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Saturday

WELCOME . . .







To the website of Stephen Applebaum (@grubstreetsteve): freelance journalist, author and member of the Critics' Circle, London .

I started out as a humble staff writer on VNU Business Publications' What Micro? magazine. After four years of working on different titles in the publisher's stable, I decided to go freelance. I branched out into writing about film and politics, and today am able to tackle pretty much anything thrown at me.

I am an experienced interviewer and have shot the breeze with everyone from Beyonce to Al Gore, Michael Moore, George Clooney, Bill Murray, Terry Gilliam, Vidal Sassoon and Jesse Eisenberg.

My work has appeared in a wide variety of publications and different media internationally, including the Guardian, The Independent, Time Out, The Scotsman, The Times, the Sunday Times Culture, Vogue Australia, What's On in Dubai, The Jewish Chronicle, The Big Issue, The Herald, Rolling Stone, The Australian, the Sunday Times Perth, The West Australian, BBC Online, The Listener, Filmfour.com, Total Film, Dazed & Confused, and Metro.

I have also been reprinted in several books, including Secrets of 24: The Unauthorized Guide to the Political and Moral Issues Behind TV's Most Riveting Drama, The UK Film Finance Handbook 2005/06, and The Film Finance Handbook - Global Edition. 

In 2008 I was nominated for an Australian OPSO award for a newspaper story about the film director Tamara Jenkins. 

In 2012, a newspaper story I wrote for The Scotsman about Robert Rodriguez supplied the concluding interview in the book, Robert Rodriguez: Interviews, edited by Zachary Ingle. 

I am the author of The Wicker Man: Conversations with Robin Hardy, Anthony Shaffer & Edward Woodward, which is available here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Wicker-Man-Conversations-Woodward-ebook/dp/B008COOH2S  

I attend the Berlin (February), Cannes (May), Venice (September),  and London (November) film festivals every year, and I am available for coverage of those events. 

If you would like to commission me, or reproduce any original features/interviews posted on this site, please email me in the first instance to discuss a project/rates, or contact me via Twitter: @grubstreetsteve. 

I am available for: 

Writing/Editing shifts
Feature writing
Celebrity interviews
Real life stories
Proofing/copy-editing
Reporting
Research 

Visit the sidebar on right for links to some of my published work, and blog archives.

Regards, Stephen Applebaum 


Dennis Gansel - The Wave: Who Would Be a Nazi?

Why do people become Nazis? This was the question at the heart of German filmmaker Dennis Gansel's movie adaptation of The Wave. Released in the UK in 2008, it now seems more relevant than ever. The following is a feature I wrote based on my interview with Gansel.  

Ron Jones made a disturbing discovery about human nature in 1967. A popular teacher at Cubberley High School in Palo Alto, California, Jones was lecturing students about Nazi Germany when he was asked how it was possible for ordinary Germans, including doctors, academics, and railway workers, to claim that they knew nothing about the the concentration camps and the mass slaughter of Jews. 

Jones, the son of a Jewish mother and Catholic father, and the first generation of his family not to be either a rabbi or a priest, was stumped. It was a good question; he just didn't know the answer. So, Jones created a classroom experiment to explore the fascist mind. 

Over a number of days, he introduced his pupils to the concepts of “Strength through Discipline”, “Strength through Community”, “Strength through Action” and “Strength through Pride”. To his surprise, they readily gave up their freedom and individuality, forming themselves into a movement called The Third Wave. Very quickly, according Jones, what began as a simulation became all too real. Students spied on one another, bullied dissenters, and reported people they felt were not taking the experiment seriously enough. Meanwhile, Jones was getting carried away with his role as leader, and losing his perspective. He had to bring the experiment to an end. So, on day five, he organised a “rally”, and added a final concept: “Strength through Understanding”. 

Jones informed his students that they had been used and manipulated; that they had “bargained their freedom for the comfort of discipline and superiority”, and had chosen the “big lie” over their own conviction. To show them where they were heading, he screened footage of the Nuremberg Rally, of marching Nazis, of the death camps, of the Nuremberg trials, of the claims of innocence and ignorance. At the end, words appeared: "Everyone must accept the blame. No one can claim that they didn't in some way take part."

Jones wrote about the events at Cubberley a few years later, inspiring an award-winning American TV movie, plays, and a best-selling youth novel, The Wave, by Morton Rhue, which quickly became required reading in German schools. This has now been adapted into a controversial thriller by the young German film-maker, Dennis Gansel, who has been unable to get the book out of his head since first reading it outside school, aged 12. 

“With our history it's a perfect cautionary tale,” he says. It made him think: Could Germany's past repeat itself, despite the ongoing education of post-war generations about their history? And would he be a follower or a dissenter in such an experiment?

The Wave (Die Welle) updates the novel to the present day and relocates the action to a modern German High School in an ordinary, unnamed town. Jones's German counterpart (subtly played by Jurgen Vogel) now lectures on Autocracy, not Nazism, because “a teacher who starts right out saying, 'Today we'll be discussing fascism' is already giving away a lot away,” says Gansel. “Calling it Autocracy sounds much more harmless to begin with, even if the social mechanisms are basically the same.” Unlike in the novel, however, the Holocaust is never discussed. No one asks why people stood by as Jews were murdered. 

“In Germany the question is naïve,” explains Gansel. “I talked to Ron Jones and he told me, 'Listen, Dennis, I was showing a film about Auschwitz to my students and this was the first time in their life they had been confronted with these kinds of pictures.'” Gansel, on the other hand, saw his first film about Auschwitz when he was a seven-year-old first grader, and it continued until he was 19 years old and did his High School exam about the speeches of Joseph Goebbels. “So the question is not, 'Oh my gosh, so what happened?' The question is more or less, 'We saw so much, so are we immune?'”

Some of the pupils in the film are blasé about the Nazis. They have heard about them so often, they're bored. “When you go to school in Germany you hear it over and over and over again, all the time, and suddenly you say, 'My God, I heard so much about it, it's absolutely not possible. Not in Germany.'” But such complacency is potentially dangerous, Gansel suggests, because the root of the problem lies in human psychology; the politics come in later. “That's what Ron Jones, told us,” he says. “The mechanics of the group works so well, in a creepy kind of a way, that it can happen anywhere.” Jones told him that during the original experiment they came up with the name of the movement and their salute before it had anything to do with politics. By the second day, however, says Gansel, “they could have filled it with any topic at all, and that's the thing about it”.

Children are especially susceptible to group pressure. The Nazis knew this and got their claws into them early through organisations such as the Hitler Youth. Gansel's acclaimed 2004 film, Before the Fall, revealed how some kids were groomed at elite schools called Napolas, and explored the seductive face of Nazism. The film was a personal journey for the film-maker: he wanted to understand his grandfather, who had taught at an elite school for young Nazi officers. Gansel dedicated the film to him, much to the chagrin of his own left-wing father. “He was shocked that I would do that, because for him [his father] was still this old right-wing guy. But I said, 'Look, Daddy, it was about understanding his way.' So I still feel there's a lot of tension. But for me it felt OK.”

The Wave is essentially a companion piece. Again, Gansel performs the risky feat of seducing the audience along with his characters, only to then pull the rug out from under them and us. To this end, the climax to his version of The Wave is more brutal than the novel. This partly reflects the violence he encountered at schools during his research, which had risen radically since his youth. Also, "as a German citizen", he felt a responsibility to say, “if you play around with fascism, this is the way it will end. And I strongly believe it,” he says. “I strongly believe if you start something like this, it will end in violence. And I thought it was very important to show that to the audience.”

The Wave has been a popular and critical hit in Germany, although reviewers and the public were divided about whether history could in fact repeat itself. Gansel is happy that people are debating the film and talking about the processes that can pave the way for fascism. “If someone strongly believes this wouldn't be possible, that this was just a one-time incident, that it will never happen again, it's fine,” he says. “I hope that's true.”

Gansel himself is not so sure. Even now, having made Before the Fall and The Wave, he still does not know what he would have done in either his grandfather's day or as one of Jones's students.

“When you talk about the World War 2 era, everybody says, 'Oh, I would have been in the resistance. I would have been Sophie Scholl.' But there was only one Sophie Scholl and, like, 5000 people that were really against the system. But what about the other 80 million? Honestly, after making those two movies, it's really hard to say if I would have been in the resistance.”


©Stephen Applebaum, 2017

From The Archive: Arielle Holmes, The Star Of The Safdie Brothers' Heaven Knows What, Talks About Her Troubled Youth

In 2014 I met Arielle Holmes, the then-unknown star of the Safdie brothers' uncompromising drugs drama, Heaven Knows What, at the Venice Film Festival. Below is a record of our candid encounter.

Arielle Holmes is sitting on the terrace of a posh Venetian hotel, trying to understand how she got here. Not long ago she was a homeless junkie, panhandling in New York's Upper West Side. Today, she is receiving plaudits for her vivid performance in an independent feature based on her life, Heaven Knows What.

I can't wrap my head around it,” she says, her big, expressive eyes hidden behind even bigger shades. “I was definitely in the right place at the right time. Met the right person.

Holmes is talking about Josh Safdie, one half of the Safdie brothers film-making team. He spotted her entering a subway in Manhattan's Diamond District while researching another film and asked if she wanted to be in the movie. It was strange, Holmes admits, but her life wasn't really going anywhere. By day she was learning to use software for designing jewellery. At night, she worked as a dominatrix named Siouxsie at a club called Pandora's Box. Parks and doorways were her home.

I figured, what do I have to lose by giving him my number? I looked him up. He made movies. So I thought, you know, maybe it'll work, maybe it won't.

As they became friends, Holmes opened-up about being homeless, her drug habit, her destructive relationship with another addict, Ilya (played by Caleb Landry Jones in the film), and her troubled upbringing. Safdie encouraged Holmes to write about her experiences. Her candid recollections – soon to be published as a memoir, Mad Love in New York City - convinced him to give up the project he was working on and bring her world to the screen.

Heaven Knows What is raw and unvarnished, and so is Holmes. She's a survivor not just of drugs and rough sleeping, but of a childhood that could have destroyed her. Instead, she recently became a client of the powerful ICM Partners talent agency, and has just been cast alongside Shia LaBeouf in Andrea Arnold's first American outing, American Honey. Not bad for someone who describes her home life growing up as “erratic and chaotic and unstable, and really, really horrible”.

As a baby, Holmes was taken away from her mother, who had a “drug problem”, and grew up, largely unwanted, with an aunt, uncle and cousins. Aged nine, she was returned to her mother, who offered her unlimited freedom. “She never gave me any rules,” Holmes recalls. “I had no consequences. I could do anything I wanted so I never had any, like, boundaries for myself. So any impulses I had, I just did them.”

At first, Holmes thought this was “awesome”. “When I was 13, my mother would buy me and my friends booze. Smoke weed with us. It was like, 'Oh, I'm so cool.'” As she got older, though, Holmes realised that “she'd never wanted to be a mother. She just saw me like a sister or a friend. She became a really bad alcoholic, and totally lost her mind. She's passed away now, but I didn't talk to her for like the last year, maybe, that she was alive.”

Holmes's tone is matter of fact. If she has any self pity, it isn't evident. These are the details of her life she is telling me, nothing more. Partly as a result of genetics, partly of upbringing, Holmes says she is “definitely predisposed to it all” when it comes to drugs. And she hasn't only used them. When she was 17, she and her boyfriend Ilya also sold them, to make rent on an apartment in Jersey City. This came to an end, however, when “Ilya decided to get some crack and smoked all our money. That was it for our drug business. And then our apartment burnt down.” Ilya was caught in the fire: “His hands got burned. He had skin grafts. All his hair burned off,” says Holmes.

She had already tried heroin by this point, but wasn't using it every day. Now forced on to the street, she found herself around it “literally 24/7”.

Everyone was on it, and just seeing it everywhere I couldn't help but do it and fall into it. But I knew exactly what I was getting into. There is a beauty to it, there is a romance to that lifestyle, and I wanted it. I knew it would bring me down eventually, but I couldn't resist it.”

There was beauty to her relationship with Ilya too, she insists, although the film focuses on the end, when he has become another destructive habit that Holmes (or Harley, as her character is called) cannot kick. She slashes her wrist following an argument with him, and winds up in a psychiatric unit in New York's Bellevue hospital. This happened, but the back story about Ilya “flipping” because Holmes “had kissed somebody else when we were together and he got really upset over it because of certain other things that happened, like in the past”, is missing. “He didn't want anything to do with me and I was just so dedicated to him,” she says. “I was willing to give my life to prove to him that I loved him.”

Described by Jones as “intense and dark”, Ilya often visited the
Heaven Knows What set, though his erratic behaviour didn't always make him welcome. In April this year [2015], several months after my meeting with Holmes, he was found dead from an overdose in Central Park. He had tried to get clean, and failed. Holmes, on the other hand, entered rehab following the shoot and got drug-free. She admits that she'd felt trapped by the lifestyle, but never believed it was impossible to escape. “I just had no idea how it was going to happen, or even if it would.”

When she was using drugs, life was a big adventure. “Everything that happens, it's like a new thing every day,” she says. Or that's how it seemed. Watching the film made her realise with horror that despite “fun things happening all the time”, she was in fact stuck.

But I learned a lot of good from [that life] too, like to always be grateful for what you have, no matter how little it is. That apartment in Jersey City, before it burned down it turned to shit. It would flood up to the knee. There were rats. And I was saying, 'Fuck! I would rather sleep on the street.” But then when I was on the street for a while, I was like, 'What was I thinking?'”




©Stephen Applebaum, 2017

Sunday

Some Reviews At Amazon For My E-Book, The Wicker Man: Conversations

In my e-book, The Wicker Man: Conversations with Robin Hardy, Anthony Shaffer & Edward Woodward, the creators and star of The Wicker Man talk candidly about the ideas behind the 1973 film, its production, and how it survived attempts to bury it,  to go on to become one of the greatest cult British films of all time. The book includes an appreciation by Eli Roth.

Buy it here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wicker-Man-Conversations-Anthony-Woodward-ebook/dp/B008COOH2S

Below are some reviewss posted by readers at Amazon. 


 

Thursday

Looking Back At The Return of Mein Kampf In Germany

Last year a heavily annotated academic edition of Hitler's antisemitic tome, Mein Kampf, was published amidst controversy in Germany. The book became an unexpected bestseller, mainly among academics and history buffs, and won an academic prize. 

Below is a longer version of an article that I wrote in advance of its publication, examining the contrasting opinions about the book's re-emergence in Germany, 70 years after the death of its author.

Many wish that Adolf Hitler's hate-filled manifesto, Mein Kampf, would simply disappear. However, with the book about to enter the public domain in Germany in 2016, the country is again having to confront one of the most charged remnants of its Nazi past.
  

Since 1945, the state of Bavaria, which took over Hitler's estate after the US occupation, has been able to prevent publication of the tome as the copyright holder. But that control will cease when the copyright expires, 70 years after the author's death, on December 31st. 


The idea of anyone being able to publish their own German-language edition of Hitler's brutal text actually in Germany has, inevitably, provoked heated debate over how the situation should be handled, and whether it is appropriate, safe or moral for the dictator's self-mythologising and virulently anti-Semitic screed to go on sale in the cradle of the Third Reich. Dr. Charlotte Knobloch, President of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria, is in no doubt about what the book represents, or what should happen to it. 


“Mein Kampf is the most evil anti-Semitic pamphlet ever published, and its repercussions were catastrophic,” she tells me by email. “It was the handbook for THE crime of the Nazis: the cold-blooded extermination of European Jews. This book needs to be locked away permanently.”


Knobloch acknowledges that the book's availability on the internet – including to Germans, who can download it from servers abroad; while anyone claiming academic research interest can buy a copy legally from an antiquarian bookshop – means that total suppression is not an option. Even so, she believes that making it widely available in print would be a step too far. 


“It should not be published in Germany, the country on whose behalf this unprecedented crime was committed. Mein Kampf was and is Pandora's Box – once opened it's impossible to re-close it, and the the evil escaping it will be impossible to trap again.”


Concerned about the potential impact of raw copies flooding the market after the December deadline, the Bavarian government gave 500,000 euros to Munich's highly respected Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ), in 2012, to help fund a critical edition that will attempt, Dr. Christian Hartmann, the historian leading the project, has said, to “defuse” Mein Kampf. 


The good intentions of the state were not enough to satisfy everyone, and Bavaria's premier, Horst Seehofer, found himself under pressure to rethink its participation. Following a trip to Israel with Knobloch, he announced that he was withdrawing funding. More outcry followed, this time from supporters of the work. Seehofer responded by withholding the government's seal of approval, but left its money to be funneled it into other IfZ research projects and replaced with funds from the institute's regular budget. IfZ will now publish the book independently.   


Asked why the government had changed its position, Hartmann says by email: “I think the state actors should answer this question by themselves. In fact, they didn't inform us on their motives when they changed their course. The state government later justified the withdrawal by stating that they didn't want to serve as 'political publisher' of a new edition of Mein Kampf."  Knobloch refers me to a December 11, 2013, story from the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in which Seehofer pointed out the difficulty of putting the government's seal on Mein Kampf after calling for a ban on Germany's far-right NPD party. 


Neil Gregor, a professor at the University of Southampton and the author of How to Read Hitler, as well as other books on the Nazi era, identifies two main fears fueling the debate about re-publishing Mein Kampf: “The first is the obvious fear that the book will become an inspiration for the far Right once again. The second is that republication will send the wrong symbolic message about contemporary Germany’s relationship to the Nazi past: that it may give the impression that the German state sees this as distant history, part of Germany’s deep past, and no longer an issue in any meaningful contemporary way.”


Since neo-Nazis have long had access to Mein Kampf, he believes that the first fear, whilst not unfounded, has been “overstated”. Hartmann, likewise, says he “wouldn't overrate the danger of Mein Kampf; the book is, in many ways, the product of a very specific historical situation and many references are not understood any more. Nevertheless, the brutal anti-Semitism in Mein Kampf demands a decisive answer.” 


Hartmann, who is a member of the German-Israelite Society, says their edition will analyse this aspect of Hitler's ideology “very, very thoroughly”.


As for what kind of message permitting republication would convey, Gregor says “one might argue . . . that it is a symbolic gesture, too - a gesture of faith in the strength of German democracy, an affirmation that [Mein Kampf] is part of a historical past to which Germany will not return.”


The expiration of Bavaria's copyright will not remove all the barriers for would-be publishers of  Mein Kampf.  “Out of respect for the feelings of Holocaust survivors and their families,” says Ludwig Unger, the press speaker for the Bavarian Ministry of Education and Science, “the State Government will utilise the existing legal framework to prevent the inappropriate dissemination of Mein Kampf after the 31.12.2015.” Simply reproducing the original text will qualify as Volksverhetzung, or “incitement of popular hatred”, explains Knobloch. “Hence one doesn't have to fear a mass publication in Germany.” What this means for the IfZ annotated edition, however, “remains partially unclear”, she says. 


Hartmann calls the situation “confusing”. “But nevertheless, it can be taken for granted that an annotated edition that critically contrasts Hitler's propaganda and half-truths with historical facts is far apart from being anything like Volksverhetzung." 


He believes that the decision to impose a block during the 50s, 60s and 70s, when many more people who lived through the Third Reich were alive, was “good and clever”. Today, though, the prohibition “seems to be an anachronism”, he suggests. “In a world without taboos, this ongoing ban could cause the wrong curiosity.”


The IfZ has already published an annotated collection of Hitler's speeches, containing many of the ideas promulgated in Mein Kampf, but the latter has accrued an almost mystical power in the decades since the war. Their edition, therefore, sets out to deconstruct and contextualise Hitler's words, using around 3,500 annotations and a detailed introduction. The scholars trace the sources – some of them newly discovered - that Hitler drew on for the development of his ideology, says Hartmann, and illustrate how the Nazi leader was the product of his time and place. “This shows, again, that Hitler was by far not the only person to be responsible for the crimes of National Socialism.”


Importantly, they underscore how Hitler shouldn't be taken at face value by exposing his many lies and false claims, as well as some of the many contradictions between his words and deeds. For example, Hitler reproaches the Weimar Republic for not doing enough for veterans of World War One. Hartmann says they show that German welfare legislation for the veterans was “exemplary”, in fact, while reminding readers that between four and five thousand traumatised veterans were murdered with gas as part of the Third Reich's euthanasia programme.


“We comment with a density and intensity that hasn't existed before regarding Mein Kampf,” he says. “The comments are designed to offer something new even to scientific specialists, but in a way that can be read and understood by a broad public . . . What we say is that we encircle Hitler's book like in a battle.”


Around 12 million copies of Mein Kampf were distributed, with all newlyweds receiving it as a wedding gift from the Nazi state from 1936. There is some dispute over whether many people actually read it – Hartmann believes it was often set aside quickly, “simply because it is very theoretical, very badly written and endlessly boring” – but should those who did have been able to see what Hitler intended for the Jews? Is the book a blueprint for the Holocaust? 


“Only partially,” says Hartmann. “What is becoming evident is the fact that Hitler was a brutal and fanatical anti-Semite. But the scientific research, meanwhile, shows that it is still a long and sometimes meandering way to Auschwitz.”


©Stephen Applebaum, 2017