The book contained almost 100 pictures, mostly stills from the film and an introduction by film critic and author David Robinson. A new edition was published by UKA Press in 2007.[7]

After this cinematic feat Mollo and Brownlow began another project, Winstanley,[8] about Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers' commune following the English Civil War. The duo spent several years trying to gain support and following a long and difficult shoot, the film was released in 1975. In 2009 UKA Press published Winstanley: Warts and All, a making-of book. Brownlow had written it shortly after completing work on the film, but the manuscript had sat on the shelf for 34 years before being published.

Cinema history and preservation

Brownlow's first book on silent film, The Parade's Gone By..., was published in 1968. The book features many interviews with the leading actors and directors of the silent era and began his career as a film historian. Brownlow spent many years gaining support for the restoration of Abel Gance's French epic, Napoléon (1927), a then mutilated film that used many novel cinematic techniques. Brownlow's championing of the film succeeded, and the restored version, with a new score by Carl Davis, was shown in London in 1980,[9] and again in London in 2013 with the Philharmonia Orchestra.[10] Gance lived to see the acclaim for his restored film. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival presented the complete 2000 restoration of the film, with Davis conducting his score, at the Paramount Theatre Oakland in March 2012.[11]

Brownlow also began a collaboration with David Gill with whom he produced several documentaries on the silent era. The first was Hollywood (1980), a 13-part history of the silent era in Hollywood, produced by Thames Television. This was followed by Unknown Chaplin (1983) (Charlie Chaplin), Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow (1987) (Buster Keaton), Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius (1989) (Harold Lloyd) and Cinema Europe: the Other Hollywood [12](1995), among others. They also restored and released many classic silent films through the Thames Silents series (later via Photoplay Productions) in the 1980s and 1990s, generally with new musical scores by Carl Davis. The Search for Charlie Chaplin (2005; new version: 2010, UKA Press), a making-of book for Unknown Chaplin, was published in 2010.

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

In August 2010, Brownlow received an Honorary Academy Award[13] for his role in film and cinema history preservation.

On 13 November 2016, Brownlow was featured in an episode of The Film Programme entitled, 'Napoleon and I', dedicated to Abel Gance's masterpiece, the 1927 film, Napoléon on BBC Radio 4, the UK network. It tells how Brownlow has spent 50 years of his life, piecing together the lost sequences into the latest restoration of the silent movie and about his meeting the dapper Gance, when still a schoolboy.[14] On 9 August 2018, Brownlow again featured on The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4, where he discussed the making of and initial responses to It Happened Here.

In April 2019, Brownlow was honored at the Turner Classic Movie Festival in Hollywood at a screening of It Happened Here at the Egyptian Theatre. (Source: TCM Festival website, festival program)



  • How It Happened Here. London: Secker & Warburg 1968; new edition: London & Japan: UKA Press 2007, ISBN 978-1-905796-10-6.
  • The Parade's Gone By .... London: Secker & Warburg 1968.[16]
  • The War, the West and the Wilderness. London: Secker & Warburg 1979.
  • Hollywood, the Pioneers. London: Collins 1979.
  • Napoleon: Abel Gance's Classic Film. London: Jonathan Cape 1983.
  • Behind the Mask of Innocence. London: Jonathan Cape 1990.
  • David Lean. London: Richard Cohen 1996, ISBN 1-86066-042-8.
  • Mary Pickford Rediscovered. Rare pictures of a Hollywood legend. New York: Abrams 1999, ISBN 0-8109-4374-3.[17]
  • The Search for Charlie Chaplin. Le Mani – Microart (Cineteca Bologna) 2005; New edition: UKA Press 2010, ISBN 978-1-905796-24-3
  • Winstanley. Warts and All. London & Yorkshire: UKA Press 2009, ISBN 978-1-905796-22-9


  1. ^ Horne, Philip (22 July 2011). "Kevin Brownlow: a life in the movies". Guardian. London. Retrieved 7 December 2012.
  2. ^ Pollock, Dale (20 November 1983). "Rescuing a monument". LA Times. Retrieved 7 December 2012.
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ King, Susan (10 November 2010). "Kevin Brownlow helped spread the word on silent film era". LA Times. Retrieved 7 December 2012.
  5. ^ Robinson, David (1968). "Introduction", pp. 11–20. In Kevin Brownlow, How It Happened Here. London & Japan: UKA Press 2007, ISBN 978-1-905796-10-6.
  6. ^ Brownlow 1968, pp. 185–95.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Caute, David (17 October 2008). "Looking back in regret at Winstanley". The Guardian. London.
  9. ^ Brownlow, Kevin; Davis, Carl; Hutchinson, Pamela (29 November 2012). "How we made – Napoleon". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  10. ^ Scorsese, Martin (March 2012). "The Quest for Napoléon". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 7 December 2012.
  11. ^ Horne, Philip (22 July 2011). "Kevin Brownlow: a life in the movies". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ BBC Radio 4 network. The Film Programme' episode of 13 November 2016 dedicated to Brownlow's story with the film and news of its release on DVD:, retrieved 13 November 2016
  15. ^ "Kevin Brownlow brings cinema's past to life". Variety. Retrieved 7 December 2012.
  16. ^ "Kevin Brownlow Takes Silent-film Comedy Seriously". The Miami News. 30 July 1987. Retrieved 7 December 2012.
  17. ^ "Brownlow Documents Days Before Talkies". Lawrence Journal-World. 19 September 1999. Retrieved 7 December 2012.

External links

Abel Gance

Abel Gance (French: [gɑ̃s]; 25 October 1889 – 10 November 1981) was a French film director and producer, writer and actor. A pioneer in the theory and practice of montage, he is best known for three major silent films: J'accuse (1919), La Roue (1923), and the monumental Napoléon (1927).

Andrew Mollo

Andrew Mollo (born 15 May 1940 in Epsom, Surrey, England) is a British expert on military uniforms, which has led him into a career in motion pictures and as an author of various books on military uniforms.

Bernard Durning

Bernard Joseph Durning (August 24, 1893 – August 29, 1923) was an American silent film director and actor who worked primarily with Lon Chaney, Dustin Farnum, and Buck Jones.

William A. Wellman was his assistant director and protégé. His older brother, Harry M. Durning, was the Collector of Customs for the Port of New York from 1933 to 1953.

Bristol Silents

Bristol Silents was established by Chris Daniels and Norman Taylor in 2000 to promote and celebrate silent cinema in the Bristol area and in the United Kingdom. The first ever event the organisation put on was a selection of Louise Brooks films in October 2000 at the Arnolfini, Bristol.The group aimed to present a range of silent films along with educational programmes in order to raise awareness and appreciation of the Silent era amongst the film going public.

January, 2005 saw Bristol Silents establish the Slapstick Silent Comedy Festival in the city of Bristol. Since then, the festival has returned to the city every January and has included guests such as Eric Sykes, Christopher Chaplin, Jean Darling (of Our Gang fame) and Diana Serra Cary (aka Baby Peggy).


Brownlow is a surname. Notable people with the surname include:

Baron Brownlow, a title in the Peerage of Great Britain

Brownlow baronets, two Baronetcies

Adelbert Brownlow-Cust, 3rd Earl Brownlow (1844–1921), British soldier and politician

Charles Brownlow, 1st Baron Lurgan (1795–1847), Irish politician

Charles Brownlow, 2nd Baron Lurgan (1831–1882), Anglo-Irish politician

Chas Brownlow (1861–1924), Australian rules football administrator for whom the Brownlow Medal is named

David Brownlow, sound engineer

Charles Henry Brownlow (1831-1916), senior Indian army officer

Kevin Brownlow (born 1938), British filmmaker and film historian

Louis Brownlow (1879–1963), American political scientist and consultant on public administration; chairman of the Brownlow Committee

Peregrine Cust, 6th Baron Brownlow (1899–1978), British peer

Richard Brownlow (1553–1638), Chief Prothonotary of the Court of Common Pleas at Westminster

Walter P. Brownlow (1851–1910), American politician

William Gannaway Brownlow (1805–1877), American journalist, clergyman and politicianFictional characters:

Mr. Brownlow, from Charles Dickens's novel Oliver Twist

Charles Brownlow (The Bill), from the TV series The Bill

It Happened Here

It Happened Here (also known as It Happened Here: The Story of Hitler's England) is a black-and white 1964 British World War II film written, produced and directed by Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, who began work on the film as teenagers. The film's largely amateur production took some eight years, using volunteer actors with some support from professional filmmakers.It Happened Here shows an alternative history where the United Kingdom has been invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany. The plot follows the experiences of an Irish nurse working in England, who encounters people who believe collaboration with the invaders is for the best whilst others are involved in the resistance movement against the occupiers and their local collaborators.

J'accuse (1919 film)

J'accuse is a 1919 French silent film directed by Abel Gance. It juxtaposes a romantic drama with the background of the horrors of World War I, and it is sometimes described as a pacifist or anti-war film. Work on the film began in 1918, and some scenes were filmed on real battlefields. The film's powerful depiction of wartime suffering, and particularly its climactic sequence of the "return of the dead", made it an international success, and confirmed Gance as one of the most important directors in Europe.

John Huntley (film historian)

John Frederick Huntley (18 July 1921 – 7 August 2003) was an English film historian, educator and archivist.

Huntley was born in Kew, London and entered the film industry as a teaboy at Denham Studios around 1938. After war service in the RAF, where he had a sideline in using film shows as an educational tool, he re-entered the film industry as one of film score conductor Muir Mathieson's assistants; Huntley had briefly studied at the Royal College of Music just after the war began.

He joined the British Film Institute in 1952, initially working for the information department, but from 1955 in distribution. His connection with the Telekinema during the Festival of Britain led to him being appointed as a programmer at the new National Film Theatre for a time. According to film collector Kevin Brownlow, Huntley was the most accessible of the BFI's staff because of his skill at bending the rules; he left the institute in 1974. With his daughter Amanda Huntley he set up Huntley Film Archives in 1984, based from 2005 in the Herefordshire village of Ewyas Harold.John Huntley was a published author and regular broadcaster; he presented Bygones on ITV for two years from 1987. He died from cancer in London.

Karl Brown (cinematographer)

Karl Brown (December 26, 1896 – March 25, 1990) was a pioneer American cinematographer who had a close association with director D. W. Griffith during the early part of his career. Brown also became a noteworthy director and screenwriter.

Macbeth (1916 film)

Macbeth is a silent, black-and-white 1916 film adaptation of the William Shakespeare play Macbeth.. It was directed by John Emerson, assisted by Erich von Stroheim, and produced by D. W. Griffith, with cinematography by Victor Fleming. The film starred Herbert Beerbohm Tree and Constance Collier, both famous from the stage and for playing Shakespearean parts. Although released during the first decade of feature filmmaking, it was already the seventh version of Macbeth to be produced, one of eight during the silent film era. It is considered to be a lost film.In the companion book to his Hollywood television series, Kevin Brownlow states that Sir Herbert failed to understand that the production was a silent film and that speech was not needed so much as pantomime. Tree, who had performed the play numerous times on the stage, kept spouting reams of dialogue. So Emerson and Fleming simply removed the film and cranked an empty camera so as not to waste film when he did so.

Napoléon (1927 film)

Napoléon is a 1927 silent French epic film written, produced, and directed by Abel Gance that tells the story of Napoleon's early years. On screen, the title is Napoléon vu par Abel Gance, meaning "Napoleon as seen by Abel Gance". The film is recognised as a masterwork of fluid camera motion, produced in a time when most camera shots were static. Many innovative techniques were used to make the film, including fast cutting, extensive close-ups, a wide variety of hand-held camera shots, location shooting, point of view shots, multiple-camera setups, multiple exposure, superimposition, underwater camera, kaleidoscopic images, film tinting, split screen and mosaic shots, multi-screen projection, and other visual effects. A revival of Napoléon in the mid-1950s influenced the filmmakers of the French New Wave.The film begins in Brienne-le-Château with youthful Napoleon attending military school where he manages a snowball fight like a military campaign, yet he suffers the insults of other boys. It continues a decade later with scenes of the French Revolution and Napoleon's presence at the periphery as a young army lieutenant. He returns to visit his family home in Corsica but politics shift against him and put him in mortal danger. He flees, taking his family to France. Serving as an officer of artillery in the Siege of Toulon, Napoleon's genius for leadership is rewarded with a promotion to brigadier general. Jealous revolutionaries imprison Napoleon but then the political tide turns against the Revolution's own leaders. Napoleon leaves prison, forming plans to invade Italy. He falls in love with the beautiful Joséphine de Beauharnais. The emergency government charges him with the task of protecting the National Assembly. Succeeding in this he is promoted to Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the Interior, and he marries Joséphine. He takes control of the army which protects the French–Italian border, and propels it to victory in an invasion of Italy.

Gance planned for Napoléon to be the first of six films about Napoleon's career, a chronology of great triumph and defeat ending in Napoleon's death in exile on the island of Saint Helena. After the difficulties encountered in making the first film, Gance realised that the costs involved would make the full project impossible.

Napoléon was first released in a gala at the Palais Garnier (then the home of the Paris Opera) on 7 April 1927. Napoléon had been screened in only eight European cities when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer bought the rights to it, but after screening it in London, it was cut drastically in length, and only the central panel of the three-screen Polyvision sequences was retained before it was put on limited release in the United States. There, the film was indifferently received at a time when talkies were just starting to appear. The film was restored in 1981 after twenty years' work by silent film historian Kevin Brownlow.

Photoplay Productions

Photoplay Productions is an independent film company, based in the UK, under the direction of Kevin Brownlow and Patrick Stanbury. Is one of the few independent companies to operate in the revival of interest in the lost world of silent cinema and has been recognised as a driving force in the subject.In 2010, Photoplay Productions was the recipient of the Silent Film Festival Award


Polyvision was the name given by the French film critic Émile Vuillermoz to a specialized widescreen film format devised exclusively for the filming and projection of Abel Gance's 1927 film Napoleon. It involved the simultaneous projection of three reels of silent film arrayed in a horizontal row, making for a total aspect ratio of 4:1 (1.33×3:1). This configuration is considered to be a similar precursor to Cinerama, which would debut a quarter of a century later; however, it is unlikely that Polyvision was a direct inspiration for later widescreen techniques, as the triptych sequence of Napoleon was cut from the film by its distributors after only a few screenings and was not seen again until Kevin Brownlow compiled his restorations from the 1970s onwards.

Three film cameras were stacked vertically to shoot the widescreen compositions which would be viewed across all three sections. Gance also used the three strips to create triptych compositions of panels contrasting or simultaneous action, mirrored sides framing the center strip, and perceptual cross-cutting. In this respect, Polyvision can arguably be said to have inspired split screen compositions as well as in-eye edited experiments such as Mike Figgis's Timecode. Gance was unable to eliminate the problem of the two seams dividing the three panels of film as shown on screen, so he avoided the problem by putting three completely different shots together in some of the Polyvision scenes. When Gance viewed Cinerama many years later, he noticed that the widescreen image was still not seamless, that the problem was not entirely fixed.Polyvision was only used for the final reel of Napoleon, to create a climactic finale. Filming the whole story in Polyvision was impractical as Gance wished for a number of innovative shots, each requiring greater flexibility than was allowed by three interlocked cameras. When the film was severely re-cut by the distributors very early on during exhibition, the new version only retained the center strip in order to allow projection in standard single-projector cinemas. Brownlow's restored version, first seen on 31 August 1979 at the Telluride Film Festival, in Telluride, Colorado, finishes with a flourish intended by Gance: it uses red and blue tinted film on the left and right panels to create le tricolore—the flag of Napoleon's triumphant army.Difficulties in mounting a full screening of Napoleon with three simultaneous projectors mean that a true Polyvision presentation is rarely seen, with recent exhibitions of Napoleon using Polyvision having been in December 2004 and November 2013 at the Royal Festival Hall, in December 2009 at Cité de la Musique, and in March 2012 at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California.Gance continued to tinker with the system with Parvo camera designer Andre Debrie for several decades afterward, and by 1956, it evolved into a system called Magirama very similar to the later Cinemiracle format. Magirama used three 35 mm film cameras at Academy format with the two side cameras shooting into mirrors; the projectors then used mirrors in an identical configuration in order to properly reverse the side images. This system was only used on a limited number of shots.

The Blot

The Blot is a 1921 American silent drama film directed by Lois Weber, who also co-wrote (with Marion Orth) and produced the film (with her then-husband, Phillips Smalley). The film tackles the social problem of genteel poverty, focusing on a struggling family. It stars Philip Hubbard, Margaret McWade, Claire Windsor, and Louis Calhern.

Weber filmed in real locations, using as much natural lighting as possible. Scenes were filmed on location around Los Angeles, particularly at the old University of Los Angeles campus, now Los Angeles City College. Many supporting roles were given to non-professionals.

The Blot was restored by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill for British television. Brownlow singles out the film for praise in his book Behind the Mask of Innocence (1990). The Blot screened at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in 2002. It was released on DVD in 2006 with expert audio commentary by film historian Shelley Stamp.

The Crowd (1928 film)

The Crowd is a 1928 American silent film directed by King Vidor and starring James Murray, Eleanor Boardman and Bert Roach.

The film is an influential and acclaimed feature which was nominated at the very first Academy Award presentation in 1928, for several awards, including a unique and artistic production for MGM, as well as the award for best director for King Vidor.

In 1989, the film was one of the first 25 to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being; "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Kevin Brownlow and David Gill restored The Crowd in 1981, and it was released with a score by Carl Davis

Unknown Chaplin

Unknown Chaplin is an acclaimed three-part 1983 British documentary series about the career and methods of the silent film luminary Charlie Chaplin, using previously unseen film for illustration. The series consist of three episodes, with title My Happiest Years, The Great Director and Hidden Treasures.

The film was directed and written by film historians Kevin Brownlow and David Gill. They were granted access to unseen material from Chaplin's private film archive by his widow Oona O'Neil Chaplin. Episode one of the series was also based on a large cache of pirated outtakes from the Mutual Film Corporation period of Chaplin's career (1916-1917), made available by the film collector Raymond Rohauer. The documentary also includes interviews with Chaplin's second wife Lita Grey, his son Sydney Chaplin, and his surviving co-stars Jackie Coogan, Dean Riesner, Georgia Hale, and Virginia Cherrill.

The series gives unparalleled insight into Chaplin's working methods and filmmaking techniques. In particular, the Mutual outtakes (which Chaplin ordered destroyed due to content inappropriate for the time) show his painstaking approach to developing comedic and dramatic ideas on film, examined in what director Brownlow described as an "archaeology of the cinema". Also shown for the first time are completed scenes Chaplin cut from his classic feature films The Circus, City Lights, and Modern Times, and an enigmatic sequence from an abandoned film entitled The Professor from 1919. The program also includes footage of Georgia Hale as the flower girl in City Lights during a period when Chaplin had fired Cherrill, and rare home movies of Chaplin, including a remarkable behind-the-scenes private film of him at work on City Lights.

The series exhibits various outtakes of Chaplin laughing or getting angry when scenes go awry. Edna Purviance corpses in several clips, and in one she plays a joke on another actress during filming. A compilation of alternate takes illustrates how Chaplin slowly developed the story line of The Immigrant.

The film was narrated by James Mason, and original music was scored and conducted by Carl Davis. PBS distributed the series in the United States in 1986 as part of the series American Masters. In the 2005 DVD release of the series, Brownlow relates some of Unknown Chaplin's backstory. In 2010, Brownlow published a book on the making of the documentary titled The Search for Charlie Chaplin.

Winstanley (film)

Winstanley is a 1975 British black-and-white film about social reformer and writer Gerrard Winstanley. It was made by Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo (the creators behind It Happened Here) and based on the 1961 David Caute novel Comrade Jacob.


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