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FEATURE ‌ Noir and Peace

Searching for a dark film series in a city that knows how to keep its secrets

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For moviegoers less interested in flying superheroes and swashbuckling pirates this summer, the John Rivers Communications Museum is offering something a little bit darker.

Throughout July, the museum hosts its third annual Film Noir Movie Series. Each Thursday, the museum will offer a free screening of a different film accompanied by a short lecture or discussion.

Rick Zender, the museum curator and host of the movie series, selects four or five different films each year. This year Zender chose Detour (1945), Inner Sanctum (1948), The Hitch-Hiker (1953), and The Naked Kiss (1964).

"A lot of them are out of print and unavailable, so I have to choose films that I can get copies of," says Zender. "Other than that, I just go with my own taste, but the titles play a big part in it. When you hear a title like The Naked Kiss, it perks your interest, and you go and watch the movie and it ends up being rather interesting."

"Film noir" is a term coined by French critics to describe American post-WWII films with dark cinematography, characters, and plot. Noir stereotypes include beautiful femme fatales, morally ambiguous protagonists, dark urban settings, voice-over narrations, and often less-than-happy endings.

"They were different than other crime films because in the past it was good versus bad, but in noir the good isn't always so good and the bad isn't always so bad," said Zender. "The characters are a little more complex."

Film noir traces its roots back to the German expressionist movement. Zender explains that many German directors moved to America in the 1920s and '30s and worked on horror films. When these directors switched from horror to crime fiction, they brought their stylistic approach and techniques along for the ride.

One of the most important of these techniques is the extreme difference in lighting. Aside from the subject matter, noir films are recognizable by their cinematography and the heavy contrast between light and dark.

Zender believes that noir films are more important to critics and filmmakers today than when they were first released. This "film noir revival" has had a heavy influence on many modern films, including works like Heat, Seven, and Sin City.

But Zender is hardly a recent convert. He's been a fan of film noir and horror his entire life.

"When I was a kid I loved horror movies, and as I got older I started researching the folklore of the film to see where the ideas came from, instead of just watching them.".

The museum hosts several movie series throughout the year in addition to the Film Noir Series. Series topics include different genres, directors, and nationalities. The museum has also worked with professors from the College of Charleston to provide film series for students on relevant subjects.

The Film Noir Movie Series kicked off last Thursday with Edgar G. Ulmer's 1954 film Detour. The museum will show Lew Landers' Inner Santum on July 6, Ida Lupino's The Hitch-hiker on July 13, and The Naked Kiss from director Samuel Fuller on July 20. All films are free and begin at 7 p.m. The John Rivers Communication Museum is located downtown at 58 George St.

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