Harry Reems: Deep Throat, Memphis, Alcoholism, and Redemption

By Stephen Applebaum

When Harry Reems died in March in Salt Lake City, Utah, at the age of 65, it wasn’t his years spent selling property that earned him obituaries around the world. Long before converting to Christianity and becoming a realtor, Reems starred alongside Linda Lovelace in one of the most notorious hardcore sex films of all time, Deep Throat (1972), and became the only American actor ever to be convicted of obscenity. His death occurred just two months after the Sundance premiere of a new biopic about the film’s orally gifted leading lady.

Before the new film, Lovelace, was screened, Reems told reporters that he hoped it would be accurate, and that he was angry no one involved had contacted him when they were doing research. If he had viewed Lovelace before dying, he would have understood why. Constructed as two narratives offering opposing versions of the same events, the film essentially takes the line of Linda Lovelace’s third autobiography, Ordeal (1980), 
in which she claimed that far from enjoying the work that made her famous (as her previous two books had claimed), she had in fact been coerced into performing by her abusive manager-husband, Chuck Traynor, sometimes at gunpoint. “When you see the movie Deep Throat, you are watching me being raped,” 
she testified before an inquiry into the sex industry in 1986.

Read the whole article at


Kicking off over level of violence

STEPHEN APPLEBAUM, The West Australian August 22, 2013, 8:59 am
The West Australian ©
With a title like Kick-Ass, Matthew Vaughn's 2010 film of Mark Millar's cult comic book was never going to pander to finer sensibilities.
Like its source, the movie's tale of an ordinary teen turned wetsuit- wearing crime fighter was funny, foul-mouthed, and filled with deliriously splattery ultra-violence that exposed the phoniness of most Hollywood superhero movies. Bullets and knives did real damage. Characters got hurt. And died.

Oddly, though, it was a C-bomb dropped by Chloe Grace Moretz's 11-year-old assassin Hit-Girl that caused most outrage. Never mind that she also lopped off limbs with a double-edged blade and coolly shot a line of goons in the head.

Read the whole story in The West Australian:


Review: The Conjuring

Thrills and scares in The Conjuring

Stephen Applebaum

Aug 21, 2013 

The Conjuring
Director: James Wan
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor

Ed and his psychic wife, Lorraine, had been involved in the Amityville horror case – which spawned books and movies – and he believed the Perrons’ harrowing experiences were a perfect fit for film. DeRosa-Grund agreed.

Read the full review in The National:


Peter Sarsgaard: Getting Sleazy In Lovelace

Peter Sarsgaard: Doing sex scenes is uncomfortable. Doing violence is even more uncomfortable

Does your wife Maggie Gyllenhaal like it? Yeah, my wife’s groovy.

An Education and Lovelace suggest you’re drawn to nasty characters. Is that true? I don’t think of the guy in An Education as nasty. He just wants something he can’t have. The guy in Lovelace, Chuck Traynor, suffers from wild insecurity. He never grew up from being six years old and little boys hit out if they don’t like something. The only similarity is I’m an older man and they’re both younger women.

Could you relate to Traynor’s flaws? It’s so easy to tap into feelings such as jealousy and envy, they’re right up any actor’s alley. And everyone has those. You can lie to yourself and say you’re someone who doesn’t have inappropriate desires but it’s about acknowledging that you have and saying that you do.

Read the whole interview in Metro:

Barbie Mariposa & the Fairy Princess DVD launch at ZSL London Zoo, August 18

Barbie comes to life at the ZSL London Zoo
Children were wide-eyed with amazement when Barbie visited the Butterfly Paradise at ZSL London on Sunday to celebrate the release of Barbie Mariposa & the Fairy Princess.
The new Blu-ray and DVD release offers a classic computer-animated tale of good  versus evil, filled with action, slapstick comedy, music and dancing.
As well as watching the film, the throng of excited youngsters invited to the special event at the Regent's Park attraction had their picture taken with Barbie, and enjoyed designing personalised jewellery boxes and face painting, among other activities.
Meanwhile, Barbie opened her exclusive Mariposa Butterfly Trail at the Zoo, wearing a bespoke dress made in colours known to appeal to butterflies. Its attractiveness to the insects was further enhanced with various natural oils - including Lavender, Heliotrope and Sweet William - and ultra-violet patterns invisible to the human eye.
Until August 22, the Mariposa Butterfly Trail transforms the ZSL London Zoo Woodland Walk into a magical space for children and parents to explore.

Nestled in the heart of the Zoo, visitors will find out lots of fun facts about butterflies and are then encouraged to end the trail at the Zoo’s Butterfly Paradise. The giant caterpillar-shaped enclosure contains hundreds of butterflies from the tropics of South-East Asia, Central and South America and East Africa.

A free limited-edition spotter sheet that encourages children to find six specially hidden butterflies, including the stunning Barbie Mariposa butterfly, is available from the entrance gate.

Barbie Mariposa & the Fairy Princess is released on August 26
Certificate: U
Format: DVD and Blu-ray
RRP: £10.99 (DVD)/ £17.99 (Blu-ray)

For information about London Zoo visit their website:

Copyright Stephen Applebaum, 2013

Vidal Sassoon (1928-2012): "I thought if we don't fight for a piece of land and make it work, then the whole Holocaust thing was a terrible waste of time."

Two days before interviewing Vidal Sassoon, news arrives that he has cancelled all but our meeting to attend the funeral of a friend and fellow hairdresser, Joshua Galvin. I'm flattered, of course. But will the man who revolutionised hairdressing in the Swinging Sixties, and whose life is now the subject of an entertaining new documentary, Vidal Sassoon The Movie, and a colourful memoir, Vidal: The Autobiography, really be in the mood for a conversation?

On the day, he appears from around a corner in his minimalist London pied de terre - tall and slender in a black suit, white shirt, and silver-grey tie -  with a warm but purposeful manner.

Now 83, Sassoon is someone who for much of his life has been at the cutting edge. His thinking is progressive. He is an innovator. His iconic geometric cuts still influence designers. So how does it now feel to be reflecting on how a Jewish boy from poor beginnings in London's East End, became the most famous crimper in the world?

“Actually, I'm looking forward on my life,” he says, in a tone that suggests this mightn't have been the best way to start the interview. For example, he rejected his London publisher's offer of “the best ghost in town”, he says, and insisted on writing his autobiography himself. “It's the hardest thing I've ever done. But I don't sort of sit in a chair and pompously feel proud of myself about all the things we might have accomplished. The essence is, what can we do next? And will it be good? [With the book], the thought was, 'How can I improve on it?' It was always looking forwards, never backwards.”

Indeed, how else can you explain the extraordinary rise of someone whose earliest years were spent in poverty, as his mother, Betty, struggled to raise him and his younger brother, Ivor, alone? When he was five she took the difficult step of handing Sassoon to the Spanish and Portugese Jewish Orphanage in Lauderdale Road, Maida Vale. He spent seven years there, but unlike Ivor, who had joined him a year-and-a-half later and died aged 46, Sassoon says he came to terms with the experience early on. “I argued with him about this. He said, 'Why did we have to go to an orphange?' and I said, 'Because Mother had nothing, and she was being evicted.' Ivor was a wonderful guy but he had problems about being in the orphanage. I can't say I did.”

It was the first house he lived in that had a bathroom with hot water. Before that he'd been in tenements with outside toilets and kitchens with cold water. “If you live that kind of life, you never forget it,” he says. “Or you shouldn't even try to forget it. And I think it affects you politically. It has me, for sure.”

When he was 14, Betty had a “premonition” that he would become a hairdresser and dragged Sassoon to Adolph Cohen, in Whitechapel, who, to the boy's dismay, waived his usual fee and took him on as an apprentice for free.  “So I was shampooing at 14,” he sighs. “But I've always thought that had I the opportunity for an education, I would have been an architect. There's no question about it.”

A few years later he was leading a double life, washing hair and secretly fighting fascists with the 43 Group, alongside tough ex servicemen such as the war hero Gerry Flamberg (“250 pounds of muscle”). Sassoon had experienced anti-Semitic taunts as a schoolboy, but it was the Holocaust that showed him where these could lead. When Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts regrouped, “there was no question: you had to be one of the [43 Group]. I was just one of the young guys that tried to help,” he says modestly, “but the fascist party was smashed in the streets - without the help of the police, unfortunately.”

Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen and the rest had instilled a Zionist zeal in Betty and many others, and when Israel was formed in1948, Sassoon eagerly joined the Palmach – the elite fighting force of the Haganah - to help defend the fledgling state. He wanted to (and did) see action: “I wasn't going over there to sit in an office . . . I thought if we don't fight for a piece of land and make it work, then the whole Holocaust thing was a terrible waste of time. It was anyway.  But this way at least we got a country out of it.”

Sassoon might have stayed in Israel but for a telegram from Mum saying his stepfather had suffered a heart attack, and they needed him to earn money. Hairdressing was all he knew, and reluctantly he returned to the profession that he'd always felt ambivalent towards. “I loved the fact that there was lots of pretty girls coming in and out; I didn't love hair. When I came back, though, I decided to give it my all.” Israel had changed him, he says. “The sense of what we'd done gave me an enormous confidence, and I really felt as if I belonged. And, funny enough, it gave me a feeling of belonging in London, too. Or belonging anywhere: this is our world, that kind of thing.”

That confidence would help him to begin revolutionising hairdressing when he opened his first salon on Bond Street in 1954. He envisioned a new kind of styling that moved away from the backcombing, teasing and lacquering to which women's hair had been subjected, and that would be based on architecture. Whereas building design had moved on in exciting ways, hair was stuck in the past. “It had been done beautifully, it all looked very pretty, but we had to get the cut right so that it swung into position, and stayed there.”

The cuts became geometric, using bone structure as the underlying foundation. And in Sassoon's brave new world of styling, they lasted and were easy to manage. “A working girl could come in by saving a few shillings a week, and then every five weeks she'd come in and we'd cut it,” he says. “She could shampoo it under the shower, swing it and dry it off or just let it dry by itself. It changed the lives of many young girls who'd never had the opportunity before.”

It took 10 years to get the geometric cuts to work efficiently, he says. “But by 1964 half the people were walking around London swinging their heads and the hair would just fall back where we cut it.”

Caught up in the creative melting-pot of Sixties London, Sassoon worked like a man possessed. He was “crazy”, says one of his former colleagues in the documentary. “He's right,” Sassoon laughs. “And I love that because you didn't want all the sycophants in the film; you wanted people to say things they really felt.”

He could be “pretty strict at times,” he admits. “But if you were a hairdresser 50 years ago, people thought you'd either crawled down from the wall or you couldn't get a job in another field. So we had to raise the standard of the way people thought about us as well as raise the standard of how we acted as hairdressers.”

Sassoon collaborated on iconic looks with fashion designer Mary Quant, cut actress Nancy Kwan's long black tresses into a geometric bob that took him global when it was photographed by Terence Donovan and published in Vogue, earned $5000 for cutting Mia Farrow's hair for Rosemary's Baby in a boxing ring in Hollywood, sensationally created the Five Point geometric cut - “the ultimate in hairdressing as far as I'm concerned” – and went on to start (and then sell) his own hair product line.

His salon reflected the creative and egalitarian spirit of the Sixties. Socialites, actors and working women happily rubbed shoulders, while he says he benefited from the exchange of ideas that was happening in London at the time between people from different cultures and different creative pursuits. “There was this sense of being in that echelon of those that were giving out,” he remembers excitedly. "Suddenly there was just this wonderful meritocracy of people from all walks of life.”

He loved Princess Diana's mother, who although a Viscountess at the time always referred to herself as “Mrs” when she came to the salon. But despite the number of movie stars who passed through his doors, or were in his circle of friends, the only times he was ever star-struck were when he met architects. “I had been working on film people for so long, that if they were truly nice, no problem, we were nice in return. But if you got someone that's a bit snotty, we didn't need them. Truly, we didn't. But I got on with most of them fine. Albie Finney was lovely.”

As the interview comes to an end, we return briefly to Israel and whether the country today is the one he envisioned in 1948. Sassoon says they had no illusions at the time that “many in the Arab world would be anti-Israel and would like to push you into the sea . . . [Now] we have a million and a quarter Arabs living in Israel, with all democratic rights. That's really good.” On the other hand, Fatah's recent deal with Hamas was “very unforgiving” and has “put peace back.”

Reflecting on himself as a Jew, he says: “In the final analysis, because of all the things I have been through, I feel very humble, in a way, that we produced so many incredible people. And there's only 13 million of us in the world, and we still keep producing. Essentially, I just have a certain pride in the tribe.”

Vidal Sassoon The Movie: How One Man Changed the World with a Pair of Scissors is out May 20; Vidal: The Autobiography is out now, published by Macmillan


From The Vault: Kimberly Peirce - Stop-Loss









With Kimberly Peirce about to return with a remake of Carrie, we look back at Stephen Applebaum's interview with the director about her Iraq war film, Stop-Loss, from The Australian.


Armed with opinion   

US soldiers are starting to speak out about the unseen cost of going to war, writes Stephen Applebaum      

From: The Australian      

May 17, 2008 

KIMBERLY Peirce looked destined for a glittering Hollywood career when her debut feature, Boys Don't Cry, made her the critics' darling and won Hilary Swank an Oscar for best actress as murdered transsexual Brandon Teena. Instead, she disappeared.
Nine years later, Peirce has re-emerged with Stop-Loss, the latest film out of Hollywood to explore the effect of the Iraq war on American soldiers. Like Boys, it comes straight from the filmmaker's heart. But why has it taken so long?

"Boys Don't Cry was a huge passion project that I started in grad school," Peirce says. "I fell in love with that character, fell in love with the story, and that kind of set the artistic bar high for me in that it made me think I could make very personal movies that were about my family and my country, my gender and all that, through my whole career."

After Boys, she buried herself in another pet project, Silent Star, and spent two years co-writing a screenplay at DreamWorks. Peirce says she got as far as assembling a cast, then the studio decided the film was too expensive and cut the purse strings.

She was attached to various high-profile projects, including Memoirs of a Geisha, but nothing worked out, especially her desire to tell personal stories. While the studios will happily pump money into projects they've initiated, it is a different matter when a filmmaker brings an idea to them, Peirce says.

"There's always going to be this questioning of whether it's commercial or not. So that is something that you have to be careful of, because you can end up losing years of your career."

Following the collapse of Silent Star at the end of 2003, Peirce turned to an idea that had been brewing since 9/11. She used to live in Manhattan and experienced the shock of the attacks on the World Trade Centre, and the aftermath.

"New York was in this state of mourning, and then America declared war," she says. "And you could just feel, particularly as a New Yorker, that the whole culture was changing."

Fascinated by the reasons young American men, including her brother, were signing up to fight, Peirce began interviewing soldiers. Studio chiefs were interested in the stories she was hearing and asked her to develop a movie with them. Frustrated by her experiences, however, she wanted to do it alone.

"I literally just picked up a video camera and I just used all my own money going round the country interviewing people and collecting soldiers' videos," she says.

Everyone had their personal reasons for enlisting, she discovered. "For some men in America it is the way to be a man. There's a certain type of American patriotism where you put on a uniform, you go out there and you fight, and it's like the most manly thing one can do, in some people's minds. In other people's minds it was like, 'I'm willing to die to get them.' You know, they wanted to defend the country."

Different attitudes were reflected in the soldier-made videos that Peirce first came across through her brother, and they inform the tone ofStop-Loss.

"I would get a DVD of 20 videos by a unit and every guy was trying to tell their own little story in a certain way."

Some were cut to patriotic songs such as Toby Keith's Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue; others had aggressive images and heavy metal music, giving the videos a "don't f..k with America kind of feel", Peirce says. "I knew that was a new way of soldiers expressing themselves, and I wanted to capture that."

She also studied classic films, such as LaGrande Illusion (World War I), The Best Years of Our Lives (World War II), Apocalypse Now and Coming Home (Vietnam).

"I think war affects human beings similarly through history and across nations," she offers. "I think combat takes away a part of a person's humanity. Killing another person, I believe it stays with you forever."

Did her brother's Iraq experiences change him? "Yes, definitely," is as much as she willreveal.
As Peirce was working on a storyline about a "band of brothers" returning from the war, she heard from a soldier in Iraq, asking if she knew of a policy called stop-loss. She hadn't. He said it was a "backdoor draft" by which the Government was "involuntarily extending the tours of soldiers who have already fulfilled their contract, and were recycling the guys who should be getting out".

In the film, a patriotic sergeant (played by Ryan Phillippe) goes absent without leave after he is stop-lossed. The movie is driven by a fiery sense of injustice, and Peirce says she wants it understood that men who are willing to lay down their lives for the US are being imprisoned in the military system.

"As the writer-director, though, I can't make the character speak for me."

Interestingly, she says the policy of stop-loss is radicalising men who would otherwise toe the line. Like Phillippe's character, the soldier who told her about it was a true-blue patriot. And part of being patriotic in the US, at least among a section of the population, is not speaking out against the military or the government, Peirce says. "This was not a guy who was going to take to the street," she says.
"He was not a political activist. But the minute you screw his buddy, he's going to get political. Then he's going to have an opinion."

Judging by the movie's website, which provides a forum for soldiers, their families and the public to exchange experiences and views, there are a lot of people who want to be heard.

"What's exciting is being able to give voice to these people," Peirce says.

"It's up to us to speak for them, but also we have to get their voice out there."

Stephen Applebaum, 2008

Trailer for Carrie:



A Disappearing World: Chasing Ice

From the Independent:

James Balog on how photographing glaciers disappearing made him "learn the meaning of mortality", by Stephen Applebaum

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This is certainly true in Chasing Ice, Jeff Orlowski's haunting documentary about the acclaimed environmental photographer James Balog's mission to show people climate change in action.

The film combines human drama, art and science in a way that eluded An Inconvenient Truth, six years ago. That documentary – essentially a film of former US Vice-President Al Gore's travelling Powerpoint presentation about global warming – "did a tremendous global public service in bringing this story out into the general awareness," says Balog across a table in a London hotel.

However, he argues, Gore's political background "allowed the denier community to turn climate change into a political football. I think that's been unfortunate at best. In a lot of respects it's been unethical and immoral... This is a universal issue that affects us all, liberal and conservative, and it should be addressed as such."

Balog, a trained geomorphologist, admits that 25 years ago he was a sceptic, or at least indifferent to the issue, himself. Photographic projects about endangered species, tropical deforestation, and elephants being slaughtered were giving him enough to worry about. "So, when I'm hearing about climate change, back then," he says, "it's like, 'C'mon, leave me out of it. I don't want to hear about it.'"

The turning point came in the late Nineties, when he learned about how bubbles of ancient air trapped in Arctic ice were revealing a correlation between rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and human activity.

"Prior to that time I thought the science was all about computer models, and I knew that computer models were only as good as the data put in," he says. "When I realised that it was about physical evidence preserved in those layers, I thought, 'OK, this is real.'"

The story was so big, Balog couldn't avoid it any longer. He knew he had to find a way to address the issue artistically, and believed that, pictorially, the story would be in the ice in the Polar and Alpine regions.

He had already taken the photographer's first step of falling in love with his subject as a young climber and scientist. Even so, "I didn't know how to do ice in a way that would be compelling enough and unique enough and innovative enough to satisfy me," he says.

"I always have a mountaineer's mentality of wanting to go to a new summit. Do a first ascent. Do an innovation that nobody's come up with aesthetically. Then the question is, 'Oh my God, do I have the stamina to do it? Do I have the bank account? Do I want to do it?'" Through a process of experimentation during assignments for The New Yorker and National Geographic, in 2005 and 2006, he found that filtered through his lens and sensibility, photographs taken of glaciers at different times could be used to illustrate the "immediacy and reality of climate change" in a way that, hopefully, engaged people's heads and hearts.

Gripped by the idea of using time-lapse photography, he gathered together a team of scientists and technicians and created the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS): an ambitious project to place cameras in remote regions of Alaska, Iceland, Greenland and Montana, to film the changing glacier formations. First, they had to custom-build the time-lapse equipment, which, Balog was surprised to discover, wasn't available off the shelf.

"I should have spent a year doing the R&D on this," he admits. "But I needed to get my teeth into the main fieldwork as quickly as possible, because we didn't have money to keep feeding an R&D staff for a year… In hindsight that was the right choice, because it got us going and got the record moving like that," he says, snapping his fingers.

Putting his faith in untested equipment left out in ultra-freezing conditions and extreme weather "created horrendous stress," admits Balog. "The scientist-community guy may get a $500,000 grant and if his equipment works or doesn't work, he still gets a gold star for doing the science experiment. For me, there is no merit in anything for doing an experiment; I have to go home with pictures."

Normally, he'd be able to check the results instantly. This time, he had all his little "R2-D2's sitting out there on the edge of the glaciers, and they're blinking away every so often, and we say goodbye to them. They're out there for sometimes over a year, and you really have no idea [if they're working]." Sometimes cameras were buried under several feet of snow and were irrecoverable, while animals and falling rocks also did damage to equipment.

Early on, a small strip of two-sided adhesive tape holding a component in place produced errors that made Balog "freak out", because it appeared that the camera wasn't working and he'd already committed to sending a batch of the same units to Greenland at great expense.

"Literally the biggest challenge was finance to keep this thing alive," he says. "The second biggest challenge was electronics. And the biggest fear was with the aircraft." There is a hairy moment in the documentary when a helicopter engine fails, and he now reveals that prior to EIS, which is still continuing, he'd had "several near-death experiences" in other situations.

"They were incredibly scary experiences in aircraft, helicopters and small planes," he says, "and I am acutely aware of how dangerous those damn things are." If the helicopter had plunged into the freezing waters below, he would have been dead in 10 minutes.

Viewers of Chasing Ice are likely to think that the fear and risk – physical and financial – was worth it. Balog's time lapse images of glaciers shrinking are at once awe-inspiring, beautiful, chilling and elegiac. For the photographer himself, the impact of witnessing these seemingly unchanging geological structures dying has been profound. "When I worked with wildlife a lot in the Eighties and Nineties, I learnt the meaning of patience," he says. "And when I worked with trees, I learned the meaning of humility. And in this project, watching massive landforms disappear, I have learnt the meaning of mortality.

"I have been acutely conscious of it for a long, long time," he continues. "But I've learnt it at a depth and a visceral level that I hadn't before. And perhaps part of that is because I'm ageing. At the age of 60 you see how short the runway is in front of you and how long the runway is behind you, and that you don't have much time left."

Time could also be running out to halt, or at least slow down, the effects of climate change. Although Balog doesn't subscribe to the idea of a tipping point, he does think "we're at a point of crisis and serious urgency now".

I ask him if we have to be more humble in our relationship with nature.

"Unquestionably," he says unhesitatingly. "It's important to recognise that humans are not the measure of all things... The Earth is the measure of all things. We need to have a more humble view of our relationship to it, and we have to recognise that we have to have a proper reciprocal relationship with it. Or we will be the losers."

Jonathan Holiff: My Father and the Man in Black

Jonathan Holiff recalls the journey that led him to the truth about his overbearing father, Saul: the man who struggled to control Johnny Cash and his own demons.

Jonathan Holiff wanted to forget his father, Saul, after he committed “rational suicide” in 2005. They'd been estranged for decades, and Jonathan only had painful memories of the hard-drinking man whose coldness blighted his youth. He'd left Canada, aged 17, determined to earn his showbiz father's respect by bettering him professionally. Despite doing well in Hollywood, none came.

[My] entire adult life had been a knee-jerk adolescent reaction to my father's lack of approval,” Holiff says down the line during a visit to Los Angeles. “So I realised, after his death, that I was truly unhappy, and no longer had an interest in the superficial existence that I had pursued and embraced as a consequence.”

He sold his business in Tinseltown and drove back to Canada, thinking he'd also left Saul behind. However, as revealed in his compelling documentary, My Father and the Man in Black, Holiff was in fact beginning a journey that would force him to re-think his father.

Looming over their story is Johnny Cash, the Southern Baptist superstar Saul - a Jew “as serious as a heart attack”, according to band mates - managed for 13 years, before mysteriously quitting at the height of Cash's fame. When journalists and biographers started calling with questions about Saul and Johnny's relationship that Holiff couldn't answer, his mother remembered that after retiring, her husband had put his business things into a storage locker.

I was unable to bring myself to open the door because I didn't want to wade into my father's life,” says Holiff. “I was still un-evolved emotionally. I was still practising denial.”

Two months after his return, Walk the Line, starring Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter, his singing partner and second wife, opened, and people wanted to know what Holiff thought of the glossy biopic. “It seemed almost as if I was being punished at first, and certainly seemed like a conspiracy of some kind,” he recalls wryly. Nevertheless, he reluctantly went along to the cinema, and although Saul was erased from the film's “whitewashed” storyline, it was eye-opening.

I was so unfamiliar with the specifics of my father's career that not only did I not know that it was Saul who hired June and put her with Johnny professionally, I hadn't realised that Johnny was famously arrested [on drug smuggling charges in El Paso] the year I was born. When I saw that I failed to really watch the rest of the movie, because it opened a floodgate of repressed or forgotten memories of childhood.”

Holiff decided to face the storage locker. “I wanted to find out if there was anything about his children among his most important documents and archives. And the answer was, no.”

What he did find was life changing. Among Saul's belongings – which included a gold record awarded to him personally for a million-plus sales of A Boy Named Sue – were more than 60 hours' worth of intimate audio-diaries and recorded telephone conversations between Saul and Johnny. As a child, Holiff knew Cash as a “very special and kind and generous” man. Now he discovered a young, pill-popping rebel nicknamed Johnny “No-Show” Cash whom Saul struggled to manage. (He missed an entire tour just before Holiff was born, leaving Saul – as he so often would - to pick up the pieces, and worrying about money.) The filmmaker also learned that when he was nine months old, he was on the road with Cash in Toronto, in 1966, when the singer “overdosed and nearly died, and we all drove to Rochester across the border, risking arrest for the discovery of pills [hidden somewhere] in the motor-home.”

Holiff had never understood before why Saul had treated him and his brother like clients, including making them sign contracts, while they were growing up. “I realised that [Saul] was dealing with a very volatile character in Johnny Cash . . . who was very much like a wild child, and he perhaps [tried] to control us from the beginning and mould us into what he expected from his children.” Holiff rebelled, though, “much like Johnny Cash did, only not quite as famously and spectacularly.”

Walk the Line suggested that Cash gave up drugs - he didn't. The film also failed to address his becoming Born Again.

Jonathan always wondered why his father had flown into a rage when he came home from school, aged eight, and declared that he wanted to be known as John. “He absolutely blew up, and I thought he was going to physically kill me and take me apart. He said, 'Your name is not John, it's Jonathan. John is a Christian name and you shall not use it.'” Going through Saul's files, he realised that this was around the same time that another John – Johnny was Cash's stage name - was trying to convert his father to Christianity.

In a recording about his childhood, his father says he grew up surrounded by almost “palpable anti-Semitism.” Nonetheless, he remained proud of and open about his Jewish identity. One of Holiff's more surprising finds, therefore, was a photograph of Saul as Caiaphas – the Jewish High Priest supposedly involved in the plot against Jesus – in Cash's self-funded film shot in Israel about the life of Christ, The Gospel Road. Saul had never discussed it afterwards, not even with his wife.

“The conclusion we drew was that he quickly regretted having done it and it was a source of pain for him for many years,” says Holiff. In one of the actual excerpts from Saul's audio-diaries used in the film, he asserts of Cash: “He robbed me of my soul and now I think he's trying to save it for me with his fundamentalist Christianity jazz.” Not long after, he resigned.

I think he woke up and realised just how far he'd gone without perhaps even realising what he was doing,” Holiff suggests. “So I think that's the straw that broke the camel's back in their relationship.”

Listening to Saul's self-lacerating and self-aware recordings, his expressions of guilt over not being a better father, and disclosures about his own troubled upbringing, Holiff came to see Saul as a three-dimensional human being for the first time. Has he forgiven him?

Here is a guy who was wealthy, successful, had stature, was working with the biggest-selling recording artist in the world in 1970 - Johnny exceeded The Beatles' sales in the United States, briefly, in 1969 - and he never found happiness. So I was very forgiving of him.

Copyright Stephen Applebaum, 2013