THE BIOGRAPH THEATER begins a three-month series called "The Auteurs" this Friday with the Washington premiere of the newly restored silent film Queen Kelly. The auteur theory, which holds that a single directorial vision shapes the final look of a film, has been hotly debated since Francois Truffaut sketched it out in a controversial January 1954 article appearing in the French film journal Cahiers du Cinema.
Directed by the flamboyant Erich von Stroheim, "Queen Kelly" stars Gloria Swanson, who also produced the film with funds from Joseph P. Kennedy. Tales of von Stroheim's appetites and excesses are many, and it was apparently one of those decadent episodes that sent Swanson packing off the set. Von Stroheim was summarily fired, and the film, only a third done, was recut and dumped on the European market. This version of the 1928 film was restored using original production material and the recently discovered sound track, which had been ordered and supervised by Swanson.
It will run through Sunday with Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder's 1950 Hollywood Gothic that reunited Swanson and von Stroheim in an acting role (and even featured clips from the then-lost "Kelly"). On Monday, the co-feature will be von Stroheim's Foolish Wives; Tuesday it will be his Blind Husbands; Wednesday his cynical treatment of The Merry Widow.
Other delights in the auteur festival are the area theatrical premieres of Nicolas Roeg's long-shelved Eureka (with The Man Who Fell to Earth May 24-27); Jean-Luc Godard's First Name: Carmen (with his Every Man for Himself May 28-30); and Robert Altman's Secret Honor (with Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean July 19-22).
Films with brief Washington runs are also included in the schedule: cinematographer Nestor Almendros' controversial documentary on the persecution of gays in Cuba, Improper Conduct, will share a bill June 11-12 with The Times of Harvey Milk, Robert Epstein and Richard Schmieken's documentary about the murdered San Francisco city official.
The series concludes July 29 and 30, when Ken Russell's Altered States will run with his most recent effort, the controversial Crimes of Passion, starring Anthony Perkins and Kathleen Turner. Call the Biograph at 333- 2696 for a complete schedule.
Some film doings in the coming weeks:
* A seminar called "Cable Stereo: Technical and Programming Options" will be presented Tuesday at 6:30 at Studioline Cable Stereo, 11490 Commerce Park Drive in Reston. Organized by the D.C. chapter of Women in Cable, it will feature Studioline executives explaining the coming technology and exhibiting the facility. Fees are $5 for members of Women in Cable, $10 for non-members. Call 775-3644 for reservations and information.
* The Washington Film Council is sponsoring an 11:30 luncheon buffet Wednesday at the Holiday Inn of Georgetown, 2101 Wisconsin Avenue NW. It's keyed around Carry the Fire, a new short film on the 1984 Olympic torch run in which a number of local filmmakers were involved. Production manager Paul Lyons, editor post-production manager Stu Sillery and writer-producer-director Jim Messinger will discuss the requirements of filming on location continuously from New York to Los Angeles. Tickets are $11.50 for Washington Film Council members, $13.50 for non- members. Call 363-6861 by noon on Monday to reserve a seat.
* The local chapter of American Women in Radio and Television Inc. continues its occasional series "Women at the Top" on Wednesday evening at 6:30, when a panel will discuss association management. Participants will include executives from the host organization and Women in Cable, as well as representatives from the American Association of University Women and the Greeting Card Association. The seminar will be at the National Association of Broadcasters headquarters, 1771 N Street NW. Members of American Women in Radio and Television will be admitted free; non-members will be charged $7; students will pay $5. Call 638-2800 for reservations.
* Montgomery College professor and local actor Will Bellais will be leading a number of film and video performance courses beginning June 3. A 10-week program called Introduction to Film Acting will run in three sections beginning June 3, 5, and 6 from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. The fee is $255. A second course, Voice For the Actor, will begin August 6 (same hours) and continue for three consecutive Tuesdays after that; this advanced class costs $100 and covers comedy acting, voice and diction, character acting and continued dramatic studies. Admission is for those 18 years or older, and requires an audition and interview. For an appointment, call 762-1164.
Lloyd Rose, who writes theater and film reviews for The Atlantic and The Washington Weekly, will offer the final discussion in The Mary Pickford Theater's Washington Film Reviewers series when she introduces Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter this Monday at 7:30. If you haven't already reserved a free seat in the tiny Mary Pickford house, do so by calling 287-5677 Friday or Monday between 8:30 and 4:30.
THE PAGES OF FILM HISTORY -- Birthday greetings on this date to Fred Astaire (born Frederick Austerlitz), announcer Gary Owens (a regular on the original "Laugh-In") and Ann Myrtle Swoyer, who, after changing her name to Nancy Walker, established herself as a light comedian in such films as "Best Foot Forward" and later in TV supporting roles on "McMillan and Wife" and "Rhoda."
Saturday's birthdays include those of comedians Phil Silvers, Foster Brooks and Mort Sahl, as well as Denver Pyle and Doug McClure.
Happy Birthday Sunday to Yogi Berra, Burt Bacharach, Tom Snyder and George Carlin. Twenty-three years ago Sunday, Bob Dylan refused to play "The Ed Sullivan Show" because Sullivan wouldn't let him perform his composition "Talking John Birch Society Blues."
Eddie Cockrell is a freelance film consultant and teacher. His "Insights on Film" is heard Mondays at 5:30 p.m. on WGMS AM & FM.