Summer Reading Challenge 2019: Noir City Sentinel Annual 3
Noir City Sentinel Annual 3: The Best of the Noir City Sentinel 2010
Eddie Muller, publisher
Donald Malcolm, editor
Michael Kronenberg, designer
Bill Selby, Noir City Sentinel banner
Film Noir Foundation
Trade paperback, ISBN 9780982297322
Imagine picking up a newspaper back in the day when people actually picked up newspapers rather than tablets and smartphones. Imagine that you want to check the box score of last night’s Red Sox/Yankees game, or see what shape your stocks are in, or maybe to just take a peek at what’s happening in the world. Forget it. The Noir City Sentinel masthead simply reads, “No Stocks, No Sports - All Noir, All the Time.” My kinda paper.
The Noir City Sentinel began in 2006 as a four-page online newsletter available to donors to the Film Noir Foundation. The Sentinel expanded to a bimonthly journal, and in 2010, into a multimedia e-magazine produced quarterly and sent to subscribers and supporters of the FNF. The best of these articles, essays, interviews, reviews, and features appear in the yearly anthology volumes (now called the Noir City annuals). As the back cover of each annual states, the Noir City anthologies are “a compendium of essays, interviews, profiles, tributes, and reviews selected from the _________ (year of publication) issues of Noir City, a quarterly e-magazine exploring all the aspects of cinema’s most stylish and durable artistic movement… FILM NOIR.”
Although the word “Sentinel” was dropped after the third volume, the Noir City annuals have changed very little from their early days. (The current Noir City Sentinel, a double-sided print broadsheet/program, is still around, available at Noir City film festivals.) Then and now, annuals are filled with essays on films, writers, directors, actors, cinematographers, and producers, as well as tributes, film appreciations, profiles, and reviews of contemporary film noir titles. More importantly, each issue is packed with superb articles, interviews and reviews from exceptional writers. These annuals are tremendous, but if there’s any bad news, here it is: the annuals only represent half of the material you’d get as a subscriber to the Noir City e-magazine.
The e-magazines are typically built around a theme, such as International Noir, Headshrinkers, Women in Film Noir, TV Noir, or the most recent issue (#26) featuring Real-Life Noir Cases. Since I’ve been researching British noir this summer, I decided to read Noir City Sentinel Annual 3, which includes the essays “British Noir: A Climate of Fatalism” and “A Common Language: American Expatriate Directors in British Noir,” both written by Imogen Sara Smith, “Striking Back: The Have-Nots in the Sordid Underbelly of British B Noir” by Guy Savage, and “Dark Crescendo: The Forgotten World of Bargain-Basement British B Noir” by Don Malcolm.
The value of the Noir City annuals is threefold:
(1) The depth of these articles is astonishing. Consider Annual 3’s first essay, Imogen Smith’s “British Noir: A Climate of Fatalism,” which quickly establishes just one difference between American and British noir: the anxiety and post-war unease that Americans faced in the shadows of an otherwise radiant prosperity, contrasted with the Brits as they sought to continue coping with rationing, shortages, and other constant reminders of the war’s aftermath. Smith brilliantly unpacks this with just one sentence from her first paragraph:
“The dreary, stoic texture of postwar British life is richly evoked in Robert Hamer’s It Always Rains on Sunday (1947): bickering families, haddock for breakfast, slovenly landladies, backyard bomb shelters and leftover blackout fabric, noisy street markets, whiny small-time hoods, impassive bobbies, and the conviction that a ‘cuppa’ tea will cure anything.”
Smith continues to examine the fatalistic postwar mood in Britain by citing other titles which touch on the class system, crime and the black market, gothic and psychological melodrama, and more. All of this makes for a quick overview, yet the essay’s tendrils reach deep, which brings me to the second reason these pieces are so valuable:
(2) The articles connect with and support other essays, allowing the reader to both reinforce what they’ve just learned and also add to that knowledge. Again, using Smith for an example, her second essay, “A Common Language: American Expatriate Directors in British Noir,” examines several American filmmakers and actors who sought work after the HUAC blacklist. Their unique perspectives, combined with the topics covered in Smith’s previous article, create a greater understanding of postwar British society and the films from that era.
(3) Even if you don’t want to dwell on these themes and subjects in greater depth, these essays provide readers with a wealth of titles, directors, writers, and actors to seek out and enjoy. I guarantee your “To Watch” lists will grow exponentially with each article you read.
The inclusion of the best articles from each quarterly e-magazine serves to strengthen their themes without weighing the annuals down with just one or two larger topics. Regardless of the year, each annual contains a wide variety of material. In Annual 3 alone you have the aforementioned articles on Brit noir as well as essays on noir in the ‘60s, narration in film noir, true crime noir, syndicate noir, radio noir, profiles of Jack Webb, Eleanor Parker, Georges Simenon, and others. Recurring sections include “Noir… or Not?” (with such films as Nora Prentiss, Dementia, On the Waterfront) and the “Book Versus Film Comparison” section (To Have and Have Not, The Big Clock, Cell 2455, Death Row).
I’ve just scratched the surface of what’s in Annual 3, and remember, this is only half of what you get in the quarterly e-magazine. The quarterly e-magazine other advantages over the print annuals in that it is in color, is interactive (with links and film clips), and is searchable. A donation of $20 or more will get you a year’s worth (four issues) of the Noir City e-magazine, which include everything I’ve already mentioned plus the work the FNF is doing in film restoration, Noir City film festival event news, and everything else a film noir fan could ask for. I’m a print addict, so many fans both subscribe to the e-magazine and purchase the annuals.
Okay, here’s the bad news (which really isn’t all that bad): the early Noir City annuals (everything before Annual 11) are out of print. You can find them selling for big prices online, but you can have everything in them (and more) by purchasing back issues of the Noir City e-magazines for $5.99 each.
The current Noir City Annual features writing by Editor-in-Chief/Publisher Eddie Muller, Jake Hinkson, Vince Keenan, Steve Kronenberg, Farran Smith Nehme, Alan K. Rode, Imogen Sara Smith, and more. And I challenge you to find a better art director/designer than Noir City’s own Michael Kronenberg. Regardless of where you decide to start with the Noir City annuals or e-magazines, you can’t go wrong.
This review is part of the 2019 Summer Reading Challenge, which I hope you’ll check out (and also participate in) at Out of the Past: A Classic Film Blog.