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An Oscar for a Hollywood historian



That's a teenaged Carol (no "e" yet) Lombard, unbilled, in a scene from the 1927 Mary Pickford comedy "My Best Girl," a film that few realized she was in until several years ago (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/33953.html). For decades, people had misconceptions about the silent era, believing them unsophisticated and crude. On Saturday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will honor the man who helped change that.



He's Kevin Brownlow, who will get an Academy Award for lifetime achievement. And my thoughts can best be described in a comment from the blog "Strictly Vintage Hollywood" in late August, when the announcement of the award was made (http://strictly-vintage-hollywood.blogspot.com/2010/08/kevin-brownlow-honorary-oscar-recipient.html):

"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."



If Brownlow had done nothing else than put together the epic documentary series "Hollywood" (still unfortunately unavailable in an official DVD release because of rights issues regarding some of the films involved), he would be worthy of this honor. (David Gill, who collaborated with Brownlow on this project, died in 1997.) But Brownlow has done so much more:

* He got the ball rolling on serious silent film research with his book "The Parade's Gone By," where he interviewed people involved in film in the era (and thankfully, in the late 1960s many were still around), giving up a feel for what the period was like.

* He has been actively involved in film preservation and restoration, including notable works such as "The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse," the 1925 "Ben-Hur," Douglas Fairbanks' "The Thief Of Bagdad" and Abel Gance's "Napoleon."

* He has put together documentaries on each member of silent film's comedic trinity -- Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd -- and while none of them (with the possible exception of Lloyd) had been ignored over the years, Brownlow's documentaries helped illustrate their genius. Other documentary subjects of his include Cecil B. De Mille, D.W. Griffith, Greta Garbo and European silent cinema, "Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood."

Brownlow is the third historian to receive an Academy Award; Kemp Niver was awarded one in 1954, as was Henri Langlois in 1974. He will receive his honor at the second annual Governors Awards, with other recipients being directors Francis Ford Coppola and Jean-Luc Godard and actor Eli Wallach. Congratulations to all.

For more on Brownlow, see http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704635704575604580752553158.html.
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