Prior to this disc release, I had never heard of An American Hippie in Israel, but being something of a fan of counterculture cinema, I was curious to see what it was about this film that prompted Grindhouse Releasing to give it the deluxe treatment.
Written and directed by Amos Sefer (who doesn’t seem to have made another feature other than this), An American Hippie in Israel stars Asher Tzarfati as Mike, the titular hippie of the title, a Vietnam vet who lands at Tel Aviv airport (in bare feet and complete with requisite beard and furry vest) with no real plans other than to live “an absolute free life in an absolutely isolated place, away from this civilization and culture of violence- without clothes, without government and without orders.” Fortunately for him, he is picked-up hitchhiking by young theatrical actress Elizabeth (Lily Avidan), who becomes instantly infatuated with Mike and his hippie lifestyle, joining him in his quest for peace and freedom. After hooking up with another local hippie couple (played by Shmuel Wolf and Tzila Karney), they head for a small uninhabited island just off the coast, only to find that the nice ideals of the counterculture lifestyle do not necessarily hold-up to the harsh realities of life and the basic instinct to survive.
There really doesn’t seem to be a lot to An American Hippie in Israel – the plot is very simplistic and surprisingly straightforward, apart from a surreal (and silent) dream sequence and a couple of gun-toting mimes who seem to be following Mike on his trek of self-discovery across the globe (while never really explained, the mimes can possibly be seen as representing society and the pressure it places on people to conform). The plight of Mike and his trio of new friends is extremely naïve – the island which they decide to live their lives on is hardly a paradise, just a small piece of bare rock that is only a couple of minutes swim from the mainland, and distinguished only by the crumbling remains of an old brick dwelling. The group abscond to the island with no thought as to dealing with the elements, and packing barely enough food and water to last them a single night. When they awaken the next morning to discover their rubber dinghy has floated away and a couple of (very slow and stiff-looking) sharks patrolling the waters, it doesn’t take long for their little community of freedom and peace to fall completely apart, as everyone starts pointing the fingers of blame at each other, and baser, almost primitive, instincts begin to take charge, and sticks start being sharpened against rocks in preparation for war.
It’s hard to tell whether Amos Sefer was being naïve when he put the film together, or if he was deliberately trying to grind its narrative drive down to its most purest, almost childlike, black & white simplicity. I tend to think the former, though Sefer certainly deserves props for creating something with such a unique flavour. A melding of arthouse, foreign and exploitation sensibilities, An American Hippie in Israel is an interesting and entertaining film, but it ultimately falls far short of being “The most psychedelic movie ever made” (as the cover boasts) and works best as an interesting but uneven curio. As the American Mike, the very un-American sounding Asher Tzarfati cuts a strange character, delivering angry, rambling rants against the US government (“No more bombs!” he scowls over and over again into the camera), and it’s his ideals which effectively lead his small band of followers down the path to desperation (though they were certainly keen and quick to follow him there).
Grindhouse Releasing has gone the extra distance in putting together this limited three-disc set. Their transfer of the film is remarkably clean, both visually and aurally, considering the rarity of the source materials. The main extra on offer here is a separate DVD containing a print of the film as it was released in Israel, under the title of The Hitchhiker and containing a few extra/extended scenes which do not really add anything of real value to the overall movie, although the scratches and muddiness of the print almost make this version a more appropriate way of watching the film. Extras on the Blu-ray are plentiful, and include some deleted scenes (most of which show up in The Hitchhiker print), interviews with the two male leads, television reports on the film’s cult following in Israel, 16mm screen test footage, an early Amos Sefer short film (Be Careful Children), an optional audience audio track recorded at the infamous New Beverly Cinema in LA, trailer, and much more. Easter Eggs can also be found hidden in the main menu (hit the word ‘Hippie’ in the film’s title) and on the second page of the extras menu (highlight ‘Back’ and hit the Up button). There is also a selection of trailers for other Grindhouse Releasing discs, including Corruption, The Swimmer, Massacre Mafia Style, Gone With the Pope, The Big Gundown and more. A DVD of the film, including all the extras on the Blu-ray, rounds out the set.
DIRECTOR(S): Amos Sefer | COUNTRY: Israel | YEAR 1972 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Grindhouse Releasing | RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes | ASPECT RATIO: 1.85:1 | REGION: All / NTSC | DISCS: 3
- Deleted Scenes
- Interviews With Stars Asher Tzarfati And Shmuel Wolf
- Asher Tzarfati – An Israeli Actor In Israel Featurette
- Interview With Production Manager Moshe Berman
- Interview With Singer/Co-Star Susan Devore
- Channel 10 Tel Avi News Segment A Cult Is Born
- 16mm Screen Tests
- Be Careful Children – Amos Sefer 16mm Short Film
- Bonus 5.1 Audio Track – The Beverly Cinema Experience
- Still Galleries, Trailer and Filmographies
- Optional Hebrew Sub-Titles