It was a long time coming, and completely worth the wait. The Clarence Brown Film Festival wrapped up Sunday with a screening of The Eagle starring Rudolph Valentino, accompanied by Ron Carter on the Mighty Wurlitzer at the Historic Tennessee Theatre. It was a perfect end to a near-perfect film festival honoring Knoxville son, Clarence Brown.
The crowds were enthusiastic and seemingly awe-struck for the entirety of the festival. In fact, they were on their feet with a rousing standing ovation for Roger Clark Miller who provided a riveting live accompaniment for The Signal Tower.
We hope that East Tennesseans got a good taste of the magic of classic-era Hollywood and the genius of our 1910 UT graduate who directed the likes of Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable and Elizabeth Taylor. Seeing his work on the big screen brought home the true accomplishment of the man who made more than 50 films in only 30 years, garnering 38 Oscar nods. He deserves to be remembered across the world, and especially in his hometown.
Equally interesting in this festival was the story of cinema. So many people who previously shied away from silent films were utterly charmed by the wit and expression of Smouldering Fires. Central Cinema, who hosted the Thursday night program, was literally packed to capacity with a standing room only crowd.
Screening films of this era isn’t to be taken for granted. As we learned through talks this weekend, a huge percentage of silent era films have been lost to fire and neglect. We were immensely fortunate to be able to show the recently restored Signal Tower in the majestic movie palace on a 35 mm projector. Roger Frazee, former chief projectionist for Regal Cinemas, volunteered his time to handle the rare 35 mm print. He did so with the utmost respect and trepidation.
Congratulations all around to partners and sponsors who made this festival possible. If you were not able to make the screenings, fear not, Knox County Public Library has most of the titles available for check out.
Film of Roger Frazee talking about projecting The Signal Tower https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jq814TfV3OA
Mary Pom Claiborne is assistant director for marketing, communications and development for Knox County Public Library