Since starting his own film collection at the age of eleven, Kevin Brownlow has worked in the cinema – becoming a renowned filmmaker, author and historian in the process. He began his documentary work with World Wide Pictures in 1955 and became an editor in 1958. He also directed, with Andrew Mollo, the feature films It Happened Here (1964) and Winstanley (1975).
In 1980 Brownlow and David Gill wrote, produced and directed the 13-part television series Hollywood based on Brownlow’s book The Parade’s Gone By. Thames Television then sponsored the screening of Brownlow’s reconstruction of Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1927) as part of the 1980 London Film Festival. The five-hour epic was accompanied by a live orchestra playing Carl Davis’ specially commissioned score. The outstanding success of the event demonstrated to a modern audience the power and excitement of silent films.
For Thames Television, Brownlow and Gill restored over twenty-five silent films including Ben-Hur (1925), The Thief of Bagdad (1924), Intolerance (1916) and The Crowd (1928). In 1990, Brownlow and Gill with Patrick Stanbury formed their own company, Photoplay Productions. From 1992 to 2007, Britain’s Channel Four Television supported a series of silent film revivals, in conjunction with Photoplay, which eventually included films like The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), The Iron Horse (1924) and Sunrise (1927).
Brownlow and Gill also produced and directed a number of film history documentaries: Unknown Chaplin, Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow, and Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius (1989). They also produced the series British Cinema in 1985, featuring episodes directed by Alan Parker, Lindsay Anderson and Sir Richard Attenborough. Their documentaries for Photoplay included D.W. Griffith – Father of Film (1993), broadcast in the US and the UK, and Cinema Europe – The Other Hollywood for BBC2 and screened in UK, France, Germany and the US.
After David Gill’s death in 1997, Photoplay’s documentary work continued with the films Universal Horror (1998), Lon Chaney – A Thousand Faces (2000), The Tramp and the Dictator (2002), Cecil B. De Mille – American Epic (2004), So Funny It Hurt – Buster Keaton & MGM (2004), Garbo (2005) and I’m King Kong! (2005), the last three titles co-directed with Christopher Bird.
Kevin Brownlow’s books on film include How It Happened Here, The Parade’s Gone By..., The War, the West, and the Wilderness; Hollywood: The Pioneers, Napoléon – Abel Gance’s Classic Film, Behind the Mask of Innocence, David Lean – A Biography, Mary Pickford Rediscovered, The Search for Charlie Chaplin – The Making of Unknown Chaplin, and Winstanley – Warts and All.