Anne Frank to get the David Mamet treatment

Writer to script, produce and direct film based on diaries of the Holocaust victim
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The Independent Culture

He is the award-winning writer famed for tough-guy dramas like Glengarry Glen Ross and Speed the Plow. She was an attic-bound teenage girl, whose handwritten journal became one of the most potent symbols of the horrors of the Holocaust. Now, in an unlikely literary partnership, the American playwright David Mamet has agreed to write, produce and direct a new Disney film of The Diary of Anne Frank.

The project, revealed this week, will combine material from a 1950s stage play, with what Variety describes as Mamet's "own original take" on Frank's account of the 25 months her family spent holed-up in their secret canal-side attic in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam during the Second World War.

Anne's diary, which has sold 25 million copies, is regarded as one of the greatest books of the 20th century. It was first published in 1947, two years after its author died, aged 15, at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Mamet is expected to pitch the story, which has previously inspired dozens of TV, film and stage adaptations, as a coming-of-age drama. Variety predicted yesterday that his script will: "reframe the story as a young girl's rite of passage".

As a result, the film, scheduled for release in 2011, is likely to focus not just on Frank's observations about the Holocaust and the monotony of life in the confined surroundings where her family was hidden, but also on some of the episodes in her story that touch on universal themes of teenage existence.

Much of the appeal of the book, which was originally titled The Diary of a Young Girl, revolves around the manner in which it renders its 13-year-old narrator's raging adolescent hormones, and her relationship with a young refugee called Peter Van Pels who was also secreted in the attic. Several passages of the original text are thought to have revealed that the young couple had sex on several occasions, without their parents' knowledge. However, explicit scenes were reportedly edited from the published version at the instruction of Anne's father, Otto, who was the sole member of the family to survive the Holocaust.

Since Otto's death in 1980, the Anne Frank Estate has jealously guarded the rights to her story, refusing to endorse an ABC series about it in 2001.

Sensitivities surrounding that issue may have contributed to the fact that it took more than a year of negotiation by Mamet's co-producer, Andrew Braunsberg, to get approval from the Anne Frank Estate. He also cut a deal with the estates of Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, who co-wrote the original play.

Mamet, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Glengarry Glen Ross in 1984, was born in Chicago to parents of Russian-Jewish extraction. The teenage Anne Frank represents a departure from his normal oeuvre, since he tends to write about cut-throat, sexually predatory men using bruising dialogue.

The Anne Frank story is also a counter-intuitive project for Disney to pursue, since it is hardly a fairy-tale, and certainly doesn't have a happy ending. It may also represent a commercial gamble: despite being a critical success that won an Oscar for co-star Shelley Winters, the 1959 film version had a mixed box office performance.

The diary of Oleanna Frank

By David Mamet (as imagined by John Walsh)


Anne Frank's Attic

Peter: You don' mind me sayin' so, I couldn't live like this. Whole place reeks of bananas. Jeez. Look at those banana skins. You must eat a lotta bananas up here. What is that, some kinda hormone thing?

Anne: Pete, I, uh –

Peter: An' that smell o'milk. Milk an' chocolate? You sit up here nights, drinkin' milk-shakes, eatin' bananas in the dark, feelin' sorry for yourself? What are you, eight?

Anne: Pete, look, I gotta talk to ya. I gotta –

Peter: You should come down more. Hang out with me an' Gretel. Don't want people saying you're a stuck-up bitch. You know?

Anne: Pete, you don't understand. I'm –

Peter: That Anne, they say. I try an' defend you. That Anne, they say, she's some crazy bitch –

Anne: I'm a Jew, goddammit. And if they find me, they'll kill me.

Peter (pause): ... and I tell 'em, no, she just likes the attic, is all. An' she has this epidermal malfunction. Doesn't wanna go out on account of –

Anne: Did you hear me? I hafta hide on account of bein' Jewish. Don't you get it? The Nazis'll kill me if they find me. (Pause.) Cocksuckers.

Peter: So that's why your Dad built the funny, wallpapery door. In the wall. Behind the piano. I thought it was kinda odd.

Anne: An' Pete. I'm going to tell you something. You're Jewish too. That means –

Peter: My goddam parents gonna build me a funny wall?

Anne: You'll hafta share with me. In this attic.

Peter: Are you kidding me?

Anne: It's a small bed. But you get used to it. You get used to all kinds of shit in this life. And when it's cold, you can have my pyjama top, and I'll jus' snuggle. Pete?

Peter (pause): How old you say you were?

Anne: Thirteen. But I'm mature for my age. You wanna get back to Gretel now?

Peter: No, I'll stay up here with you awhile. (Pause.) Wanna banana?