Thursday, August 26, 2010

Kevin Brownlow - Honorary Oscar Recipient

Kevin Brownlow (image courtesy

The news that The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be honoring Kevin Brownlow with an Academy Award for lifetime achievement spread like wildfire all over the internet yesterday. The reaction from film fans, film buffs, authors, filmmakers, historians, preservationists and scholars across the globe was instant and unanimous, that of unbridled joy. I can think of no other figure with regard to silent film, the need for preservation and the recording of its history to be more influential than Kevin Brownlow. I can think of no other historian, documentarian, filmmaker or author, each of which is a hat worn by Brownlow, that is more deserving of such a lifetime achievement award.

The Academy summed up Brownlow thusly:

Brownlow is widely regarded as the preeminent historian of the silent film era as well as a preservationist. Among his many silent film restoration projects are Abel Gance’s 1927 epic “Napoleon,” Rex Ingram’s “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (1921) and “The Thief of Bagdad” (1924), starring Douglas Fairbanks. Brownlow has authored, among others, The Parade’s Gone By; The War, the West, and the Wilderness; Hollywood: The Pioneers; Behind the Mask of Innocence; David Lean; and Mary Pickford Rediscovered. His documentaries include “Hollywood,” “Unknown Chaplin,” “Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow,” “Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius” and “D.W. Griffith: Father of Film,” all with David Gill; Brownlow also directed “Cecil B. DeMille: American Epic” and “Garbo,” the latter with Christopher Bird.

The Academy is correct, but really, Brownlow's influence runs so much deeper, in ways that cannot be counted by the listing as above which feels as dry as the IMDB.

In the cinematic circles in which I travel, I'm fairly confident that if it were not for Kevin Brownlow, not one of us would be here blogging, writing, researching or preserving films. The influence and power of this humble and incredibly generous man is like a force of nature.

Brownlow beguiled us with the "book I did not want to write" The Parade's Gone By. He astonished us with the massive and landmark documentary Hollywood. He brought us The Unknown Chaplin, a key that unlocked some of the mystery of how Chaplin formed and perfected his character of the "Little Tramp" and honed his comedic genius. With D.W. Griffith The Father of Film, he paid homage to one of the earliest pioneers of cinematic language in one of the most moving documentaries I've ever seen. His documentaries on Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd are second to none (and like the landmark Hollywood not on DVD). Not content to focus only on the output of Hollywood, the facsinating Cinema Europe The Other Hollywood tells the story of what fine work was going on across the pond. The founding of Photoplay Productions with the late David Gill and Patrick Stanbury has resulted in preservation and documentary work that is the gold standard. Photoplay strives to present silent films in the way they should be seen, as "Live Cinema."

Brownlow's "trilogy" of books the previously mentioned The Parade's Gone By, as well as The War the West and the Wilderness, and Behind the Mask of Innocence are (to me) three volumes that are required reading for anyone with even the most basic interest in film history and silent film. Do not for a moment think that this "history" is dull. It most assuredly is not. Like the subjects Brownlow interviewed, the words leap off the pages and are as engaging as they are delightful. So, too, are the stories. Brownlow interviewed just about everyone who was still alive and willing to talk about silent films including the larger than life figures Allan Dwan, King Vidor, Gloria Swanson, Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Mary Pickford, Clarence Brown and Louise Brooks. He did not stop with the "big names" he spoke with everyone, including family members, stuntman Harvey Parry, editors Grant Whytock and Margaret Booth and to the people who played for the films in the movie palaces like Chauncy Haines and Gaylord Carter and everyone else in between to capture what seemed to be the joy of making these films. All of these interviews have been preserved and that alone is worthy of an Oscar.

Then there is his work on Abel Gance's Napoleon. As a young film collector, a reel of film he picked up sparked a lifelong passion and a lifetime restoration project. His earlier restoration of this film brought acclaim to it's director/producer Abel Gance. His passion and continuing work has resulted in a film that is nearly complete. The latest version of Napoleon is well over 5 hours long.

Brownlow's own films,
It Happened Here and Winstanley add more fuel to the fire of his achievements.

He is a man who is curious about all aspects of film from the film stock used, to the machine that makes it and the machine that screens it. He's a critic, he's a fan and he's a geek in the nicest sense of the word. He is generous to a fault with his material and is always willing to help someone else with their projects. I can attest to this generosity personally with regard to my own book. He's truly humble about his accomplishments and perhaps a little embarassed by the acclaim, veneration and respect with which he is regarded by the film geeks like me. I get tongue tied every time I talk to him and turn into a silly fangirl. He can't know all the personal stories, but he must realize that his work has changed lives. It changed mine and I am profoundly grateful.

That the Academy has chosen to recognize him for his achievements is a wonderful thing. I applaud the Academy and the Board of Governors for this decision. I applaud Kevin Brownlow for all his achievements, past, present and those in the future. Bravo!

Friday, August 13, 2010

San Francisco Silent Films Festival Winter Event - Save the Date

Save the date! February 12, 2011 has been announced for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival Winter Event.
No, the program has not been announced. We can speculate and I hear some whispers, but nothing concrete.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Charlie Chaplin Musical to premiere in La Jolla

Robert McClure and Ashley Brown (photo by Chris Schwartz)

La Jolla Playhouse will present the world-premiere musical Limelight: The Story of Charlie Chaplin, music and lyrics by Christopher Curtis, book by Christopher Curtis and Thomas Meehan and directed by Michael Unger, from September 7 - October 17, 2010 in the Mandell Weiss Theatre. Opening night is scheduled for Sunday, September 19 at 7:00 pm.

Playing the role of "Charlie Chaplin" will be Robert McClure, who recently starred as "Princeton" in the Broadway and national touring productions of Avenue Q. Ashley Brown, who originated the title role in the hit Broadway musical Mary Poppins, will portray "Oona." The full cast includes LJ Benet (You Again, Diary of a Wimpy Kid) as "Young Sydney," Jenn Colella (Broadway's Urban Cowboy, The Times They Are A-Changin') as "Hedda Hopper," Eddie Korbich (Broadway's The Drowsy Chaperone, The Little Mermaid) as "Karno," Janet Metz (original company of Falsettoland, Playhouse's Harmony) as "Hannah," Brooke Sunny Moriber (Broadway's Follies, The Wild Party) as "Mildred," Ron Orbach (Broadway's Chicago, Laughter on the 23rd Floor) as "Mr. Chaplin," Roland Rusinek (Broadway's The Phantom of the Opera, A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden) as "Alf," Jake Schwenke (title role in Broadway's Billy Elliott) as "Young Charlie/Jackie," Matthew Scott (Broadway's Jersey Boys, A Catered Affair) as "Sydney" and William Youmans (Broadway's Wicked, Playhouse's Dracula the Musical, Randy Newman's Faust) as "Older Charlie." The ensemble includes Aaron Acosta, Courtney Corey, Matthew Patrick Davis, Justin Michael Duval, Sara Edwards, Ben Liebert, Alyssa Marie, Jennifer Noble, Kürt Norby, Carly Nykanen, Jessica Reiner-Harris and Kirsten Scott.

The creative team includes: Christopher Curtis (Dave the Musical), composer, lyricist and co-librettist; Thomas Meehan (Tony Award winner for Hairspray, The Producers; Playhouse's Cry Baby), co-librettist; Michael Unger (world premiere of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee), director; Bryan Perri, music director; Warren Carlyle (Broadway's Finian's Rainbow, A Tale of Two Cities), choreographer; Alexander Dodge, scenic designer; Linda Cho, costume designer; Paul Gallo, lighting designer; Jon Weston, sound designer; Douglas Besterman (Playhouse's Dracula, the Musical), orchestrator; Gabriel Greene, dramaturg; Frank Hartenstein, stage manager; and Dan Kamin, Script Consultant and Physical Comedy Specialist.

Charlie Chaplin came to America an unknown and left amidst scandals and controversy. In between, he became one of the best-loved and most famous entertainers in the world. From the gritty streets and smoky music halls of London to movie screens across the globe, Limelight goes behind the camera to show how a comic genius found soaring success and later fell from grace. This thrilling world-premiere musical provides a captivating close-up on the man who changed motion pictures forever.

Tres interesting, no? Thanks to Tref for the heads upon this!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Early Warner Brothers Studios

I make no secret of the fact that my favorite studio producing films in the 1930s and 40s was Warner Brothers. They certainly made some damn fine silent films, too! Warner Brothers have more films in my personal top twenty than any other studio. Even the lamest programmer has something to recommend to me. The look, the feel, the grit and the snappy dialogue of a Warners film is unmistakable, as unmistakable as a Max Steiner or Erich Wolfgang Korngold score.

An important new book on the studio covering the early years of the brothers Warner from the early silent days on up to through the 1950s is covered in Early Warner Bros. Studio by E.J. Stephens and Marc Wanamaker.

Since 1928, Warner Bros. has produced thousands of beloved films and television shows at the studio's magical 110-acre film factory in Burbank. This collection of evocative images concentrates on the Warner Bros. legacy from the 1920s to the 1950s, when timeless classics such as Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and East of Eden came to life. It also looks at WB's earlier homes along Hollywood's "Poverty Row," the birthplace of Looney Tunes, and the site of WB's pioneering marriage between film and sound in the 1920s. Early Warner Bros. Studios also tells the tale of four brothers--Harry, Albert, Sam, and Jack Warner--scions of a Polish Jewish immigrant family who rose from the humblest of origins to become Hollywood moguls of enormous and lasting influence.

The authors will be signing copies of the book at Larry Edmunds Bookshop which is the oldest remaining movie book store on Hollywood Boulevard.

Thursday, August 12- 7:00 p.m.
Larry Edmunds Bookshop

6644 Hollywood Boulevard

, CA 90028

(tel) 323-436-3273

More than just a book signing, part of the evening plans will include a slide show of photos of Early Warner Bros. Studios as well as a discussion with the authors about the book.

Rudolph Valentino Visits Disneyland

Thanks to the blog Main Gate Admission, we've got evidence of Rudolph Valentino and Vilma Banky at the Main Street Cinema at Disneyland. I remember going to the Main Street Cinema when I was a kid, but all I can remember seeing are the cartoons (and that it was usually nice and cool in there). Rudy and Vilma did not play the Main Street Cinema for long, we'll save that story for another blog post one of these days.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Rudolph Valentino The Silent Idol in Hollywood

Be there or be square!

It's a thrill to be able to announce that I will be signing copies of Rudolph Valentino the Silent Idol
at Larry Edmunds Bookshop on Hollywood Blvd.

If you can make it, I'd love to meet you. Always a pleasure to meet "rudyfans" old friends and new.

August 21, 2010 at 7:00pm
Larry Edmunds Bookshop
6644 Hollywood Blvd.

There will also be a short screening of some Valentino rarities in the shop and I understand some very wonderful memorabilia will also be on display.