Adventures with D.W. Griffith

This book is so unique, it’s more than an autobiography, and it’s more than a memoir. Adventures with D.W. Griffith, by Karl Brown, (1973), is an eyewitness account and compelling commentary of the early days of Griffith’s California, independent studio. (This was after he left Biograph Studios, located on the East Coast.)

Karl Brown started out as an apprentice assistant to the great Billy Bitzer, Griffith’s right hand (camera) man. Brown was barely sixteen years old and an amateur photography enthusiast when he lucked into a beginning “go-pher” position for Mr. Bitzer in 1914. Brown prospered artistically and financially as he learned at the feet of the masters. He stayed with Griffith for four years before he was enticed at the age of twenty to join the Paramount Studio ranks as James Cruze’s favorite cinematographer. (They made the ground breaking film, The Covered Wagon (Paramount, 1923), among many other projects.)

Brown participated in many short productions at the Griffith Studio, but the most telling and exciting descriptions are about his participation in the making of Birth of a Nation (1914), and Intolerance (1916). In his years with Griffith, Brown grew as a valued artist and as a very perceptive human being. His descriptions of production methods, and the people who made it happen, are refreshingly candid.

Karl Brown’s focus on the facts, as he perceived them, illuminates a different angle than most personal memoirs on the movie making industry. Brown helps the reader to understand the techniques involved to create a compelling, visual narrative such as Griffith envisioned. We usually read about the artists in front of the camera. After all, their lingering images transport our imagination, but the teamwork, creative output and sheer muscle and stamina to bring it all together is vividly illustrated by Mr. Brown

Karl Brown retired from the movie industry after working as an accomplished cameraman and sometime director for fifty years. (Stark Love {Paramount 1927}, is a compelling film that Brown directed and was thought to be lost until it was discovered in Czechoslovakia a few short years ago.) Happily living in obscurity, he was tracked down by the gifted and tenacious author Kevin Brownlow. The treasure trove of memories told through the skill of Karl Brown’s narration takes the reader back to a place in time that he brings alive again.

Also included in this wonderful book is an equally impressive forward by the well respected film preservationist, Kevin Brownlow. It was Mr. Brownlow’s efforts and deep drive to find Karl Brown and get his story for posterity that makes this book a treasure for any fan of the silent genre. Thank you Mr. Brownlow.

Before Karl Brown died, at the age of ninety three in 1990, he alluded that a second volume of his life covering his Paramount Studio years would be forthcoming. However, it is rumored a finished, second manuscript exists. There is no doubt that his first volume leaves the reader craving more – much more.

Madison Morrison