Silent film legend Brownlow to be honored at Loew

by Sam Lederer | 11/2/01 6:00am

Silent Film is a media of expression that too often goes unnoticed as big-budget Hollywood productions continue to dominate the favor of the American viewing public.

Kevin Brownlow, however, is trying to counteract this trend through his many documentaries and films about the Silent Film era. These efforts will be celebrated tonight at the Loew Auditorium in a tribute to Brownlow.

Brownlow's love for film began at an early age and has never wavered. When Brownlow was a child growing up in England, his headmaster would show the students silent films every third week because he could not afford more mainstream films.

The budding film historian started his collection at that point and laid the foundation for his documentary work in his later life.

For the past 30 years, Brownlow has worked mainly on restoring and exhibiting silent films, first with Thames Silents and currently with his own company, Photoplay Productions, which he started in 1990 with Patrick Stanbury.

They have done restorations of such films as "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Sunrise."

In 1980, Brownlow showed his restoration of Abel Gance's "Napoleon" at the London Film Festival. The five-hour epic, to which he added a full orchestra, is one of Brownlow's favorite films because of the power and meaning it conveys to him.

The original film was supposed to be six parts long, but Gance spent all the funding on the first part and had to truncate the biography of Napoleon.

Having been met with critical acclaim, the reproduction showed that silent films could appeal to modern audiences. In June 2000, a new restoration was shown in the Royal Festival Hall featuring the Carl Davis score.

Brownlow feels that his best piece is "Hollywood," a 13-part documentary on the legendary town and its relationship to silent film.

The series contains interviews with over 85 silent film actors and tries to express the emptiness felt after the films lost their popularity. The film is based on Brownlow's book "The Parade's Gone By."

Along with David Gill, Brownlow followed up the production with series on great comedians of the silent era such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. In 1993, their documentary on D.W. Griffith was broadcast in the United States and Britain.

Brownlow enjoys the silent medium because he feels it is more difficult and more unique than mainstream films. "It is much easier to convey the thrust of a film if there is dialogue present," Brownlow said. As a result, he is trying to restore silent film to a level of prominence after being junked for many years by audiences.

In addition to his films, he has written many books including "The War the West and the Wilderness" and "Behind the Mask of Innocence."

During this evening's tribute, a sequence of clips from Brownlow's many documentaries will be shown.

He will introduce the Harold Lloyd film "Speedy," which will be shown at the Loew Sunday night with the accompaniment of the Alloy Orchestra.

The Orchestra, a three-man musical team, creates soulful soundtracks for classic silent films. The group derives their name from their practice of creating instruments from scrap metal parts acquired in junkyards. The Orchestra, considered the foremost silent film accompanists in the world, has played at the Louvre, the Telluride Film Festival and Lincoln Center.

The tribute is sure to be a unique and successful celebration of Brownlow's work and silent film in general. For his part, Brownlow is very excited for the tribute as he seeks to spread silent film to newer and younger audiences because, as he noted, "Much meaning can be taken away from silent films."