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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: 

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

Regards, Stephen Applebaum 


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."

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