In praise of little magazines

Night and Day is relaunched.

Night and Day, a literary magazine founded and run by Graham Greene in the early 20th century, survived for six months. The fact that it is remembered at all is testament to the extraordinary hold that small magazines are capable of exerting on the memories of publishers and writers alike. It's odd, after all, that a publication that wobbled into existence so briefly should prompt two 21st-century publishers to declare that they intend to relaunch it "to celebrate our imprints' rich and illustrious history"; to "bring forth... the vagaries of publishing life and an enviable slice of literary heritage".

But what is this history, and why is it worth celebrating?

The pedigree of the magazine, in its original form, is undeniable. It carried articles, comment and fiction by Louis MacNeice, William Plomer and Herbert Read; Evelyn Waugh, Elizabeth Bowen and Cyril Connolly. Yet what the magazine is most famous for is its explosive end at the hand of its editor. Naughty Greene wrote the review that brought the law knocking on the door with charges of criminal libel underarm. Shirley Temple, the child star of a new film called Wee Willie Winkie, was alleged to be a figure of the "dubious coquetry" and "dimpled depravity". Serious charges indeed. MGM tried to sue, Chatto & Windus were forced to discontinue publication, and Greene was never to forgive the dastardly WH Smith, who refused to have the infamous issue on their stand.

The opening pages of a relaunched Night and Day carry a statement of their predecessor's aim -- to showcase "a wealth of talent, invigilating over a mad world". The sentiment is noticeably wilder than the staid words of the magazine's current publishers -- and the thought of Greene and Waugh as "invigilators" is a delicious one.

The question remains: Night and Day is "hoping to establish itself once more as an irreverent but relevant literary magazine", but can literary magazines be both irreverent and relevant, or do the words just sound pretty in tandem? Parisa Ebrahimi and Tom Avery, of Chatto & Windus and Jonathan Cape respectively, are presumably not "celebrating" the loose-cannoned ways of their magazine's glory months -- they've tempered such tendencies with "heritage" and "publishing life". And this is no bad thing. Their first edition bears a stable mix of the writerly and the publishy, has a warming little picture of a beaming Jonathan Cape on the back and rides on a self-proclaimed relevance.

Perhaps such magazines are best left to be run by publishers. Writers don't seem to have done very well. Emerson's late 19th-century Dial ("Let it be one cheerful rational voice amidst the din of mourners and polemics", he declaimed, in what I imagine to be a threateningly delighted manner), didn't last very long under his leadership. Its revival in the 20th century saw it carry the first publication of T S Eliot's The Waste Land in the US, as well as Yeats's "The Second Coming". Eventually, Marianne Moore took to somewhere near the helm (she was managing editor), and the ship obediently sunk.

Likewise, Athenaeum, also now dead, didn't really begin to do well until an academic took the lead. Earlier days saw its chief poetry critic, Theodore Watts-Dunton, take it upon himself to look after notorious poet Algernon Swinburne in his Putney residence. An otherwise decent man, Watts-Dunton is occasionally criticized for hindering Swinburne's progress on an erotic sadomasochistic novel.

The Criterion, meanwhile, remains the most famous example of a literary magazine run by a poet and making a success of itself, even amid the arguments between Eliot, Middleton-Murray, Mansfield and Lady Rothermere -- there's an excellent account of these covert literary bitchings in a recent piece in the London Review of Books, and the letters between the four have recently been published. It must be remembered, however, that Eliot was not just a poet, but a senior publisher with Faber.

Night and Day might just have found its solution.

ANTONIO OLMOS / EYEVINE
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How Ken Loach's radical vision won him a second Palm d'Or

In Loach's films, authenticity is everything, and when his quest for realism pays off, there's nothing as raw in all of cinema.

On 22 May, at the age of 79, Ken Loach became the first British director to win the top prize twice at the Cannes Film Festival. His previous Palme d’Or, in 2006, was for The Wind That Shakes the Barley, which dramatised the British occupation of Ireland and the origins of the IRA. This time, he won for I, Daniel Blake, the story of an ailing carpenter wrongly declared fit for work by the callous UK benefits system. No wonder Ed Vaizey, the culture minister, could issue only the most grudging acknowledgement, alluding vaguely to “Brit success!” in a tweet that failed to mention either Loach or the film.

The actor and Cannes jury member Donald Sutherland, on the other hand, called I, Daniel Blake “an absolutely terrific movie that resonates in your heart and soul”. It was an incongruous delight to see Loach posing before swarms of paparazzi. He usually disdains such frivolities; he might be red but he’s hardly red carpet. “As a film-maker, you’re forever involved in things that constantly inflate their own importance,” he once complained. Artifice, hyperbole and celebrity hold no appeal. Even film-making itself is full of irritating impediments. “If Loach could make a film without a camera, he would,” said Trevor Griffiths, who collaborated with him on Fatherland (1986).

Authenticity is everything. Unusually, Loach shoots in sequence, even if it requires moving back and forth at great cost between locations. In the days of celluloid, he would forfeit much of his fee to buy more film stock so that his beloved improvisations could roll on and on. When I visited the set of Carla’s Song near Loch Lomond in 1995, Loach gave the actor Robert Carlyle a good-natured ticking off for speaking to me between takes. “I’d rather he didn’t talk to anyone,” he said, “because then he’ll start thinking about things in terms of technique and who he really is, and it’ll all become conscious.”

When the quest for realism pays off, there is nothing as raw in all cinema. Think of the chilling attack on a family home by loan sharks in his 1993 drama Raining Stones, one of the films that began his most successful period, or the climax of Cathy Come Home, made for the BBC in 1966 and arguably his most groundbreaking film. As Cathy (Carol White) has her children taken off her by social workers and police, Loach films the entire traumatic episode in a wide shot with a hidden camera to preserve the reality. The movie led directly to the founding of Crisis.

Conversely, Loach at his worst can be one of the most simplistic sentimentalists out there. The characterisation of the salt-of-the-earth heroes in recent films such as Jimmy’s Hall and Route Irish, or the pantomime-villain Brits in The Wind That Shakes the Barley, shows what happens when action is overpowered by agenda.

Born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, Loach read law at Oxford but became seduced by theatre directing and acting: he was in a revue for which Dudley Moore composed the music, and understudied in the West End in One Over the Eight. He joined the BBC in 1963, where he brought extra earthiness to Z-Cars before finding his ideal outlet in The Wednesday Play slot that went out after the news. “We were very anxious for our plays not to be considered dramas but as continuations of the news,” he said. He made ten TV films under that banner but it was with his second movie, Kes, in 1969, that he took flight, proving that the gritty and the lyrical need not be mutually exclusive.

His politics was fully formed by this point. Though he has rejected claims that he is Marxist or Trotskyist, he admits that the analysis to which he turned after his disillusionment with Harold Wilson in the mid-1960s was a Marxist one. “The idea of a class analysis was the one we identified with,” he said of himself and his collaborators the producer Tony Garnett and the writer Jim Allen. “What we realised was that social democrats and Labour politicians were simply acting on behalf of the ruling class, protecting the interests of capital.”

This stance was consolidated by a series of run-ins in the 1980s, when he saw his work banned and thwarted by political forces. The transmission of his four-part 1983 television documentary Questions of Leadership, which asked whether the trade union leadership was adequately representing its members’ interests, was delayed and blocked by Labour string-pulling. Which Side Are You On? – a documentary about the miners’ strike – was rejected because of footage showing police violence.

Since his full-time return to cinema in the early 1990s, acclaim has eclipsed controversy. Even if he had not won a Palme d’Or, his stamp is all over other directors who have won that award in the past 20 years. The Belgian social realists Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Rosetta, The Child) have never hidden their debt to him, while recent winners such as Jacques Audiard (Dheepan) and Cristian Mingiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days) exhibit his mixture of directness, compassion and realism.

If there is anything that defines him, it is his fight, which has made it possible for him to remain one of cinema’s angriest and most effective voices. “In the long term, I guess I’m optimistic because people always fight back,” he said. “The reason to make films is just to let people express that, to share that kind of resilience because that’s what makes you smile. It’s what makes you get up in the morning.”

“I, Daniel Blake” is released later this year

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad