Kevin Brownlow, one of the great cinema historians and a major force in film preservation, will receive an honorary Academy Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. The Oscar statuette will be presented to Brownlow at the Governors Awards dinner on November 13, 2010.
The well-deserved award is remarkable as the Academy typically does not honor historians and preservationists with the Honorary Oscar, which brings with it the coveted Academy Award statuette. The last such cineaste to be honored was Henri Langlois in 1973. The founder of the Cinémathèque Française and one of the leading forces for cinema preservation, Langlois was cited by the Academy “for his devotion to the art of film, his massive contributions in preserving its past and his unswerving faith in its future.”
In addition to writing some of the finest books on the cinema, including his 1968 look at the silent cinema The Parade’s Gone By… and his magisterial David Lean: A Biography, Brownlow has produced documentaries on the cinema, including the essential The Unknown Chaplin that he produced in 1983 for the BBC.
Brownlow will be honored in the company of Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award winner Francis Ford Coppola and honorary Oscar winners Eli Wallach and Jean Luc-Godard.
Kevin Brownlow also directed two feature films with his collaborator Andrew Mollo, including the highly regarded It Happened Here (1965) an imagining of what would have happened to Great Britain if it had been conquered by the Nazis. Brownlow and Mollo were nominated for a screenwriting award by the British Film Academy, now known as the British Academy of Film & Television Arts (BAFTA), for the movie. They also made a movie about the radical Diggers that set up a commune in the 17th Century after the English Civil War, Winstanley (1975).
He was also nominated for a British Academy Award (now known as a BAFTA award) for editing Tony Richardson’s classic 1968 anti-war satire The Charge of the Light Brigade. He received the British Academy’s Michael Balcolm Award for Outstanding Contribution to the CInema in 1981.
Brownlow’s 1981 documentary TV series Hollywood won a BAFTA Award. He has been nominated for seven Emmy Awards, winning two: for Unknown Chaplin (1983) and for Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow (1987).
The honorary awards were announced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences on the evening of Tuesday, August 24, 2010. Academy President Tom Sherak called up the 72 year-old Brownlow in the middle of the night, as he was sleeping in his London home, to give him the good news.
According to Academy Executive Director Bruce Davis, speaking of Brownlow, Francis Ford Coppola, and Eli Wallach (it took more than 24 hours to contact Jean Luc-Godard), “They were all thrilled, Mr. Brownlow especially.”
Davis went on to say of Brownlow, “He had no idea why the president of the Academy had reached him in the middle of the night.”
The Governors Awards dinner will be held on November 13, at the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center. Honorary Oscars including the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian and the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award once were handed out during the Oscar telecast, but it was felt that they made they telecast too long.
In the interests of a more profitable TV program, the first Governors Awards dinner was held last year. The result has been an increase in the number of recipients: in 2009, actress Lauren Bacall, producer-director Roger Corman, and cinematographer Gordon Willis received honorary Oscars while producer John Calley received
the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.
The dinner, which was semi-private, lasted three hours and 18 minutes. Press attendance was sparse compared to the Oscar ceremony, and the dinner was not televised. It hearkened back to an earlier Hollywood, the Hollywood of the silent and early sound eras that Kevin Brownlow has written about, before the Academy Awards ceremony became a media-drive event.
Awards Daily.com, “Jean-Luc Godard unaware of Oscar; Kevin Brownlow bewildered by urgent news”
Los Angeles Times, “Honorary Oscar recipients named”