Best Local Mainstay (2010)

Darrell Stuckey

Before a movie plays at the Gusman Theater, Darrell Stuckey lumbers to his balcony box two floors above the stage. He puts on the slippers he keeps there, sits on his wooden bench, and with the push of a button, turns on the wind turbine on the other side of the stage that powers the 85-year-old pipes of the theater's Wurlitzer organ. Stuckey is Gusman's organist, a job he's held since 1984. At 75, he's only a decade younger than the instrument he plays year-round. During this year's Miami International Film Festival — his 17th — he played ten nights in a row. A rare feat anywhere. Few theaters have Wurlitzers anymore, and even fewer use them before the projector is turned on — the organ was popular during the silent movie era, when it provided the sound effects and score to the films. As a volunteer at the Gusman, Stuckey plays at high school graduations and special gatherings, but his favorite gig is the film festival, where he plays the Wurlitzer as it was first meant to be heard. His body is not unlike his instrument: He carries it slowly up the stairs as if the whole thing were being pulled by a complicated system of pulleys and levers, each step creaking louder than the one before. But then he sits at the organ, taps the wheezy keys, and the whole theater shakes, brought back to life by a sound that's spectral and captivating — like the first time Garbo spoke onscreen.


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