The Daily Pulse:

Stark Love Gets its Due

The Oct. 14 New Yorker offered what was a startling graphic, for some of us, concerning a local subject we got to know pretty well for a Metro Pulse story a long time ago.

Back in 2001, we ran a feature about a then-obscure silent film called Stark Love. Made in 1927 with a cast of non-actors, it's a gritty, shocking, unfairly stereotypical but sometimes beautiful movie about mountaineers. Pioneering director Karl Brown cast non-actors in lead roles, including two Knoxvillians, found by a scout just walking around downtown in 1927: athlete Forrest James and ingenue Helen Monday (she was eventually billed as Helen Mundy). It got ecstatic reviews, with special attention to Monday/Mundy, a Knoxville High kid who lived with her mother on Branson Street in North Knoxville. A scout discovered her hanging out in a downtown Knoxville soda fountain. For a few months, Hollywood seemed to expect the young woman with the arresting eyes would be the next big star. But Monday wasn't sure acting was for her, and dropped out of show biz. Stark Love lapsed into obscurity, long believed lost.

We told the story, 12 years ago, when there were hopes the most famous film made in the region before the 1960s might be resurrected. 

Since then, Stark Love has been screened here by the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound, and has gained a berth in the National Film Registry.

The Museum of Modern Art, which owns one of the only known copies of the film, is presenting it daily through Nov. 12, as the only silent entry in a three-film series, "To Save and Project."

Last week's New Yorker ran a color image of the original Stark Love poster, featuring the two Knoxville stars--"Forrest James and Helen Mundy give their only movie performances in 'Stark Love'"--with a writeup about the movie, emphasizing its director, known in the industry as one of the innovative cinematographers of the 1920s. Director Karl Brown "blazed a trail of quasi-anthropological naturalism," writes Richard Brody. "Brown's death-shadowed lyricisim veers into a ferocious and primal family tragedy."

If you're in the big city in the next couple of weeks, try to catch it.


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