Appellate Judge Tom Becker is an all-American hipster.
Mike the Hippie (Asher Tzarfati) travels to Israel for no apparent reason other than he's gotten bored "bumming around" Europe. Getting off the plane in his furry vest and bare feet, he hitches a ride with a pretty girl. As they're driving, they are stopped by a pair of malevolent-looking mimes who have apparently been following Mike the Hippie all over the world.
After a quick stop at her place for coffee, sex, and a discussion about Vietnam (Mike's a vet, bad scene, Man), he invites the girl to hippie around town with him. They do, and they encounter a whole passel of hippies, whom they lead in a hippie parade to an old warehouse. Everyone laughs and sings and dances (there's a lot of that throughout the film), and one hippie announces that there's an island nearby that they can all move to and "Be Free!" More laughter and singing and dancing ensue, but then the mimes show up with machine guns and ruin everybody's day with a massacre. Bang, bang, bang! Nobody bleeds, but everybody dies. Only Mike, his girl, and the two least appealing hippies in the lot are spared. After a few seconds of mourning, the quartet takes off in a white convertible to find the island. Stopping briefly to pick up a baby goat, they drive and drive and drive. Mike falls asleep and has a dream about using a gigantic hammer to crush two people dressed up like tape recorders. They soon arrive at the desolate paradise. More singing, dancing, laughing, etc., ensue.
The island, however, isn't all lush and verdant like, say, Gilligan's Island; in fact, it looks they've paved Paradise, because this island consists of nothing but rocks.
Unfortunately, things go wrong pretty quickly, and the Free Love Party threatens to devolve into the Donner Party.
Yes, An American Hippie in Israel might start out like your basic Peace, Love, and Understanding idyll, but in its final third, it weirdly transitions into something akin to a sleazy giallo-esque creation. Our unHappy Hippies quickly turn on each other when things go awry, fighting and screaming, and the women even get into a topless boxing match. In one hilarious scene, Mike the Hippie has an intense argument with another hippie—who speaks Hebrew but doesn't speak English! And Mike the Hippie doesn't speak Hebrew! While the subtitles go wild, these two boneheads carry on Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton trapped in the Tower of Babel.
An American Hippie in Israel is a bizarre and blatantly bad film, but it's not lazy knock-off bad. It's legitimately bad, authentically bad, succinctly bad, energetically bad—bad enough that it has a cult following in Israel, where, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, people see the film multiple times, and audience members interact with it, recite dialogue with it, and sing songs to accompany the action (or whatever that is that's happening on screen). You could actually fast forward through about 75 percent of this and miss nothing, which means that there's lots of space for people to fill in with songs and acts during the midnight showings in Israel.
None of this is to say that the film is without its charms. There's a creepy sincerity to all this. I have no idea what hippies were actually like, but I'm guessing that weren't all people who never wore shoes and whose vocabulary was limited to the words "Beautiful," "Free," and "Hooray" (or comparable peppy exclamations); but for someone touristing the hippie experience, I guess this would do. The notion of free love imploding at the first sign of trouble is interesting, but the film handles that idea so clumsily, you can only stare slackjawed at the wreckage. Plus, the sincerity is mitigated by the all-out, unabashed scenes of pure exploitation.
I could go on all day about the backhanded virtues of this pastel turkey, but it's really something you should see for yourself—and there is no better way to see it (well, unless you're in Israel, really no other way to see it at all) than with this super-loaded Blu-ray from Grindhouse Releasing.
Let's start with the transfer: it's superb. Given the age and obscurity of this film, An American Hippie in Israel (Blu-ray) looks absolutely awesome. It's a vibrant, beautifully mastered picture that more than does justice to the film. The audio's a remastered DTS mono track that also sounds great, and there are subtitles in Hebrew.
This is a three-disc set. Disc One is the Blu-ray, Disc Two the DVD, and Disc Three is The Hitchhiker, the "uncensored" cut of the film. The Hitchhiker only runs a minute or so longer than the American Hippie version; plus, as it's a full frame transfer taken from a 35mm archival print with Hebrew and French subtitles burned in, so it's in pretty rough shape compared to the sharply transferred American Hippie.
There are plenty of supplements here; two screens worth, in fact. The first screen offers:
• Deleted Scenes—These are the scenes that were cut from The Hitchhiker for its American release, so if you don't want to sit through the scratchy print, you can see what you're missing here.
• Screen Tests—Just what it says, auditions for the actors, but since these segments are silent, there's not a lot going on here.
• Interviews with Asher Tzarfati and Shmuel Wolf—The American Hippie and the Hebrew-speaking Hippie were interviewed in 2009 about their experiences making the film.
• "Asher Tzarfati, an Israeli Actor in Israel"—More from the interview with Tzarfati, this segment is less "Hippie"-specific and offers more background on the actor.
• Asher Tzarfati Filmography
• Amos Sefer Biography—A text bio of the director.
• Be Careful, Children—A short film by Amos Sefer.
• "The Beverly Cinema Experience"—You have the option of watching the film with a Dolby 5.1 soundtrack of an audience watching the film in a theater; while it's pretty hard to hear the film itself, the audience reactions (mainly laughter) are funny. This is also available on the Set-up menu.
These supplements are all fine and good, but it's the second screen where things pick up:
• "A Cult Is Born"—This is a fantastic look at the interactive theatrical showings of the film in Israel, complete with audience reactions and clips of the performances.
• "Channel 10 Segment"—An Israeli news show takes a look at the American Hippie phenomenon in a pretty comprehensive 10-minute segment that includes interviews with Tzarfati and Wolf.
• "Moshe Berman"—If you're wondering, "But who would put up the money for this folly of a film?" then this interview will answer all your questions.
• "Susan Devore"—Devore was a hippie folk singer in the '70s, and she's featured in the film as (surprise!) a hippie folk singer. She shares her recollections about making the film, and makes an appearance at a screening.
• "Shmuel's Still Show"—Actor Wolf shares photos.
The set also includes a booklet with an affectionate essay by John Skipp, as well as what appears to be the original poster art for the film (which, as far as I can tell, never had an official release, thereby negating the intent of the poster art).
In addition, there's a gallery, a trailer (not the original, this one's from Grindhouse), and a pair of Easter eggs: the first, on the main menu screen, entails highlighting the word "Hippie," and it gives you an old film clip of George Jessel, who evidently acquired the U.S. rights to the film; the other can be found by going to the second Special Features screen, highlighting the "back" button, and pressing up on the remote. This gives you a segment of a Norwegian Web show called "Film Junkies" from 2011, in which two Norwegian guys dissect and mock the film.
The film is guilty, man, but the disc wins in a walk.
Overall: Not guilty. In fact, Grindhouse Releasing's work earns this a Highly Recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Grindhouse Releasing
• Deleted Scenes
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