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Kevin Brownlow brings cinema’s past to life

Filmmaker-historian given Honorary Oscar

In the boutique world of film preservation, less associated with the glamour of Hollywood than with cold vaults and tedious research, Kevin Brownlow is an immense star.

Feature filmmaker, historian and documentarian, Brownlow’s career has inspired the work of motion picture archivists around the world. Brownlow’s renowned sleuth work — Yes, bordering on the obsessive — has resulted in high-profile restorations, like “Napoleon” (1927) and some of the finest documentaries about the medium ever made, such as “Unknown Chaplin” (1983).

Brownlow’s influence has been significant “behind the scenes” as well. Due to Brownlow’s research, Warner Bros. and George Eastman House were able to collaborate on a meticulous and much heralded restoration of “The Big Parade” (1925).

Charismatic, indefatigable and dryly witty, Brownlow has become a larger-than-life character much like many of the silent film characters he has so beloved since a young age.

But perhaps Brownlow’s greatest legacy can be seen in university classrooms around the world where professors of film history attempt to engage young audiences for whom an “old movie” is something like “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” To such kids, silent films seem as remote as another planet — that is, until Brownlow’s work arrives on the screen. Whether in documentary form or restored celluloid, Brownlow’s gift makes historical cinema live again, exciting new generations of film lovers for years to come.

— Caroline Frick Page, Ph.D, curator of motion pictures, the George Eastman House.

Francis Ford Coppola | Eli Wallach | Jean-Luc Godard | Kevin Brownlow