To the website of freelance journalist, author and member of the Critics Circle, London Stephen Applebaum (@grubstreetsteve). All content is written by me, unless marked otherwise.

My specialist areas are film, entertainment, politics and social affairs. However, as a professional writer with more than 20 years' experience, I am able to turn my hand to almost any subject, quickly and accurately. 

Over the years my work has appeared in a wide variety of publications and different media internationally, including Dazed & Confused, Stylist, The Independent, The Guardian, The Scotsman, The Australian, The New Zealand Herald, the Daily Mirror, The Times, the Sunday Times Culture, FHM, Vogue, Time Out, The National, Manchester City Life, Dazed and Confused, Rolling Stone, The Huffington Post, The Big Issue, The Jewish Chronicle, the Sunday HeraldWhat's on in DubaiFilm Review, Total Film, MovieScopePersonal Computer World, Empire, The Sunday Times(Perth), BBC Online, The Listener, The South China Morning Post and 

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 have written a well-received e-book, The Wicker Man: Conversations with Robin Hardy, Anthony Shaffer & Edward Woodward, which is available here: 

I attend the Berlin (February), Cannes (May), Venice (September), Zurich (October) 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 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

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

 Regards, Stephen Applebaum

iHertfordshire Business Directory

The Devil and Rebecca Miller

It seems as if Rebecca Miller has been on a journey over the last decade that has brought her closer to her Jewish roots and, in some respects, led to her new film, Maggie's Plan.
The movie, her fifth as a writer-director, is not overtly Jewish (the eponymous Maggie is a Quaker), nor does it feature Judaic iconography the way that Miller's films have often featured Christian iconography. It does, however, continue a discussion about destiny and identity and freedom that she began in her acclaimed 2013 novel, and most Jewish work to date, Jacob's Folly.
During the five years she spent working on the book - an epic moral fable about an 18th-century Orthodox Jew who is reincarnated as a fly in 21st-century Long Island, New York - Miller, the daughter of the great Jewish playwright Arthur Miller and Magnum photographer Inge Morath, whose parents converted from Catholicism to Protestantism, experienced something new. "It was the first time that I really felt Jewish," she says, across a large round table in an anonymous London hotel room. "And I think it was to do with culturally understanding how Jewish I was."
Both the novel and the film share the theme of "choice versus destiny". But whereas Jacob's Folly often addressed it explicitly in angry conversations with the "Divine", Maggie's Plan slips its big philosophical ideas into a deceptively sweet, screwball comedy. The choice of genre is a first for Miller, whose films usually favour drama, and appears to have been partly a reaction to the zeitgeist.
"Humourlessness is the really scary thing right now," she offers. "I really feel that it's a time where comedy is the civilising thing. You know, intelligent, thoughtful comedy, just so we can laugh at ourselves and think about ourselves, our foibles."
In the film, Maggie (Greta Gerwig) sets out to have a baby, which she intends to raise on her own, using sperm donated by an erstwhile college friend, but her scheme is interrupted when she falls for an older married writer, John (Ethan Hawke). They seem made for each other, but when their marriage brings out the worst in John, Maggie plots to return him to his first wife (Julianne Moore).
There's a whiff of Woody Allen, a comparison not lost on Miller. Here, though, it is the older woman who ultimately gets the (slightly) younger man, gender-reversing the sometimes queasy age-gap relationships in Allen's films. "It is an inversion and it is playing Woody's game, a little bit," she agrees. "I was aware of it, for sure. It's there to be played with, and all artists play in a way."
Miller knew she was going to be an artist before hitting her teens. "By the age of 11 or 12, it seemed inescapable to me," she says, explaining that it had become clear to everyone that her creativity was her strength. "Without forcing it on me, I do think I was raised to be an artist. Like, almost cultivated. Somebody once described me as being like a racehorse that's been bred in a certain way, and I think there was a little bit of that."
She says her childhood in Roxbury, Connecticut, was "uncommonly quiet" by today's standards. "I remember we had a rowboat and a pond, and I used to go down there alone and just row around for hours, looking for frogs. I was almost in a trance." The solitude "built in me a big reserve of some sort," recalls Miller, "like a bubble that I could go inside. And I can still find that. Even in a crowded space, I can still enter that silence." Her childhood sounds lonely, I suggest. "It could be lonely at times," she admits. "But, for the most part, I wasn't lonely, I was just alone, which is different."
Her situation helped her imagination to bloom, but the directions it took her in weren't always healthy. The earliest thoughts she can remember having were about "religious things", she says -"Was there a Devil? What happened when you died?" Her mother owned a Mexican clay figurine of a chapel with people praying inside. On the roof above them sat the Devil, laughing.
"The irony that he was laughing on top of the church freaked me out so much, and really started this whole thing," Miller says. She became obsessed with the idea that the Devil lived in her house, and she got herself baptised because she feared going to Hell. Meanwhile, her parents were unaware of the darkness gripping their daughter.
"I was all by myself with that, which wasn't their fault. They were not cold people but they weren't the kind of people that were constantly asking you how you were feeling. Also, I was such a cheerful child. There was no part of me that showed what was going on. This kind of terror that was happening inside of me."
That terror fuelled her award-winning first feature, Angela, in 1995. The movie, about a highly imaginative 10-year-old girl hovering dangerously between religious fantasies and reality, was an exorcism, of sorts. But, Miller says: "I do think that my being infected by Christianity, like a kind of virus, [means] a lot of it has stayed with me, and I see the beauties of that religion, but also that there are some dangerous parts to it. And I think I was very vulnerable to those things because of guilt, and all the elements of guilt."
She wasn't drawn towards Judaism in the same way because it seemed to her like "a great male force. . . I couldn't hook on. Christianity - there always seemed to be more footholds, because it was more primitive. And there were saints and the Virgin Mary. And there were graven images, which I needed."
However, she realised while researching Jacob's Folly that there were dimensions to Judaism she'd been unaware of, and which resonated with her own interests and characteristics. When she dived into Jewish folklore, and the work of Bashevis Singer, for example, Miller realised it chimed with her own "storytelling and fascination with myth. Jewish folklore is just a goldmine of this stuff," she enthuses, "and really surreal and dreamlike."
Later, when she discovered gilgul (a Kabbalistic concept of reincarnation) and the idea of the return of the souls, and then saw how familiar it was to the family of ultra Orthodox Jews she occasionally stayed with, it made her think, "My God, this is so mind-blowing and so far away from what I thought of as Judaism."
Watching episodes of The Goldbergs, an American comedy-drama series from the '50s about a rowdy family of New York Jews, she started to recognise parts of herself in the character of the feisty matriarch, Molly. "She's like this big Jewish mother, sort of bossy and guilt-provoking, and a little bit of a caricature," Miller says. "But I was thinking, 'I'm a little like her,' and I started seeing that I have a lot of my character that's quite Jewish." She laughs loudly. "My mothering, I'm a very big mother. There's a lot of mother to my mothering. I run hot in that department."
She has three children: two sons by her husband, the actor Daniel Day-Lewis, and a step-son from his previous relationship with Isabelle Adjani. Not long after marrying Day-Lewis, Miller experienced severe writer's block and, in need of something to make herself feel useful, volunteered at a women's shelter. The experience gave her material for her first book, a collection of short stories about women at turning points in their lives called Personal Velocity.
This sudden inability to write was unusual - her mind is generally restless. Even when she isn't physically writing, she has "a story and it's like my invisibility cloak, and it's over me and kind of like protects me."
She adds: "I think that that's an extension of my childhood. Because when I was a child, I was always playing in my head. There was always some other game going on, and I don't know if it's a good thing or not. Sometimes I think it would be nice to just be able to live life, like really just live life, and have nothing else going on in my head. But whether it's a gift or a curse, that's who I am."
Given the vibrancy and vividness of her inner life, you have to wonder whether she finds it difficult balancing mundane reality and the world of her imagination.
She admits that "sometimes it can be very, very hard. But, overall, I am pretty good at focusing on my family when it's my family."
However, at "times of extreme intensity", this can still be difficult. "When I was finishing Jacob's Folly, it was really hard for me to do anything else," she says. "And when I was in pre-production on Maggie's Plan, I literally kept setting fire to the stove, to the point where my husband said:'Please, just stop cooking!'"
He may want to check that all the fire alarms are working in their New York home, because with promotional duties for the new film almost over, Miller is looking forward to her next screenplay, which she says will be more "operatic". She has also been thinking about adapting Jacob's Folly for the screen, but sees it more as a multi-part project than a movie, because of the book's scope and complexity.
"People have said, 'what a great idea.' But I have to figure out how I would do the fly. You know, what would you do with that?"

Ralph Fiennes - A Bigger Splash


Robin Hardy (2 October 1929 – 1 July 2016)

Robin Hardy, director of the classic British thriller The Wicker Man, has died at the age of 86.   

Read my interviews with Hardy, the films writer Anthony Shaffer and star Edward Woodward here:


Marc Levin on his documentary Protocols of Zion

Marc Levin talks about his provocative documentary Protocols of Zion, and the impact of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, in an unpublished article I wrote for The Independent newspaper in 2005. With antisemitism surging around the world, Ken Livingstone obscenely linking Hitler to Zionism, and recent news that Gibson is working on a sequel to his biblical blockbuster, the article feels more relevant than ever.    

The New York filmmaker Marc Levin couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The dust had barely settled over Ground Zero and conspiracy theorists were already blaming the September 11 outrage on the Jews. First there came the claim that there were no Jewish victims -- there were hundreds. Then the allegation that four thousand Jews had not turned up for work at the World Trade Centre on the day of the attack. In Brooklyn, a rumour circulated that rabbis had tipped off their congregants. Later, Levin, a humanist secular Jew, encountered an Egyptian immigrant taxi driver who put all the stories together, insisting they were true because it was written in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a hundred years ago. “At that point I was like, ‘This is insane. What should I do?’”

Levin had good reason to be shocked. One of the most infamous examples of anti-Semitic propaganda, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion originated in Czarist Russia and purports to be a Jewish plan for world domination. Yet, despite being exposed as a hoax by The Times in 1921, the book became a crucial influence on Hitler, while one of the dictator’s most enthusiastic American supporters, Henry Ford, gave away a copy with every car. Disturbingly, it now appears that a new generation is turning to the Protocols for answers to their post-9/11 confusion.

“If somebody had told me in 1973, when I first read the Protocols, that this thing would be sold on the streets of New York, and would be sold out, I wouldn’t have believed it,” gasps Levin. “To me it was like a comic book from an age that had long gone.” 

But, as his unsettling if at times funny documentary, Protocols of Zion, reveals, Levin could not have been more wrong. Whether he is talking to a bookseller in the Big Apple, the tie-wearing front man for a White Supremacist organisation in the mountains of West Virginia, or a jailed member of the Nation of Islam, the story is always the same: the Protocols are hot. Even Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, appeared to have read them when he gave his incredible “Jews are ruling by proxy” speech, a clip of which is included in Levin’s documentary, at the opening of a 57-nation Islamic summit in 2003.

Maybe we should not be surprised. What with Prince Harry wearing a Nazi uniform to a party for a wheeze, Ken Livingstone refusing to apologise for likening a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard, and the Labour Party depicting the Jewish Leader of the Opposition as a pig and Fagin on pre-election campaign posters, it is hard not to feel that there is something in the air.

Meanwhile, according to the League of Human Rights of B’nai Brith’s 2004 audit of anti-Semitic attacks in Canada, media coverage of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ led to an upsurge of attacks against the Canadian Jewish community. In America the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has expressed concern that the Easter release of the Passion Recut will lead to the film becoming “the definitive version of the Passion story for the holy season”. Given this backdrop, the issues raised by Levin’s film are worth considering now, a few months before its US release.

“There are people in their 70s and 80s, like my brother-in-law’s mother who grew up in Poland and escaped right before the Nazis, who can still remember what Easter and Good Friday meant – they would hide,” says Levin. “Even before Nazism, it was fair game to burn some temples, kill some Jews, whatever. People are still alive that lived through that, so to ignore that is crazy.”

Levin wrote to Gibson because he felt that there were questions the Hollywood star needed to address, but neither Gibson nor his production company, Icon, replied. For Levin, the issue was not so much the film’s alleged anti-Semitism as “the context": how the film was released and discussed.

“[Gibson] was very skilful at making it a war with the Jews out to get him. A number of people have written that the martyr complex and violence, the two things that are glorified and celebrated in the Passion story, are the animating imagery in Mel Gibson’s life. So he would rather see himself martyred than as a peacemaker, bridge builder, or interfaith interlocutor. It fits his own self-image maybe more to be a battler who the Jews and others are after.

“That’s what disappoints me about the re-release of The Passion,” continues Levin, whose work, including the acclaimed docudrama Slam, has always been about trying to understand people from different communities, classes, races. “The guy already made half a billion dollars. He proved his point. So now why not use the movie to build some bridges, even if it’s to the more Orthodox Jewish and Muslim communities? Because, ironically, it is the most religious that have the most in common, because they’re all crazy. But I don’t see him doing that. And I can’t believe he’s not doing that.”

Maybe Gibson simply does not care, given the views of his Holocaust-denier father. There will no doubt be some who consider Levin’s inclusion of a recording of Hutton Gibson claiming that six million Jews were not killed by the Nazis but simply “upped and left” because they have to follow the money, a cheap shot. But, as the pugnacious filmmaker rightly argues, Hutton’s views form part of the background against which The Passion should be discussed.

“[Mel Gibson] thinks everyone’s trying to pit him against his old man. Hey, you could say you love your father and your father’s a great man but there are certain things you and he don’t agree on . . . but he’s never said that.”

The Passion section of Protocols of Zion, and a troubling journey through the world of perma-smiling evangelical Christians, takes us back to the historical roots of the deicide charge which led to the hatred underlying The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the Holocaust. “You can’t ignore the question: where does all this come from?” says Levin. “It goes back to the charge that the Jews killed Christ. The Jews are evil. The Jews conspired. They’re always conspiring. So, in that context, the Passion story is radioactive.”

Nonetheless, Levin ultimately views anti-Semitism as just a part of a bigger problem of religious fundamentalism, and, apparently, as a symptom of the human condition. The September 11 attack, he confesses, “rocked some of my humanist assumptions” and awakened in him the “kind of tribal instincts that can be so destructive. That may be one of the reasons I was able to make this film when I did,” he muses. “I don’t know if I would be able to make it now. But right then, in the post 9/11 world, I felt some of that ‘Fuck it, they just blew up part of my neighbourhood. This is personal. This is war. Who gives a shit about humanism anymore?’

“That’s something inside all of us that has been manipulated and exploited so successfully by the Bush administration in our country. But this religious fanatic impulse, and how it can use some of your own humanist, democratic, tolerant and open society against you to destroy you, how you wrestle with that and not fall into the trap of just becoming a crusader who blindly marches off and creates more Osama bin Ladens, that is a dilemma. I still don’t have an answer to it.”