by Kevin Brownlow
How It Happened Here tells the story of the making of a film and the subsequent reception that the film received and the controversy and alarm that it stirred up when it was first released. The film-makers were two teenagers (18 and 16) and they started out with no budget and a borrowed 16 mm camera. The project took 8 years to complete. Part of the book is a humorous and detailed account of how the boys overcame all the practical and financial hurdles of amateur film making and saw the project through to completion and national release. This in itself would qualify the book as a thoroughly entertaining read and a sound basis for a course in film making or media studies of any kind. But this was no ordinary film. Kevin and his co-director Andrew Mollo took as their theme the “what if?” idea of a conquered and occupied England, after a hypothetical defeat and invasion following the Dunkirk retreat.
Huge congratulations go to renowned UKA Press author and film documentarian Kevin Brownlow (The Search for Charlie Chaplin, Winstanley, Warts and All and How It Happened Here) who, together with Francis Ford Coppola, Jean-Luc Godard and actor Eli Wallach, will receive a Motion Picture Academy Award Honorary Oscar for his contribution and dedication to the preservation and restoration of silent film in Hollywood on 13th November 2010.
Since starting his own film collection at the age of eleven, Kevin Brownlow has worked in the cinema – either as a filmmaker in his own right, or as a historian. He entered documentaries in 1955 with World Wide Pictures and became an editor in 1958. In the 1960s, he worked as editor with Lindsay Anderson onThe White Bus and was supervising editor on Tony Richardson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968). With Andrew Mollo, he directed two feature films, It Happened Here (1964) released by United Artists, about an imaginary German occupation of England, and Winstanley (1975), made for The British Film Institute, set in the aftermath of the English Civil War.
In 1980, with David Gill, Brownlow produced and directed a thirteen-part television series, Hollywood, based on Brownlow’s book The Parade’s Gone By. Thanks to the series, Thames sponsored the showing of Brownlow’s reconstruction of Napoleon as part of the 1980 London Film Festival. The five-hour Abel Gance epic was accompanied by a full orchestra playing a specially commissioned score composed and conducted by Carl Davis. The outstanding success of the event demonstrated to a modern audience the power and excitement of a period in filmmaking so long dismissed as primitive and inaccessible.
Under the banner of Thames Silents, Brownlow and Gill restored over twenty-five silent films, including BEN HUR, THE THIEF OF BHAGDAD, THE CROWD and THE WIND. In 1990, with the demise of Thames Television, Brownlow and Gill formed their own company, Photoplay Productions, with Patrick Stanbury, to continue their work. In 1992, Channel Four Television agreed to support these revivals under the name of The Channel Four Silents with a restoration of the Valentino classic, THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOLCOLYPSE. The series continued with WINGS, THE IRON HORSE, SUNRISE, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, THE WEDDING MARCH and was completed in 1999 with THE IRON MASK. Photoplay’s most recent restorations for Channel 4 are THE ORPHANS OF THE STORM (2001) and THE CAT AND THE CANARY (2004).
Along with their LIVE CINEMA work, Brownlow and Gill were the producer-directors of a number of documentaries on the cinema. They followed HOLLYWOOD with three documentary series on the great comedians of the silent era: UNKNOWN CHAPLIN (1983), BUSTER KEATON: A HARD ACT TO FOLLOW (1987) and HAROLD LLOYD: THE THIRD GENIUS (1990). The team also produced BRITISH CINEMA in 1985, featuring programmes directed by Alan Parker, Lindsay Anderson and Sir Richard Attenborough. In 1993, their documentary W.D.GRIFFITH – FATHER OF FILM was broadcast in the US and the UK. In 1995 they completed a six-part documentary on European silent film for BBC 2, CINEMA EUROPE – THE OTHER HOLLYWOOD, a celebration of the centenary of cinema.
David Gill died in 1997, and Brownlow and Stanbury carried on in the same tradition: in 1998 they completed a documentary for Universal Studios, UNIVERSAL HORROR, followed by LON CHANEY – A THOUSAND FACES for Turner Classic Movies and THE TRAMP AND THE DICTATOR with the collaboration of Michael Kloft of Spiegel TV.
CECIL B DEMILLE – AMERICAN EPIC is their latest documentary.
How It Happened Here (1968)
The Parade’s Gone by … (1968)
Hollywood: The Pioneers (1979)
The War, the West and the Wilderness (1979)
Napoleon, Abel Gance’s Classic Film (1983)
Behind the Mask of Innocence (1990)
David Lean: A Biography (1996)
Mary Pickford Rediscovered (1999)
British Film Institute interview
Kevin Brownlow interviewed by Omma Velada, Gold Dust Magazine
Kevin Brownlow — Screen Online – a full biography
Kevin Brownlow — New York Times article
Kevin Brownlow — British Film Institute, Feature Interview
It Happened Here — David Gardiner film review
Kevin Brownlow awarded the Mel Novikoff award in May 2007