Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Kevin Brownlow: "My Life in Archives"

Back in May, the eminent and now Academy Award winning British film historian Kevin Brownlow gave a talk at the London Television Centre. His talk, part of series called the Jane Mercer Memorial Lecture, was titled "My Life in Archives."

As fans of Louise Brooks are likely aware, Brownlow has been a longtime champion of the actress. He befriended her in the late 1960’s, they corresponded for many years (reportedly some 200 letters), and she was included (a bit prominently) in three of Brownlow’s most significant works - the groundbreaking book The Parade’s Gone By (1968), the seminal 13 part filmed history of the American silent cinema, Hollywood (1979), and the also remarkable 3 part history of European silent film, Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood (TV series, 1996).

The Parade’s Gone By is widely considered the single most import history of silent film. And thus, it’s a bit notable that the book contains a note of thanks by Brownlow which reads, “I owe an especial debt to Louise Brooks for acting as a prime mover in this book’s publication.”

2010 Jane Mercer Lecture part 1 from Gerry Lewis Productions on Vimeo.

During Brownlow’s talk, the British film historian speaks about the actress on two occasions. He claims at one point that his actions led to the destruction of the last remaining print of the James Cruze gangster film, The City Gone Wild (1927), which featured Brooks.

2010 Jane Mercer Lecture part 2 from Gerry Lewis Productions on Vimeo.

And, at a later point, he talks about the time he slept in Brooks’ bed. Watch the clips of this truly fascinating lecture to find out exactly what Brownlow meant by each claim.  

2010 Jane Mercer Lecture part 3 Q&A from Gerry Lewis Productions on Vimeo.

And, if you haven't already done so, go out and get yourself a copy of The Parade's Gone By, which is available either through or through independent booksellers. I can't recommend either Hollywood or Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood, as each is out-of-print and sells for hundreds of dollars. (Each also includes brief clips of Louise Brooks.)

A little more on Kevin Brownlow and his many activities as an author, documentary filmmaker, and archivist can be found on his production company website, Photoplay Productions. There is also a Wikipedia page for the film historian which contains links to other online biographies, articles and links. [ A bit more at ]

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