BEYOND HOLLYWOOD: Noir festival’s bright future

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It’s back — though it shouldn’t come as any surprise. Last year marked the first Noir City DC, a tribute to film noir at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring.

The mystery, though, wasn’t whether the festival would become an annual event, but what took so long to do so. Film noir might have a French name and German influences, but it’s one of the most alluring of American genres.

The festival, co-presented by the Film Noir Foundation, begins tomorrow and runs through Nov. 4. The lineup of a dozen films includes popular favorites, as well as cult classics and rarely seen flicks.

“Ace in the Hole” might quality in that first category — if you can call such a bitter flick a popular favorite. It was a failure, critically and commercially, upon its release in 1951, but it’s now considered one of Billy Wilder’s most important films. Kirk Douglas stars as a reporter who sees a chance to resuscitate his career when a man is trapped in a cave — he draws out the story and the headlines by slowing down the rescue attempt.

“The Killers” is another well-known classic, here in a new 35mm print. Based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway, it shows Burt Lancaster killed in the first 20 minutes. But the investigation undertaken by Edmond O’Brien brings back Lancaster in flashbacks, as well as Ava Gardner as the woman he loved.

“Night Editor” is, the program notes say, one of the Noir City series’ most popular rediscoveries — perhaps because it’s also described as racy and raunchy. The 1946 B movie stars William Gargan and Janis Carter as a couple cheating on their spouses who witness a murder. He ends up being the cop assigned to the case — but can’t admit he saw the killing without revealing his infidelity.

There’s even — and one wonders if this is controversial — a color film noir. “Slightly Scarlet” is a striking-looking adaptation of James M. Cain’s novel “Love’s Lovely Counterfeit.” John Payne falls for two red-headed sisters; color does make it easier to identify the femmes fatales in this one.

Noir City DC isn’t the only dark festival the AFI is hosting this week. Halloween on Screen has just started, and also runs until Nov. 4. Forget the upcoming “New Moon.” This series of nine films features not just vampires but ghosts, werewolves and zombies, too.

The centerpiece is the AFI’s annual screening of “Nosferatu,” this year taking place the night before Halloween. The 1922 silent film classic by F.W. Murnau will be accompanied by original music from locals Carlos Garza (keyboard) and Rich O’Meara (percussion), who perform as Silent Orchestra.

There are other special events, too. Writer-director Herschell Gordon Lewis will appear for the screening of his 1964 film “Two Thousand Maniacs!” — he also wrote and performed the title song. The B movie follows the torture of a bunch of Yankees lured down South by the people of a town destroyed by Union troops.

Director Curtis Prather also will appear at a screening along with the subject of his 2009 documentary “Every Other Day Is Halloween.” Locals of a certain age will remember Count Gore de Vol, the TV horror host who appeared on WDCA (Channel 20) in the 1970s and ‘80s. Dick Dyszel brought him to life as well as a few other characters.

The screening of the very funny British zombie flick “Shaun of the Dead” will also have some special guests — a bunch of creatures in search of brains. The 2009 Silver Spring Zombie Walk will end up at the AFI that night after “wreaking havoc” in the neighborhood. Don’t believe me? Go to silverspringzombiewalk.com.

Details on both festivals are available at afi.com/silver.

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