• An American Hippie In Israel

    Released by: Grindhouse Releasing
    Released on: September 10, 2013.
    Director: Amos Sefer
    Cast: Asher Tzarfati, Shmuel Wolf, Lily Avidan, Tzila Karney
    Year: 1972
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    The Movie:

    Grindhouse Releasing hasn’t put out a disc in some time, instead concentrating in recent years on theatrical screenings but all of that changes now with their first Blu-ray offering, the much anticipated An American Hippie In Israel. As fans have come to expect, much like their earlier releases this one is stacked, but more on that in a bit. Let’s talk about the movie first.

    Written and directed by Amos Sefer in 1972, the film begins with footage of a steamroller crushing a lovely bunch of flowers as the opening credits roll. Foreshadowing? Yes, of the most obvious kind. From there we meet Mike (Asher Tzarfati), a hippie who has been travelling the globe since spending two years killing for his country in Vietnam. He gets off the plane and meets a hot chick named Elizabeth (Lily Avidan), an actress who takes him back to her place. They talk about the state of theater in Israel and then, after Mike rants about fools and button pushing, they get it on.

    With the first sex scene out of the way, our couple hits the streets in search of like-minded individuals and they find a group of Israeli hippies who are hip to what Mike has to say. He tells them about his plans to live free, away from the rules, and one bearded fellow speaks up and tells him of an island that’s not too far off of the coast that would be perfect. Before they all depart, they jam to the sounds of a female folk duo but shortly after that, two mimes that have been chasing Mike around the world show up and kill almost everyone. Who survives? Well, Mike and Elizabeth, obviously, but also another couple (Shmuel Wolf and Tzila Karney). They get in Elizabeth’s car and drive for a ridiculously long time. So long is this drive that Mike actually falls asleep and dreams about smashing guys with reel to reel tape recorders as heads in ‘slow motion’ (it’s really just people moving very slowly) with a giant hammer.

    His companions wake him up by splashing water on his face and he tells them it’s beautiful. He tells them they’re beautiful too. He thinks a lot of things are beautiful, that’s just how he operates. After grabbing some snacks, a goat and a rubber dinghy, they make it to that island where they skinny dip, start a campfire and make impassioned speeches (‘Wonderful feeling!). The next morning the hippie who is not Mike and who only speaks Hebrew wakes up, does some odd stretching and notices that the dinghy is gone. Mike urges everyone to walk around the island and look for it but it’s gone, probably a victim of the tide. Maybe they should have tied it up or brought it on shore, but this whole trip was poorly planned, which is why they run out of food pretty much immediately. Mike figures, hey, I’ll just swim back to shore, get in the car, head into town and get whatever we need, but no dice, there are sharks circling the island hungry for hippie – and then just like that this peaceful utopia where men and women can be free and have wonderful feelings comes crashing down around them as the men turn into Neanderthals and the women scream a lot.

    Man, that long drive from the city to the island is a bit of a chore not to fast forward through but there’s so much else to love about his misguided message film that it’s hard not to love it. The symbolism is heavy and fairly indecipherable (Tape recorded head guys? Mimes? What?) but it looks cool and if you dig scenes of hippies jamming out to bad hippie music, this movie has got you covered, because there’s a lot of that too. We also get some pretty great fake sharks that move really slowly and look more like little boats with fins on them than any sort of actual ocean creature. Throw in some ridiculously repetitive music and truly bizarre editing choices and this one already comes up a winner, and that’s without getting into the real reason to watch this.

    And that reason would be? Asher Tzarfati and Shmuel Wolf. Wolf’s character doesn’t speak a lick of English except for the moment where the four are making their impassioned speeches at the campfire and he yells out ‘WONDERFUL FEELING!’ to express just how happy he is to be on a desert island with no food. He’s got such odd facial features that you can’t not watch as he makes out with (the admittedly quite pretty) Tzila Karney, but at the same time you’ve got to wonder why she chose him out of all the hippie guys around. Regardless, his performance is great. The movie really belongs to Asher Tzarfati, however. Prone to scowling and some great rants, often times spoken right into the camera, the movie is pretty much gold any time that Mike opens his mouth.

    One of the highlights of the film is a ridiculously long scene in which Mike and the other guy are looking for food. Sure, they find a few snails hanging out on some rocks, but they more or less fail. As they sit on a rock together our Hebrew friend mutters something that Mike can’t understand. Mike tells him this, and he keeps talking, at which point Mike keeps reiterating ‘I can’t get you, I just can’t get you man’ and then proceeds to tell him what the problem is in English, knowing full well he can’t understand him either. This scene serves no purpose, it does nothing to further the plot and it goes on… and on… and on. It’s wonderful though, because both men seem completely committed to their roles here. It’s that commitment from everyone who appears on screen that makes the film work. Yeah, there’s the obvious camp appeal of watching something as ridiculously dated as a movie like this but everyone seems to be trying so damn hard to make something of merit (and missing the mark by such a huge gap) that you can’t help but love it.


    An American Hippie In Israel makes its home video debut from Grindhouse Releasing in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.78.1 widescreen that makes the movie look like the low budget early seventies oddity that it is. There doesn’t appear to be any noise reduction, so expect a fair bit of grain as there should be, and while some minor print damage can be spotted here and there, minor is the key word – the elements used for the transfer are, generally speaking, in nice shape. Black levels are solid, detail is quite good and texture as well. The movie has a very dusty atmosphere to it, particularly once we get to the island, and so colors sort of reflect that tone in that they don’t necessarily pop but they are reproduced pretty accurately here. There are no issues with compression artifacts or edge enhancement and all in all, the movie looks very good on Blu-ray, far better than most will likely expect it to.

    The only audio option for the feature is an English language DTS-HD Mono track with optional subtitles provided in Hebrew only! It’s not the most dynamic mix you’ll ever here but there is some depth to it and the dialogue is generally quite easy to understand and the levels properly balanced. Again, for an older, low budget obscurity like this, it’d be unrealistic to expect a pristine surround mix – what we have here sounds very true to form. The music actually sounds quite lively here, particularly that song provided by the female folk duo during the hippie hang out session. There aren’t a ton of sound effects here but the bullets during the gun down erupt with some presence. Most of what concerns this mix, however, is the score and the priceless dialogue and they are well represented.

    Amazingly enough, Grindhouse have opted to give this movie a three disc special edition release, the first disc being the Blu-ray and the second disc being a DVD version containing the same content. The extras on these two discs start off with a collection of about ten minutes of deleted scenes, though more accurately they’re extended scenes. Here we see some alternate opening footage, a longer love making sequence between Mike and Elizabeth in her swinging pad, an extension of the scene in which Mike confronts the mimes on the road, more stock footage of the Vietnam war, a longer bit with the hippies in the warehouse and an alternate ending that will likely make you scratch your head and wonder aloud what the Hell just happened.

    From there, screen tests – these are presented in black and white and without any sound and they run about nine minutes or so. This is fairly amusing stuff even if we can’t understand what anyone is saying as it’s basically just an assortment of random Israeli hippies presumably acting out bits from the script. Definitely a goofy little chunk of footage but a nice artifact from the film’s past.

    The best extra on the disc is a fifty-six minute long interview featurette with Asher Tzarfati and Shmuel Wolf conducted in their homeland in 2009. Wolf, like his character in the movie, doesn’t actually speak English so he’s subtitled as the two, interviewed separately, discuss how they first met Amos Sefer, what it was like working with him and the message of the film. They each talk about their respective characters while Wolf notes more than once how exciting it was to get to work around younger women with no clothes on and how great it was to get paid for it. We also hear about the sex in the film, some of which is surprisingly authentic, and about what may or may not have been improvised (hint: that lengthy crazy conversation between the two actors before everything goes to Hell? That’s covered). Both men then go on to discuss their careers and their feelings on the movie finally being rediscovered as a cult film. It’s quite a thorough piece that does a great job of shedding light on the history of the movie and what it was like working on the picture – well worth sitting through, it’s quite fascinating. Make sure you watch it through the end credits.

    Also shot in 2009 and included on the disc is a seventeen minute featurette entitled Asher Tzarfati - An Israeli Actor in Israel which lets the thespian wax nostalgic about his career in front of the camera. The focus here isn’t on Hippie so much as it is on the evolution of Israeli cinema and his part in that, but Tzarfati is an interesting enough guy with some great stories to tell that you’ll want to give this a watch as well.

    There are a few other worthwhile interviews included on the disc as well, including the four minute Interview With Production Manager Moshe Berman in which he talks about his role auditing the finances for the film’s unfortunately American producer who basically wound up losing the suitcase full of money he invested in the picture. He discusses problems with the Israeli film board, how the movie was not only trimmed but also denied classification because it was shot in English, and he notes how they failed to sell the film aboard. There’s also a seven minute Interview With Singer/Co-Star Susan Devore, one half of the folk duo who appear in the feature and perform some of the music. Here we learn what she and her fellow folk singer have been up to, about their recording career, and how they wound up in Canada. There are some interesting surprises here, it’s a fun watch, particularly when they find Fran, the other half of the duo, and get her on Skype for a talk!

    Aside from the interviews we also get a ten minute Channel 10 Tel Avi News Segment that talks about the film’s discovery and shows off some strange footage of an Israeli midnight movie crowd doing Rocky Horror-esque dances and performances alongside the film as it plays out. More on this phenomenon in the A Cult Is Born featurette that covers some of the same ground and highlights the revival screening that seem to be so popular in Tel Aviv. Lots of interviews with movie goers here, and we get to hear their reactions to the film and check out footage from some screenings.

    The film’s writer and director, Amos Sefer, passed away in 2007 after leaving Israel in hopes of making it in the States. He’s represented with an interesting text biography and also by the inclusion of his first experimental short film, a black and white 16mm production called Be Careful Children The Ball Is Not Yours. It’s an odd piece that shows kids turning into adults without actually really growing up and which seems to be making some vague anti-war statements. It’s a fitting companion piece of sorts to the feature attraction.

    Rounding out the extras is a bonus Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track called The Beverly Cinema Experience. If you’ve got a hankering to watch this movie with a group but don’t have any friends in real life, switch this alternate audio track on to recreate that experience in the privacy of your own home. We also get a five minute segment with Mr. Wolf called Shmuel’s Still Show in which the actor shows off some of his behind the scenes photos and tells some stories about them, a still gallery of behind the scenes pictures and another still gallery of promotional materials. Also found here is a trailer for the feature and trailers for a whole bunch of other Grindhouse Releasing titles hopefully making their way to Blu-ray soon (Duke Mitchell in HD? You’re goddamn right. Get to it!). Menus and chapter stops are, of course, included as well.

    The third disc in the set is limited to the first pressing of the release (2000 copies for those keeping score) and it’s a DVD containing the original cut of the movie under the alternate title of The Hitchhiker. It’s presented fullframe and with burned in Hebrew subtitles with burned in French subtitles underneath so it’s nowhere near as nicely presented as the theatrical version contained on the Blu-ray disc, but it’s an interesting curiosity and obviously a perfectly valid alternate version of the movie. How does it differ from the theatrical cut? It basically incorporates the deleted footage back into the movie, so you get that completely wacky alternate ending as well as the other bits and pieces put back into the narrative.

    Included inside the amaray Blu-ray case is a fold out power which, on the alternate side, contains some interesting liner notes by novelist John Skipp that make the case for the film’s greatness by toting its sincerity as the key to its success. It’s an interesting read that offers some legitimate perspective as to the film’s merits.

    The Final Word:

    Grindhouse Releasing go a long way towards making up for lost time with their inaugural Blu-ray offering, An American Hippie In Israel. The movie is a genuine cult oddity, a film that languished in obscurity for decades but which nevertheless stands as not only an entertaining low budget B-picture but also a unique foreign time capsule of sorts. It might also be the only movie to actually thank a carpet company in the end credits. On top of that, the disc is stacked with far more extra features relating to the film than should have been humanly possible and the film is offered up in solid shape as well. A pretty great release overall, and a very nice return to form for the label.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    And some caps from The Hitchhiker bonus disc!

    Comments 7 Comments
    1. Jimmy Simard's Avatar
      Jimmy Simard -
      Hope Diabolik will get it soon since it's the movie who delays a big eight movies order I have there and Barbara Broadcast is part of it...
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Also, that review was funny as hell.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      I'm just glad that the good people at Shaban Carpets will finally get the credit they all so richly deserve.
    1. bgart13's Avatar
      bgart13 -
      The hippie stuff puts me off. Doesn't seem like something I'd watch more than once, but I'd like to support GR all the same.
    1. Paul Casey's Avatar
      Paul Casey -
      Was looking forward to this release for they hype behind it. Seems just like a shitty movie with hype behind it. I guess I'll save my money and fuck a croissant instead.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      I was going to buy it to support GR, but it's really, REALLY bad. The extras sound interesting, anyway. I'll support the shit out of GR when Duke Mitchell comes to town.