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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 


Mother! - The 74th Venice International Film Festival

Mother! Press Conference
Venice Film Festival

"This is my howl to the moon" - Darren Aronofsky

Darren Aronofsky - DA
Jennifer Lawrence - JL
Javier Bardem - JB
Michelle Pfeiffer - MP

Darren, you have said the film poured out of you. There is an urgency to it, and a stream of consciousness quality, as we experience it through Jennifer's character. Can you describe this urgency?

DA: “It was a strange experience. Most of my films take many, many years to come to life. Black Swan was 10 years, Noah was 20 years, and this film was five days. It was a strange thing, and I think it came out of living on this planet and seeing what's happening around us, and not being able to do anything. I just have a lot of rage and anger and I wanted to channel it into one emotion, into one feeling, and in five days I wrote the first version of the script. It just sort of poured out of me. And after that I showed it to Jennifer, and Jennifer was really excited by that idea, and suddenly we were making a movie.”

The soundscape in the film is very powerful. How did you work with your sound designer? And how did you work on the colours?

DA: “It was interesting because we started the process working with Johann Johannsson, one of the greatest composers working today, and both of us, as we experimented for months with music, realised that whenever you put music into a scene, it immediately told the audience how to feel. And the entire purpose of Mother! is it's a mystery where you're surprising the audience, you don't know where it's going to go, and we didn't want the audience to ever feel safe because Jennifer's character is constantly trying to find out what is happening to her. Any time you put music in the movie, it leaned into a certain emotion. 

"I've always been interested in sound design and I worked with Craig Henighan, my sound designer on this one like I have the last six ones or so, and it was all about bringing the audience into Mother's point of view. Because I wanted the audience to experience Mother and her take on this invasion that was happening to her, because that was the point of the movie.

And the design of the film was all about starting in a place and making it very natural and of the Earth, because we were making this big allegory, and then slowly as humanity invade they start to bring in all the different types of colour and materials that are not natural to the planet.”

Jennifer, you're used to playing strong women. Why did you sign up to play a woman playing second fiddle to a man and his needs, and what was it for you to play that?

JL: “It was a completely different character from anything I have done before, but it was also a completely different side of myself that I wasn't in touch with and didn't really know yet. We did a really rigorous rehearsal process for three months, and there was a part of me that Darren really helped me get in touch with. It was difficult. It was the most I've ever had to pull out of myself.”

Darren, about the house. Was it Paradise?

DA: “Look, we all know it, it's an old idea, that something that happens in Beijing affects us in New York City and it affects us in Italy, and you can have a beautiful place like Central Park, in New York, and then you can have Aleppo in Syria, all done by human hand, and yet most of our immediate fights are with our neighbour over where the fence is going to go. So I kind of wanted to take the idea of here we are, on this one home, and to actually reduce it to a home, and say, 'Here is our home.' Because something everyone can identify with is somebody comes over to your home and throws a piece of garbage on your floor, or burns a hole in your carpet with their cigarette, but they don't understand when they throw a piece of paper out on the street. It was very inspired by Luis Bunuel's Exterminating Angel; it took the social structure and stuck them all in one room, and watched it as it sort of unwinded (sic). So the idea was to take and sort of unfold human history. I don't want to give you all the metaphors, but you're well down the path. But the working title we used as a codename, because we didn't want the name to get out, we wanted to be secretive, was Day Six. So if you think about Day Six in your bibles, then you'll kind of figure where the film starts.”

Michelle, can you talk about your character's relationship with Mother?

MP: “I think in a review I read today they described my character as a “gargoyle”, which I rather liked. At first I thought, 'Ooh that's rather insulting', and actually it's kind of good. I guess she is somewhat of an invader but I look at it as if she's Jennifer's guardian angel, and she shows up and awakens her in a way, and becomes a mirror. She immediately sees that there's trouble in Paradise. She's a little older and a little wiser. I think she's trying to help her, in my point of view.”

JL: “I thought it was interesting because during the entire process I kept saying, 'I, Jennifer, would love this character. Somebody who blows into my house.' That's the kind of the personality that I would get along with. But as my character it was so assaulting. My character is so private and so kind of meek that it was very assaulting.”


Darren, when you take on a new project, what do you look for to push yourself as a filmmaker, and what advice would you give to a 20 year old aspiring filmmaker?

DA: “When I was 20, I didn't know what filmmaking was. But the most important thing for filmmaking is persistence and it's also you offering a story that you think is important and original, because that's all you have to offer. If you're trying to create something for a mass audience you'll never do it. You just create the story that you want to tell. That only you can tell.

With this project, there's never a preconcept of being controversial or being different, or something like that. It's always about something I feel, that comes from inside. That I go, 'Oh that's a really exciting idea.'And I can start to visualise it and I can start to hear it, and I can start to see the actors that can be in it, and it sort of all starts to come to life. And it's usually that passion, that you can't stop thinking about it, that keeps you going. And the result ends up being something the audiences receive, but that is not fully conceived when it all starts.”

One of the metaphors in the film is the vampiric quality of the artist. Javier, do you share that interpretation?

JB: “Yes. I think it's extreme, where the story goes, for us to make a reading out of it. But, as Darren said, there are many readings and it is up to you to choose the one that has the most meaning for you. At the same time it is a relationship between a creator and his creation. Call it a writing piece or a house or the Earth itself. I think it's multilayed and that's the richness of this story.”

Darren, can you talk about women coming undone by the patriarchy in Mother!?

DA: “I don't know if it's the patriarchy; I think it's becoming undone by humanity. I don't blame one gender over the other gender. I think it is about how people are insatiable. There's this endless consumption. As far as influences, I talked about Exterminating Angel. There's also a great children's book called The Giving Tree, which is a huge influence. Bluebeard, the folk tale, was an influence.

"So there were a lot of influences. But none of them really influenced it – it just came out in those five days of fever dream. And then as we tried to understand it, we ran into other influences. Like Edgar Allen Poe, of course. But it all happened in a very unconscious, fever dream type of way. And that, I think, as a result, is why the film feels like a fever. Another major influence was a book called Woman and Nature, it was a book of poetry in the 1970s by this feminist writer named Susan Griffin, who basically, back in the 70s, was making incredible connections about the environment and about feminism, which I didn't know there are actually people out there studying it, thinking about that. ”

What are your interests outside filmmaking and they have any influence on this?

DA: “I'm a pretty avid environmentalist and I'm on the board of directors of the Sierra Club, which is the oldest environmental group in the United States. We went to the Arctic, which is the last piece of wilderness of the United States, to do an expedition, and the day before we were going out we met with the nation whose land it was, the native nation, and it turned out that the chief's sister was this woman named Princess, who was a friend that I met through Sundance 20 years earlier, just randomly I bumped into her, and she told me she was working on a doctorate connecting how aboriginal women are treated and how that's directly connected to how the environment's treated. So that was intriguing and she sort of led me down this path of all these different books about it. So I think there's absolutely a connection between that and stuff I read."

Are you also talking about life after death in the film and are you an optimist about the future of the planet?
 
DA: “If you want to know my understanding of life and death, my big Venice hit The Fountain [said ironically], that's all about life after death. But am I an optimist? I'm completely an optimist about it and that's why I work undyingly to hopefully change things. America is schizophrenic. We go from backing the Paris climate agreement to eight months later pulling out of the Paris climate agreement. It's tragic but in many ways we've revealed who the enemy is. And now we can attack it.”

Where did the stuff, the nightmares, in the film come from, and is this entertainment?

DA:”Just read the newspaper, you know? Really read the newspaper and try to feel what's going on in the newspaper. Look, there's a lot of ways to entertain people. I guarantee that if you ask all those people that were engaged with the film, were they ever bored by the film? I'm pretty sure what the answer would be. There's always going to be a level of taste about how far you can go with it. But it's funny because tonight, at 3am, it's the full moon, which is perfect because I've been saying this is my howl to the moon. So, you know, I think it's a very strong cocktail, and of course there are going to be people that are not going to want that type of an experience, and that's fine. I've been making it clear that this is a rollercoaster ride and only come on it if you're prepared to do the loop-the-loop a few times.”

Mother! is released in the UK on September 15th


Saturday

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.