Rare 1927 silent film to screen at the Tennessee Theatre

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (SUBMITTED) -- The Tennessee Theatre is offering a chance to step back in time with a showing of the 1927 Paramount silent film, “Stark Love,” accompanied by the Mighty Wurlitzer organ on Saturday, Aug. 15, at 7 p.m.

The rare silent film, which features the culture of the Great Smoky Mountains and local and regional nonprofessional actors, was nearly lost to time.

“Accompanied by the Mighty Wurlitzer, silent films come alive and are much more interactive with the audience,” Tennessee Theatre Executive Director Becky Hancock said. “Guests will be able to experience a silent film in its original movie palace setting. This is as close as you can come to an authentic silent movie experience.”

The historic Tennessee Theatre was built in 1928 – one year after sound in a feature film first was introduced with “The Jazz Singer” – but silent movies were still shown into the 1930s.

In “Stark Love,” Director Karl Brown sought to make an authentic film that featured real people in an Appalachian environment. In fact, the film’s original English titles were written in the Elizabethan dialect spoken in the Appalachian region featured in the film.

The story centers on a father and son who both are in love with the same girl. The film showcases the stunning landscape of the Great Smoky Mountains and a mostly unprofessional cast of actors from the mountain communities.

The film’s star, 16-year-old Helen Mundy, was a high school girl recruited from a drugstore in nearby Knoxville when no local would allow his daughter to appear in that role. According to a 1927 New York Times review, she was the only member of the cast who had ever seen a motion picture. The film opened Feb. 28, 1927, and was a box office flop despite positive critic reception.

Many films from the 1920s have been lost to history, and “Stark Love” was very nearly among them. Up until the late 1960s, no copies of the film were thought to have survived until documentary filmmaker Kevin Brownlow discovered a 35mm reel in Czechoslovakia with Czech subtitles.

In 1969, the Czechoslovak Film Institute donated the film to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. In 2009, the film was named to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

MoMA is lending Knox County Public Library’s Tennessee Archive of Moving Images and Sound (TAMIS) its newly preserved copy of the film for this special screening at the Tennessee Theatre. The Mighty Wurlitzer will follow the new musical arrangement by Gillian B. Anderson, based on the original cue sheets, that was prepared for the 2013 world debut of the recovered work.

“TAMIS is dedicated to preserving and promoting the moving image and audio heritage of East Tennessee,” TAMIS Director Bradley Reeves said. “The screening of ‘Stark Love’ and the other documentary and home video footage from East Tennessee that will be shown offers modern audiences a glimpse into how our culture has developed.”

The showing at the Tennessee Theatre will be preceded by an introduction by Knoxville History Project’s Jack Neely and a documentary film on the preservation of the film, entitled “Lost Masterpiece.” The screening of “Stark Love” is $9 for adults and $7 for children; tickets are available at www.tennesseetheatre.com or by calling the Tennessee Theatre box office at 865-684-1200.

The showing of “Stark Love” is part of “Southern Exposure: Great Smoky Mountain Film Festival,” sponsored by TAMIS, and runs concurrently with the East Tennessee Historical Society’s East Tennessee History Fair. Throughout the weekend, there will be numerous opportunities to experience East Tennessee history and culture.

From noon to 5 p.m. before the Aug. 15 screening of “Stark Love,” the Tennessee Theatre will host free showings of Smoky Mountain video footage from commercial photographer Jim Thompson, archived selections from WBIR-TV’s Heartland Series and other historic clips from the TAMIS vault of moonshine busts, downtown Knoxville and University of Tennessee classic football games. A portion of the footage will be accompanied by local musicians, Todd Steed, Dave Ball and The Swill Sippers.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.tennesseetheatre.com.

About the Tennessee Theatre

Located in the heart of downtown Knoxville, the Tennessee Theatre opened in 1928 as a movie palace. The Tennessee Theatre is the Official State Theatre of Tennessee and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Tennessee Theatre is the region’s leading performing arts facility with advanced technology, staging and lighting that draws top entertainment to the Knoxville area. The Historic Tennessee Theatre Foundation is a nonprofit organization tasked with maintaining and preserving the historic theater and ensuring diverse arts and cultural entertainment remains in downtown Knoxville.