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Friday

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 


Guillermo del Toro on the deeper meaning in ‘The Shape of Water’



 Stephen Applebaum




The film tells of a unique love story between a mute cleaning lady played by Sally Hawkins and an Amazonian-fish man played by Doug Jones 
 
Guillermo del Toro is making the biggest splash of his life with The Shape of Water. A spin on Beauty and the Beast that could only have sprung from the imagination of the man who made Spanish Civil War fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth, the film has been winning awards since taking the top prize at the Venice Film Festival last year.

Now it is the movie to beat at the Oscars in March, with 13 nominations. The bizarre love story between a mute cleaning lady (Sally Hawkins) and an Amazonian fish-man (Doug Jones) is one of Del Toro’s proudest achievements to date. He has put his next project on hold, to bang the drum for the film around the world.

“I made the big mistake of finishing Devil’s Backbone [a moving ghost story set in a Spanish orphanage] and going immediately into [vampire action-horror movie] Blade II,” he explains.

“I have the nagging notion that I should have promoted The Devil’s Backbone more, because it’s still one of my favourite movies and it’s still a movie that not many people know. And I don’t want it to happen again.”

Read the full feature here: https://www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/film/guillermo-del-toro-on-the-deeper-meaning-in-the-shape-of-water-1.699621

Interview: Steven Spielberg: The Post

I interviewed Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg about his new film, The Post. Read the interview here:

Steven Spielberg: the isolated Jewish boy who just wanted to be liked
Jewish Chronicle-18 Jan 2018

Next year he'll celebrate 50 years as a Hollywood hotshot, this year he has two films out. Steven Spielberg tells Stephen Applebaum how it all started as a way of defusing antisemitism.


Monday

Amos Gitai: West Of The Jordan River

 Amos Gitai's new documentary West of the Jordan River takes the Israeli filmmaker back to the occupied territories for the first time since his 1982 documentary, Field Diary. In it he talks to journalists, human rights activists, politicians, Jewish settlers and others about life today. I met Amos Gitai following the film's world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

You use the same music in this as you used in Rabin, The Last Day. Were the projects conceived at the same time? Did they come from the same impulse? Are they companion pieces?

"In some way, yes."

Why now?

"Because the situation is very bad. We have the most right wing government ever in Israel. I think it is doing a lot of harm to the country, but I also feel for it [Israel] a lot. There's a very narrow-minded and cynical point of view of what it should be, and so I think to myself, 'What can I do, I'm just a filmmaker?' So I'm doing a film."

You include a clip from an interview you did with Rabin in which he says he won't let the extremists derail the peace process.

"Finally they succeeded."

So the extremists are in power now?

"Yeah. Yeah."

There is talk of "neo-Rabinism" in the film as something that is required. Do you see anywhere in Israel right now where that could come from? Are there any signs of this anywhere within Israeli society?

“Netanyahu is quite a talented guy. He managed to mash all opposition forces. So at this point, unfortunately, the only opposition to the current power are these dead men. And, you know, I don't think we only have to believe in money. Or some people believe in machine guns. I think we also have to speak about memory, about ideas, and also memory and ideas that move the planet, especially being a Jew. If the Jews did not believe in ideas, they wouldn't have existed, because they were facing much more powerful empires [in the past]. So now we seem to be thinking that only the big jets and high-tech will protect them. But this is a mistake. We have to speak about ideas."

I saw a documentary about the Mossad agent Sylvia Raphael and in that a former general said Israel needed to always be preparing for the next war because if she loses one, that will be the end of her. Is that something that you recognise?

"It may be true but what does it mean to be ready? Obviously you need military power but also if you have the wrong policy, which brought the war that I was involved in, the Yom Kippur War, of complete hermetic, non-negotiable positions, it's not just the jets that will help. So with all respect to who said this, I think that it is also the lack of the political vision, the political courage to move forward, which I think is a necessity, that is the problem. I think what Rabin understood is that in order to stabilise the existence of Israel in the region, it has to find an in-road into the Arab world."

Do you think there is some lack of understanding of the Arab mentality? An Israeli woman in the group that brings together women who have lost people on both sides of the conflict - Israelis and Palestinians - talks about this. 

"I don't like the word mentality. I think that Rabin was different because he was not a racist. He was a soldier, so when there was a war he knew how to fight. But he didn't have a racist attitude to the other side, and this is necessary. If you have the complex of supremacy or a racist, or you think we are so smart and the other one not, you will never make peace. It's not only a question of concessions or territory. It's a question of attitude and what kind of Middle East you want."

Do you regard policies adopted by the present Israeli government as racist?

"I think there are a lot of racist policies, racist laws, and I think that they will weaken Israel. They will make it more hermetic. They don't want to teach Mahmoud Darwish [a Palestinian poet/author regarded as the Palestinian national poet] poetry in school, and I think that is a mistake because you're not obliged to adhere to everything he says, but you have to know what the other side thinks. This kind of Sovietic [sic] way of thinking about culture, about education, intervening in the nomination of the Supreme Court by politicians, will only weaken the institutions that Israel will need to survive in this region. It's not such a friendly region, so you need to have openness. You need to present a different model and not try to integrate negative aspects of other countries of this region."

Is the way that the Israel-Palestine conflict viewed too manichean?

"The narratives are all wrong because I think that the conflict is not between a group of angels and a group of bastards. I think both groups are angels and bastards at the same time. And I think the portrayal of some group as angelic will only prolong the conflict. I mean neither is angelic, so let's not kid ourselves. Like I say in the film, when Rabin gave the order to withdraw from the Palestinian cities was the worst [period of] Palestinian suicide attacks in Tel Aviv, and obviously that allowed the ultra right to delegitimise Rabin and eventually to kill him. So there are no angels. Let's leave this vision. Let's work for reconciliation and peace in a serious way, and not like the current government is doing - just spinning some media provocations. I think that this will create a lot of harm to Israel."

You've said young film-makers are having to sign something for the Minister of Culture. You seem to be an independent voice who no one's managed to tame. Have there been any attempts to put pressure on you?

"Well the Minister of Culture doesn't like everything that I am doing, which is her right. But I don't ask everybody to agree with me. I also don't agree with them, so it's fair enough. And I don't have the malady of some of the showbiz colleagues that want to be loved by everybody. And anyway, I don't love everybody myself. So I also think it's fair enough. No, you know, I am just an architect to start with, and I am into building bridges and against people who want to burn bridges all the time. I think it's a complicated area, in a very bad historical phase, and we have to keep trying to do it. And I think these very courageous groups of human rights organisations, Israelis and Palestinians, deserve all the homage and not all the curses that they get from the Israel right wing. I think they're great."

These groups are liberal in their thinking. What do you think of BDS?  

"I'm not for boycotts because I think we need a dialogue. And I think the government is applying its own boycott on all these human rights organisations, so they're not in the perfect position to speak about boycotts. They ask that groups like Breaking the Silence are not to speak in schools. They instructed all the schools to never allow them to speak to young people and for a Minister of Education never to accept it, and for a Minister of Culture to close two galleries, private galleries, which invited them to speak out. They restrict financing to all these groups and closed the capacity of this group called Rabbis for Human Rights to help the Bedouins. These are pure acts of boycott by the government. So they're not in a good position to speak about boycotts."

With regards to the Bedouins, is what we see in the film, with the school, a consequence of the Land Regulation Act?

"Yes. The Land Regulation Act is basically about trying to annex, in one way or another, more chunks of the West Bank."

There is a lot of mirroring that goes on throughout the film, which reflects your earlier contention that both sides are made up of angels and bastards. 

"That's why I'm not for boycotts because we have to keep the flow of ideas and dialogues against the ..."

You have I think it is three Haaretz journalists in the film.

"I think they are great. They're, in a sense, the only independent opposition now. In a way they are much more effective than all the parliamentary opposition."

I think what I liked is that you have a spectrum of views from them in the film which isn't reflected, quite often, in the way that people sometimes talk about the paper. Some people even say it is an enemy of Israel.

"Yeah. Yeah."

Was it intentional to show that there is a spectrum of opinion within the paper rather than being just a bloc?

"Sure. I think it's very impressive that they exist."

One of them suggests that Israel can either be a Jewish State or a democracy. Do you think these things are mutually exclusive, that Israel can be one but not the other?

"You know, I'm not making direct comments on the film because I'm not for the Michael Moore type of cinema. Even if I may agree with him politically, I don't like this kind of documentary which is too manipulative, even for the 'good causes'. For me it's a kind of mistrust of your viewers. So for me, when I see these kinds of documentaries, I start to mistrust their argument and for me it has the opposite effect. I don't like propaganda, even from the people I agree with. I like freethinkers. So my films are, in a way, calling for interpretation, not consumption."

One of the interesting things about the film, and one of its ironies, is that the way people in it talk about the settlers we're expecting them to be foaming extremists when we meet them at the end. But the two young women you speak to effectively embody the spirit of Rabin. One was stabbed and still wants to be able to live with Palestinians. Rabin talks about reaching out to the enemy and that is exactly what she wants to do.

"Exactly [agreeing that they embody the spirit of Rabin]. So that's why I think we have to collect contradictions. If we want, really, to bring change, we have to speak to everybody. And we have to solicit forces wherever we find them if we want to create this change and not pre judge, and speak openly and refuse racist tendencies which are in this current government. But also do the same judgement on ourselves."

The settlers are often regarded as a barrier to peace. Do you see them that way?

"Again, I'm not going to give you my political solution unless I'm elected with a vast majority of the Israeli people. Then I have a very clear programme."

Would you ever run for office?

"No."

You prefer the independence of being a filmmaker?

"Absolutely." 

West of the Jordan River  will screen at the ICA on November 23rd, followed by a Q & A with Amos Gitai

For tickets go to https://www.ica.art/whats-on/west-jordan-river-qa

Thursday

"I really love James Bond" - John Woo

John Woo got tired of making big budget movies and went back to his roots with the action thriller Manhunt. Expect doves, motorbikes, balletic gunplay and corny dialogue. I caught up with him at the Venice Film Festival following the film's premiere. 

How do you feel about being referred to as legendary by your fans?
"I'm not a legend, I'm just a filmmaker. Thank you, anyway. I like film and I'm not trying to be humble when I say I'm still a student. I like to learn from world cinema. I can learn so many things by watching all kinds of movies."

The beginning and end of Manhunt are steeped in nostalgia for classic cinema. Does this reflect how you feel today?
"Yeah, I like the old-time movies. 1960s and 1970s were the best years for cinema. There were so many great masters and so many great movies, and so many great creations - they give us so much inspiration. Now movies seem a bit empty. I love European films, though. I think they're much better than Hollywood."

The original Manhunt movie from 1976 was very serious, very masculine, and you have added a lot of humour and two female assassins. What was the thinking behind your version?
"Since we couldn't get the rights to the old movie we made it from the original novel [Hot Pursuit by Juko Nishimura]. It's got the same storyline, but because we couldn't do anything from the old movie it allowed us to make up some new scenes and gave us so much freedom. We could do whatever we liked and I used it to go back to my old style. The original movie was a little too serious; I like to make action with more comedy."

You do seem to be consciously looking back to your early films here, perhaps referencing The Killer and Hard Boiled. Did you make Manhunt for your fans?

"For the fans, and also for myself. I had made too many big-budget movies and I got fed up. When a few of my big-budget movies became hits, I became established as a big-budget film director, and I never liked it. The more money you get the more pressure you have, and it takes away the joy of making films. All you do is deal with the numbers, with the budget, and it's no fun. Everybody kept saying about 'the numbers, the numbers', and it wasn't about the shot any more. I hated it. I wanted to go back to a much smaller kind of film and do something like The Killer: a thriller. With Manhunt I had more creative freedom to do that."

So did you fall out of love with filmmaking for a while and need to find a way to fall back in love with it?

"Yes, and I did it with this film. And future projects will do the same thing. So my next project is an American production and kind of like a Killer-type story. We're going to be shooting in European countries." 

You made Manhunt in Japan. Was it a good place to work?
"I love the Japanese crews. We used 90 per cent Japanese on the film. They are very professional. They can work 12-16 hours a day without any complaint. They enjoy the filmmaking and also are very warm, but sometimes it is very hard to tell what they are thinking, because their expression doesn't change. I was so amazed about the people there, though. When we needed a lot of extras for big scenes, people volunteered. And they brought in their own costumes, no matter what kind of scene. I was so moved. But I would say it's not easy to shoot a movie in Japan because there's so many rules. It's hard to shoot any scene on a busy street. Even a little busy street, we had to shoot a scene in different places." 

Manhunt feels like a John Woo greatest hits movie. There's car chases, knife fights, fist fights, people on motorcycles, doves. Is there any particular action scene that you especially liked doing?
"I like the jet ski chase on the river and the two men with two guns. When they are handcuffed together and have only got one hand left and they're each holding a gun and shooting at the same time, it looks pretty much like one man with two guns."

How do you work with your action choreographer? Were the scenes you mentioned your idea?
"Mostly they're my idea. When I was younger I choreographed all the action by myself. I could jump up on the table and dive on the ground. In the old time, for some of the Hong Kong movies, some directors, when they didn't know how to shoot the action, they gave the scene to the action director to do it, and it became two different styles. I didn't want to see that happen in my films so I controlled everything and designed everything. Even the camera work and editing, I did it all myself. In the meantime I still cared about my actors. The actors I've worked with, like Chow Yun Fat and John Travolta, none of them was a real fighter. Tom Cruise was a little better. And Nicolas Cage. But I still care about the image, how they hold a gun, how they fight, what they wear, and I did it all by myself because I know how to make actors look good. I know how to create a hero. So that's why I needed to care about everything. I even designed the action for the female heroes."

After Manhunt I would love to see a James Bond movie directed by you.
"You know, I really have been thinking about making one, if I have a chance. I met the producer many, many years ago. They were interested in me making one, but somehow I didn't. But I am still looking for it. I really love James Bond."

You have a scene with doves in Manhunt, which I first saw years ago in your film The Killer. What first inspired you to use doves, and do they mean anything?

"It was by coincidence. When we were shooting the ending scene [for The Killer] on a church set, the movie was so heroic and so romantic that I just tried to find a way to show the true spirit of the two guys - the cop and the killer. They both had been misunderstood by the world, so I thought about what kind of montage shot I could use to show their real heart. All of a sudden I said, 'Oh, let's get some white doves. When our hero is being shot, or dying or something, I will cut in to the white dove flying over a candle, and when the two shots are linked together, it will let the audience feel their real hearts. It will be beautiful.' It worked pretty well, but it wasn't easy to shoot. We did one shot and the doves flew away. So we had to buy new ones every day. Anyway the shot was so good, it became one of my trademarks."

Before you made films, you actually wanted to become a Christian minister. Is there a connection with the doves there, too?
"Yes. In the old time, when I was younger, I worked with a church. Every week there was a new theme and I used to draw the poster for them, and I usually used a white dove as a main theme."

In Manhunt the hero is a lawyer. What do you know about these people?
"I have a good lawyer friend, and of course I know the business. But for our new story, using a lawyer meant we wouldn't get into trouble with the politics, like if we made him a military guy. The main thing for me in the film is the friendship. I tried to send a message that even though we come from different cultures, and there's something unhappy between the Japanese and Chinese, we can work together. That's why I shot it in a humorous and fun way. I tried not to take things too seriously. Life is too short. We should find a way to appreciate each other, not hate each other."