CAPSULE: AN AMERICAN HIPPIE IN ISRAEL (1972)

Ha-Trempist

DIRECTED BY: Amos Sefer

FEATURING: Asher Tzarfati, Lily Avidan, Tzila Karney, Shmuel Wolf

PLOT: Pursued across the globe by mysterious figures, an American Vietnam vet turned hippie goes to Israel and founds a small commune on an island.

Still from An American Hippie in Israel
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There are a few very weird (and even more very stupid) moments in this earnestly bizarre Israeli/hippie artifact. But working against An American Hippie in Israel is the fact that the vast majority of the film is so damn boring. Frankly, this is the only movie I’ve ever seen where I could honestly say: it needed more mimes. It’s worth seeing once to mark off your bad-film bucket list, but it’s no forgotten treasure.

COMMENTS: It’s easy to see why film fans were desperate for An American Hippie in Israel to be a hit. So-bad-they’re-good films are rare treasures, providing an intoxication that competent films can’t replicate, but once you’ve seen the obvious classics–Plan 9 from Outer Space, Robot Monster, Troll II, The Room—pickings get slim. So when word gets out about a lost trash classic, hopes get high. And Hippie boasts a uniquely twisted take on its botched universe, including some “thoughtful”/”mind-blowing” revelations, flat amateur acting, ponderous quality dialogue (“you fools… stop pushing buttons… you fools!”), a balding Israeli hippie who doesn’t speak English and looks twenty years older than his companions, nonsensical scenes and plot twists (sharks!), and mimes with machine guns.

And yet, I don’t think Hippie is truly a lost cult classic, because its numerous delights are buried in a morass of slow, arid scenes of Israeli hippies being groovy. When our American arrives in Tel Aviv, he’s picked up by an incipient flower child who proceeds to take him home and make him coffee—in real time. There are lots of scenes of the characters driving through the desert in a convertible, grooving to folk songs, and doing the frug at a dance party (which is happily interrupted by mimes with machine guns). That’s right, I said mimes. Two silent white-faced characters, who symbolize (pick one) death/the Vietnam War/man’s inhumanity to man are tracking our globetrotting hippie across the globe. These marauding Marcel Marceaus, who appear without rhyme or reason, are a surreal intrusion into a movie that is otherwise a rather lame fable of youth in revolt.

The other really noteworthy section of the film is our hippie’s dream as he rides across the desert towards his island utopia. It’s a totally silent, totally slo-mo, totally symbolic montage that begins with lavender-tinted lashing and ends with our protagonist whacking a couple of cassette-tape-headed aliens (?) in three piece suits with a giant oversized novelty sledgehammer. Those fools won’t be pushing any more buttons after that bashing, you can be sure. Unfortunately, the film goes downhill from there, as the bohemian quartet make increasingly stupid choices, choosing to permanently locate to a desert island without scouting it first for food or water, or bothering to secure their precious inflatable raft when the land. Stranded on the island, they descend into savagery in a weekend, with the two male hippies quickly turning into territorial rapists. The downer ending is meant to demonstrate, we gather, that even hippies become monsters when their very survival is at stake, and that man’s darker nature is stronger than his idealism. What it really demonstrates, I think, is that stupidity is stronger than either, and that if you’re an American hippie trapped in a dumb script, you are truly doomed. What a bummer.

An American Hippie in Israel was made by one Amos Sefer, who never made another movie (his only other credit is a short which is included as a bonus on the Blu-ray). Unsurprisingly, the execrable Hippie never found distribution. Somehow, Grindhouse Releasing discovered a print of this oddity and made a trailer, which generated interest in the flick. Israelis tracked down prints and began showing the movie as an interactive midnight event, complete with commentators, folk singers (singing mocking new lyrics to the instrumentals) and performance artists, turning it into a homegrown Hebrew version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Grindhouse  screened the film at American festivals and brought out a DVD in 2013.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This weird inept movie was made by a former lifeguard with no training as a filmmaker… The film is so perplexing and maddening, that one can say without any trepidation that the filmmaker is a meshugener.”–Dennis Schwartz, Ozus’ World Movie Reviews (Blu-ray)

(This movie was nominated for review by Ryan Marshall. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

5 thoughts on “CAPSULE: AN AMERICAN HIPPIE IN ISRAEL (1972)”

  1. The title alone makes it clear there’s going to be some very heavy-handed politics going on in this film. That alone counteracts potential enjoyment, for me.

    1. I should point out that there’s absolutely no mention of the Israeli political situation in the film—in fact, despite being set in Israel, the director makes a point never to even mention the country’s name (which is a strange choice in itself).

    2. That is weird. If they’d wanted a desert environment, you’d think California would’ve been a lot cheaper.

      I would like to ask, though – you say the film is boring. At what point do you think long, monotonous shots become too much? I could tell you liked Stalker, but that film arguably had a lot of lingering scenes that some people could call “monotonous”. Not that I disliked Stalker – it was a beautiful film, if not always easy to watch, and even its lengthy shots were made enjoyable since the backdrop was so beautiful – but what do you think distinguishes its lengthy scenes from this film’s?

    3. If you are an Israeli in Israel it’s cheaper to shoot there than to fly to California. ;)

      Tarkovsky’s super-long shots are often boring, but we forgive him because they are grand and deliberate. As you point out Stalker is also shot beautifully and features sumptuous sound design, which makes his long takes far more pleasant. Tarkovsky’s movies are full of ideas and ambition, so the pauses can give you a chance to think things through. American Hippie‘s ideas are obvious and puerile, and the cinematography and sets are drab and mundane, so all you think about is “why don’t they get on with it?”

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