An American Hippie in Israel (1972)

Amos Sefer’s long lost psychedelic diatribe against the Man has finally been brought to the light of day by Grindhouse Releasing.  Though making the rounds on the revival film circuit it will soon be released in a three disc limited edition Blu-Ray on September 10th.  Scant minutes into the film the viewer will realize they are not in Oz anymore when mimes accost our protagonist and we find they have been following him all over the world.  Surreal events continue to pop up intermittently providing both jaw-dropping incredulity and unintentional hilarity as Mike tries to lead his people to a new promised land. 

After two years bumming around Europe, US Vietnam veteran Mike (Asher Tzarfati) the hippie lands in Tel Aviv and after struggling to get a ride he is picked up by the pretty actress Elizabeth (Lilli Avidan) who asks him if he’s a hippie and why.  Before the conversation gets too far the pair are stopped by a couple of mimes who have been hounding Mike around the world.  While walking about Tel Aviv the two gather a group of free loving hippies who begin following Mike and his banner.   He preaches a Utopian ideal and wants to establish a community far from the violence of civilization.  He wants to go where, “We can live as we see fit.  Without clothes.  Without governments.  And without orders.”  Mike’s haunting mimes show up and murder the majority of the hippies leaving him, Elizabeth,  and Komo and his girlfriend (Shmuel Wolf & Tsilla Karny) to strike out on their own.  Komo  doesn’t speak English which begs the point why is he tagging along since he couldn’t understand Mike’s epic speech.

The intrepid quartet continue with their Utopian plan and row out to a craggy island located off the freeway after stocking up on supplies and a goat.  Mike wants his small community to show the world how people can really live…all four of them…and delivers his message to the world.  He tells it he hates it and it is full of shit.  Eventually the happy commune falls apart when the boat disappears and sharks block their escape from the island.  Mike’s intensity to live his hippie ideal is also his downfall as it becomes the driving force behind his will to survive and compete for the little land and very few resources left to the now marooned hippies.  The men actually devolve into growling, rock pounding savages.

There is no dearth of riffable and enjoyable moments in AN AMERICAN HIPPIE IN ISRAEL.  This movie has been playing monthly in Tel Aviv at midnight showings and hopefully it won’t be too long before it starts happening here as well.  A few of the highlights include the menacing mimes, gratuitous nudity, hippie Mike’s infinitely quotable diatribes, world domineering tape recorder headed baddies, fake sharks, tight topless babes, possibly the ugliest co-star to grace film, and the general unconventional nature of this narrative.  At one point Mike breaks the fourth wall as he stares at the viewer, “You fools.  Stop pushing buttons.  You fools.  Fools.”  I’m not sure but I think that just may be a message to the viewers.

Tzarfati is very intense and quite personable as the charismatic Mike and his hideous sidekick is also phenomenal as Wolf throws himself into the role every bit as much.  He might not speak English but the few words he does know he shouts with enthusiasm and dances and pounds rocks with gusto.  Avidan’s delivery is stilted at best but she more than makes up for it with other charms she eagerly puts on display.  Her counterpart, Karny, is better spoken but no less gorgeous.  The film looks and sounds great.  Grindhouse Releasing has taken excruciating care to restore this wacky film.  For an example, watch the deleted scenes and compare them to the finished product. 

The BD has Hebrew subtitles, English mono track and The Beverly Cinema Experience 5.1 Stereo track.  The Beverly Experience includes the raucous audience’s response to the film.  The loaded special edition includes 16mm screen tests, deleted scenes, a 56 minute Q & A featuring Asher Tzarfati and Shmuel Wolf in English and Hebrew with English subtitles,  an interview with Asher Tzarfati, Asher’s filmography, Amos Sefer biography, a silent 16mm short “Be Careful Children the Ball is Not Just Yours.”  There is also a series of reactions from Israeli’s who got to see a screening of the film with an on stage interpreter who tried to explain the film as it played.  An Israeli news segment, interviews with associate producer Moshe Berman and folk singer Susan Devore, Shmuel shows off some of his photos, a still gallery and Grindhouse Releasing trailers round out the special features.  Deleted scenes including main titles and dream sequence, intro of the mimes, lovemaking, warehouse massacre, and the end. There are seventeen trailers on the disc featuring Grindhouse Releasing’s upcoming and past releases.  The complete list of trailers: CORRUPTION, THE BIG GUNDOWN, THE SWIMMER, MASSACRE MAFIA STYLE, GONE WITH THE POPE, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, CAT IN THE BRAIN, THE BEYOND, CANNIBAL FEROX, I DRINK YOUR BLOOD, PIECES, THE THOUGH ONES, POOR WHITE TRASH 2, DEATH GAME, FAMILY ENFORCER, ICE HOUSE and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST.  The third disc is a DVD of the director’s cut THE HITCHHIKER.  The discs also come with liner notes by John Skipp.

The short “Be Careful Children, the Ball is Not Just Yours” seems like it could have been the germ that grew into the idea behind AN AMERICAN HIPPIE IN ISRAEL.  After showing children at play, the short shows some odd disturbing imagery of caged animals, marching soldiers, fire, and war footage intermingled with adults in stereotypical cultural dress indicative of several national identities.  It turns out the ball is the earth and the children are the great nations warring over it. 

AN AMERICAN HIPPIE IN ISRAEL is a message movie.  I have no idea what the message is but Amos Sefer tries awfully hard to convey one, he just doesn’t know how.  The delightfully trippie hippie flick is a lot of fun to watch alone and the experience is just magnified if you can round up a group of folks to subject to it.  If Amos Sefer were still around today I would want to let him know that I hear him loud and clear.  I have no idea what the hell he’s saying but I certainly hear him.

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