HOLLYWOOD: A Celebration of the American Silent Film

Hollywood DVDThe Thames TV documentary series HOLLYWOOD: A Celebration of the American Silent Film, by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill, was begun thirty years ago. It is out of print, and nowhere to be found that I can see, except for scattered VHS copies for sale. A 4-disc DVD edition that had been planned apparently never went into production, and there is no tentative release date for it.

I am considering posting the complete HOLLYWOOD series, transferred from LaserDisc video. The earliest I would be able to begin doing this is mid-April. If you’re someone who would be interested in seeing this — or you would like to prevent me from putting the series online — please add a comment or drop me a note at the address on my “Contact” page. Thanks.

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Blog of Douglas E. Pratt

75 thoughts on “HOLLYWOOD: A Celebration of the American Silent Film”

  1. Your quit welcome…This is the MAIN problem with Compilation Series…The original source material comes from a vast number of individuals and institutions for a AGREED upon period of time…It’s a “SIN” because these films which are featured deserve to be given the AUDIENCE they deserve…Kevin whom I’ve met and has helped me on several occasions with RESTORATION projects is a DARLING of a man!!! TRULY!
    He has stated himself that it’s a VERY LIMITED market…Do in part to the STUDIOS and VIDEO companies LACK of INTEREST in the material, also the cost is outrageous when and if they do see the light of day.
    I’ve worked for MOMA and they SUCK!!…I personally witnessed COUNTLESS REELS of Original Nitrate Based film tossed away….Because of the TRADE OFF SYSTEM…We have this amount of money and it would serve best(PROFIT for them)..to save this and discard that!!!
    WE NEED to PRESERVE are film HERITAGE…80 percent of all silent features are considered LOST!…and 50 per cent of (GET THIS) sound film is considered LOST!
    BROWNLOW’S Doc’s are so IMPORTANT in simulating INTEREST in this WONDERFUL ART .I have all his doc’s now (just received the NAPOLEON-1927-Abel Gance DVD)..and will be UPLOADING all of them…PLEASE feel free to contact me with and needs for Silent and Early cinema History….I’ve over 5000 Dvd’s..16mm.35mm..etc
    All the best


  3. Sounds great, Bruce! Besides the video capturing of “Hollywood” I did on the computer with a Pinnacle PCI-Pro, I made a test copy of the first LD side directly from my Pioneer LD-V8000 to a standalone Panasonic DVD recorder, using a single-layer DVD-R and compression set to “best” mode (1 hour recording). The picture quality is indistinguishable from the original LD. Telling everybody that we are capable of doing this will make them want their own DVD copies all the more, of course. BTW, Kevin Brownlow is in New York right now.

  4. I’m in the midst of transferring all the episodes from a pristine LD to author my own archival DVD of this series. 676 minutes of transfer time and then it’s going to take another two weeks of encoding to .M2V format to be utilized on 9 GB dual layered DVDs. I also like doing my own box art to make my home videos look extra professional. Did the same with my archival copy of Moroder’s “Metropolis”:


  5. I’ve been looking for this series for years. I’ve seen bits and pieces of the series on you tube and have been trying to buy the random episode from time to time whenever I can find one. Quality is poor on these old VHS tapes. Any avenue available for you to post or share somewhere for educational and non revenue purposes? If you can place on DVD I could pay for the cost of the transfer and then donate them to the local library.

  6. Being the fan I am of the “Hollywood” series, and of Mr. Brownlow, I wish I could do more than I did, but from the outset I have said I will not make DVD’s of the series. I pulled the videos that were here because my previous web hosting service said I was using too much space and was pulling the plug on the site. It was extremely aggravating moving the site to another service. The process was so painful I almost abandoned the blog.

    But it isn’t just my concern that I’ll go through the same thing with the new hosting service that prevents me from posting the videos again. I don’t want lawyers breathing down my neck.

    I know for a fact that complete, uncut copies of the thirteen FLV files, 512×384 pixels, are out there. The only thing I can recommend for now is that people connect on forums and swap the files, and watch them using Real Player.

    Kevin Brownlow is about to be awarded an honorary Oscar, and I would like to think this will give him more leverage to make the DVD set a reality. What makes sense to me is TCM (Turner Classic Movies) getting involved and helping to clear the legal obstacles that are preventing this superb documentary series from being available.

  7. If you’ve already done the video capture from the original laserdisc, what would be the chances of you burning the series on DVD – I’m sure that many people (myself included) would ‘donate’ a fee to yourself ( incl p&P ) for services rendered in this regard.

    The wait for this to come onto DVD as a kosher boxset, due to the legal wranglings that we all know about, doesn’t look likely to end anytime soon, so come on, do us all a favour!

  8. Doug — I dunno. I’m still thinking about it. It’s a complicated thing to contemplate. Right now I don’t see a wholesale re-posting of series as a possibility.

    What I *might* do is re-post them singly, one at a time, for a short time each, after providing prior notice for everybody to be on the lookout. Then I’ll delete it and move onto the next installment. Downloading can be as simple as installing the Real player and enabling the download feature.

  9. any updates on your progress? the Hollywood series is my favorite of all time on Hollywood. there are complete sets on Amazon but they’re expensive. thanks.

  10. JoeE — Thanks for this information! “Four Horsemen” is certainly a very important film, even if one is interested more in the cinematography than its star-making significance for Valentino. I’m amazed that the rights to material this old can be held up because somebody has the misguided notion that they should hold out for a better deal, when there is none to be had. If something never sees the light of day it’s not going to make any money anyway, so what’s the point of withholding it, especially when the market for it is so small? I can understand why Brownlow is so frustrated. Perhaps it would help if Turner Classic Movies were to get involved.

  11. I heard Kevin Brownlow talk last night at a presentation of the restored “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (1921). There were many questions from the audience about getting his projects released on DVD, but he seemed very frustrated about dealing with the studios (copyright owners) particularly for the “Hollywood” series. It originally aired in England in 13 primetime hours, which he said would never happen these days. He was more positive about getting some of his other restorations released.

  12. I can put the series back online anytime I want, but I suspect an alarm would ring at the shared hosting service, because of the massive amount of storage it would eat up. With shared hosting, “unlimited storage” is a come-on. If you really do start to use substantial amounts of data, they’ll notice. That’s what happened with my old service, and I’m still hassling with them to allow transfer of the registration of the DogRat.com domain name.

    The alternative is a more expensive web hosting service called Virtual Private Server, which would guarantee memory, CPU, and disk capacity. I am planning to make the jump to VPS, but I have serious reservations about posting “Hollywood” again, because of the little matter of copyright. A comic book creator who I respect greatly, named Colleen Doran, has had a significant influence on my re-thinking of copyrighted material and what is, and isn’t, OK to put online.

    And thanks for the supportive words!

  13. Hi, i have had this site bookmarked for a few months with the intention of watching all the episodes once my exams were over. Thought id take a sneaky peek before 16th June(exam date) and am disappointed to hear about the trouble you have been having.

    This really is an iconic series that should be re-released and treasured by the people who love it most. Not sure what the legal ins and outs are but if anything it would make money rather than lanquishing in a vault.

    Anyhow, i wish you luck with trying to get it online again and if there was an email group wanting to watch them, im first on the list!

  14. I went through a tough time when I had to pull everything from the old hosting service. At this point I’m not so sure I’m comfortable with putting the series back online. Brownlow himself doesn’t have control over the material.

  15. I’ve been looking for this series for so long- can’t believe I missed it while it was here!

    Will bookmark this site in the hopes that “Hollywood” will be back.

  16. You missed it! I had posted 12 of the 13 parts, but then the web hosting service said I was using up too much storage, and I was ordered to pull all audio and video files. I was unhappy with the service anyway, and I temporarily stopped blogging until I decided if I wanted to move to another service or quit all together. As you can see, I moved, but it wasn’t fun. Before I can think about putting ‘Hollywood’ back online I will have to move again to a host that offers something called Virtual Private Servers.

  17. Hi Doug, am so excited to see that there may be a chance of viewing Browlow’s Hollywood series. Am unable to locate the installments on your site… has the link been dropped or am I going blind? I don’t see any links on the banner. Thankyou so much

  18. Thanks, Ali. I agree with you, of course. The merely curious aren’t the ones who would buy anyway. The rest of us will buy no matter what. The remastered Beatles CDs are proof of this.

  19. Well, here’s my message to those legal types:

    “If anything, I think that your post has generated added interest to the series and will benefit them more than it will hurt. I saw the episodes back in the mid 80s when they were played on PBS (I believe) and have ever since been enthralled by it and never forgotten it. And, like most if not all who have enjoyed your posting, I will definitely buy it if/when it is released on DVD.” Those who buy these sorts of things are generally “completists” and total fans – they will invariably buy the best version available even if they already own a lesser version. I will even venture to say that many out there who own the VHS set will jump at the chance of buying it on DVD.”

    While I missed out buying the VHS set in time before they disappeared, I did manage buy Brownlow’s Cinema Europe on DVD.

  20. You’re welcome. Only a couple more to go. As I’ve made a point of telling others via e-mail, the moment I receive a message from a legal type, or someone representing Brownlow, the page will be gone in two seconds.

  21. Doug, I have to really thank you for keeping this going. It is certainly a lot of effort solely for the benefit of the rest of us and I am very appreciative and I am sure the rest of your readers are too.

  22. Brilliant. Thanks so much. I had the box set of the series on VHS when it was released but the tapes haven’t held up and the image and sound are all screwed up – very wobbly and unwatchable. I feared I’d never get to watch the whole thing again. I’m a huge fan of Brownlow’s work, including the book this series was based on “The Parade’s Gone By” and his other documentary series “The Unknown Chaplin” (also narrated by James Mason) and his earlier dramatic works “Winstanley” and “It Happened Here”. Can’t wait to see the remaining episodes. Thanks again.

  23. Doug,

    Thanks so much for posting these. I’ve been searching to purchase this series for a very long time. A full set hardly ever comes up for sale, and when they do, they are at offered at a crazy price (there is a set currently on Amazon listed at $999 – that is absolutely ludicrous). I am looking forward for the next installments.


  24. Thanks for what you’ve put up so far. They broadcast every episode ‘Down Under’ about seven years ago. I’ve transferred eight of them onto DVD but had VCR problems resulting in faulty picture quality on the other two. Can’t wait to see them again. Cheers and thanks. Glenn

  25. Many thanks for posting the first episode and also for the very fast response. It is always great to know there are many others out there that recognize this gem of a documentary (or even other such painstakingly put together things). What would we all do if we were only left to the whims and tastes of the masses?

  26. I briefly had “The Pioneers” posted, but then I found a problem with the video player. After about 35 minutes the picture freezes and sound continues. You can click past that point to continue, but that’s not how it should work.

    I have looked into what can be done to get around this problem, and so far haven’t found a completely satisfactory solution. As soon as I finish entering this I’ll put the video back up, so you can see what I’m talking about. Look for “HOLLYWOOD” on the banner. Eventually I’ll get it sorted out and try to get the entire series online.

  27. Hello – did you manage to upload the Hollywood series by Kevin Brownlow or have you given up on it? Frankly, I was crushed (just a mere few days after first being elated to see the DVD version appear on Amazon UK) when I heard it had been withdrawn.

    It is one of those ‘holy grail’ things for me. I kick myself for not picking up one of the last VHS box sets I saw some many years back (around 2003). It was at normal retail price at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square. At the time I though that it was just a matter of months that it would be out on DVD. Then a couple of years later it seemed it was finally happening and then…well you know the rest.

    I have been searching on-line to see if it is available as a ‘rapidshare’ or ‘torrent’ download and there seem to be some promising hi-quality downloads but I just can’t get into them.

    Any suggestions, any help, would be much appreciated.

  28. I would gladly pay you for good quality DVD transfers from laserdisc. This is one of the most important TV documentary series ever made and should be made available by whatever means!

  29. The DVD set was stopped for legal reasons, apparently. Don’t know the specifics. When I get started on this I won’t be blogging it. The installments will just start showing up on a page next to the Art Gallery link. Each program will be in two parts, of about 25 minutes each.

  30. I would really like to see this series come out. I truly don’t understand who could object to a nearly thirty year old TV series being released. Unless they very, very, mean.

  31. Yes. I loved the series when it was out originally. And it is a magnificent, inspiring educational tool.

  32. I would have started doing the video capturing by now, but my primary computer is having trouble and needs to be restored to the factory image, which is way back at XP SP2. This will be a painful process, so I’ve been putting it off, but I’ll get to it.

  33. You would be doing fans of this genuinely brilliant documentary series a major favour. Not being able to see this series again is a great personal loss to me.

  34. Yes, it should be seen. It’s a work of genius, that has been hidden for too long. I’ve read elsewhere that it is unlikely to be released due to claims on some material included. Given that most involved are long deceased, it seems totally unreasonable to stop material being showcased in this great series.

  35. I’d be hugely interested for my dad, for whom this is the holy grail he’s been looking for…!

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