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Silent films return us to a time before loud action movies and extra-large tubs of popcorn

A huge part of a night at the movies is snacking. A bucket of soda, an equal amount of popcorn, some candy out of the box — it’s a high-energy experience, for sure.

But all that rustling of wrappers and rattling of ice can be a distraction. The cure: a silent movie.


“Picture an environment where powerful music embraces you from all sides,” Lerner Theatre manager Ellie Billey says. “You’re so drawn in by the warm sound and intense acting on the screen you forget there’s no dialogue. ‘Unique’ doesn’t even begin to describe it – it’s like nothing you’ve seen before.”

It’s an experience you can’t get at home, even with the best sound bar.

For the third year in a row, the Lerner Theatre in downtown Elkhart is celebrating cinema with its Silent Movie Experience – four events featuring some of the biggest stars, the greatest director, and grandest films in Hollywood history.

But the quality films are only half the show.

The Lerner’s original and fully restored Kimball pipe organ takes center stage the same way it did in 1924. The organists are experts in their field. This year, the fast fingers of Clark Wilson and Brett Valliant return to Elkhart to entertain with fast-paced scores during the films.

Wilson’s credentials include appearances around the U.S., including the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Valliant, based in Wichita, Kan., is another performer in demand, touring concert halls and playing everything from Wurlitzers to Hammond B-3s.

“The silent film era, to some, was the greatest era of film because the actors couldn’t rely on words to convey the story — everything has to be done just so to get the story told,” Valliant said prior to a 2015 Lerner performance. “Keep in mind that the organ will be playing the score, and people will get drawn into the story and plot. At the end of the film, a lot of people will say that they didn’t even miss the words.”

Put the elements together and it’s an entertainment experience like no other.

So what about the movies this year at The Lerner? Each is a classic.

* March 24 – “The King of Kings” (1927) retells the story of Jesus Christ’s last weeks through the vision of director Cecil B. DeMille. At the time of its release, the movie was called the world’s greatest screen epic, and still ranks as one of Time Magazine’s all-time top 10 films about the messiah.

* May 13 – “The Kid” (1921) was written and directed by its star, the great Charlie Chaplin. The touching comedy follows the story of a tramp (Chaplin) who finds a child and makes a home for him. The kid is played by Jackie Coogan, a great but challenged actor who later played Uncle Fester on TV’s “The Addams Family.”

* Oct. 27 – “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1923) features Lon Chaney as the iconic Quasimodo. The hunchback, of course, falls in love with the gypsy queen in the midst of a peasant revolt in 15th century Paris.

* Nov. 11 – “Wings” (1927) follows two World War I fighter pilots from different backgrounds who pine for the same woman, played by Clara Bow. The love triangle threatens relationships as much as the danger of engaging with the enemy in the fight.

The Lerner Theatre is located at 410 S. Main St., on the Gateway Mile in downtown Elkhart. The box office, (574) 293-4469, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday. Tickets for each individual event are $17.50 for adults, $15 for seniors 62 and older, and $12.50 for students. Series packages include all four shows and are available at a discount – $60 for adults, $51 for seniors, and $42 for students.

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