“What the hell did I just watch!?!” That one line review, often blurted out immediately as credits roll, is the whole reason I started Cinema Judgement Day. It doesn’t mean you saw something bad, per se… but you did see something out of the norm. Such is the case with “An American Hippie In Israel“, coming to Blu-Ray on 9/10 from Grindhouse Releasing. With a story so pretentious it’s infantile, the film is chock full o’ hilariously bad acting and more body hair than the Kardashian family has combined. It’s the very definition of “so bad it’s good”… and is easily the most enjoyable film I’ve reviewed all year. I have no idea what the hell I just watched, but I do know that it was awesome.
The story is asinine. Mike (Asher Tzarfati) is a Vietnam Vet turned hippie who travels to Israel for reasons not explained. Shortly after his arrival, he meets Elizabeth (Lily Avidan), an actress who immediately takes him to bed with her. Later they meet two more hippies, Komo (Shmuel Wolf, looking like the spawn of Vincent Schiavelli and Frankenstein) and his girlfriend (Tzila Karney). The four join a group of hippies who skip off into some artist commune/junkyard to sing songs and have sex. Despite having only been in the country for 30 minutes, Mike now leads the group, preaching of their need to be “Free, free, FREE!” from society. They decide to collectively move to a small island off of the Israeli coastline, before 2 men PAINTED COMPLETELY WHITE bust in and mow everyone down with machine guns. Our 4 hippie friends survive, however and move to the island with nothing but a boat… and a goat. After one night on the island, the boat disappears (as does the goat) and giant inflatable sharks circle the waters. Faced now with stress and starvation, our young dreamers go insane and kill each other.
The liner notes by novelist John Skipp say it all: “What’s the difference between a malformed gem and a total piece of shit? For me, it’s sincerity.” This film certainly doesn’t lack in sincerity… and I love the term “a malformed gem.” Writer/Director Amos Sefer truly believes he’s expressing himself through his art; he believes he’s delivering a message of “make love, not war”. The sad thing is, when the giant men with tapedeck heads play chess on a globe, the message is clear, but the question “Why?” eclipses it. His talent as a director is questionable, but as a writer it’s laughable. While the script was performed in English, I wonder if the author could even speak the language. One thing’s for sure: many of the actors couldn’t. Many times, Hebrew speaking lips fall out of synch with dubbed English dialogue. Those who could speak English often deliver their lines with such awkward timing, that even the most casual “Far out!” sticks out like a sore thumb. Psychedelic dream sequences and symbolic imagery, such as a bulldozer crushing a flowery meadow under the opening credits, are so heavy handed that they only provoke laughter instead of any intended thought.
But is that such a bad thing? I mean, put “An American Hippie In Israel” on in a roomful of people and just watch everyone burst out into laughter and enjoy themselves. Need proof? One of the greatest features I’ve ever seen on a disc, “The New Beverly Experience”, is included here. Recorded in June of 2010 at a screening of the film at the famous New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, the option puts the audience in the room with you. Now, the New Bev is one of my favorite places on the planet and I often go to screenings like these. I can say that this really and truly is like being there, which alone makes this disc worth buying. I actually think watching the film with this track activated is more enjoyable than watching it straight with no chaser.
And I’m not even scratching the tip of the bonus feature iceberg. Grindhouse Releasing LOADED “An American Hippie In Israel” with all sorts of other fun extras. There are six “controversial” deleted scenes available to watch, but the full uncensored Director’s Cut is also included on an addition DVD in the 3-disc set. There are interviews with one of the film’s folk singers as well as star Asher Tzarfati. Amos Sefer’s silent 16mm short “Be Careful Children The Ball Is Not Just Yours” as well as screen tests for “Hippie” (also silent) are included if you choose to watch them. “Be Careful Children…” has suffered much damage over the years, but is just as preachy/cheesy/strange as one would expect. There’s also a 2009 Q&A with Tzarfati and Shmuel Wolf, Amos Sefer’s Biography, as well as a bunch of featurettes, trailers, and still galleries for you to peruse. You can even watch the movie with Hebrew subtitles!
For a 41 year-old film, Grindhouse really cleaned the print up with this Hi-Def restoration. The Blu-Ray looks phenomenal (even the additional DVD version looks great when put up against the Director’s cut disc) and reflects the amount of work put into this release. The picture is clean and sharp, colors are rich and just the right amount of film grain is present to feel like you’re watching this on a brand new print. The movie was made in mono and that’s how the audio is presented here, but the “New Beverly” track is in 5.1 surround for a fully immersive experience.
“An American Hippie In Israel” IS that malformed gem. It’s CJD’s raison d’etre and in turn, a receives a perfect 4 devil rating. The disc looks fantastic, is loaded for bare and worth every penny. Amos Sefer may have bungled up his anti-war message something fierce, but it’s hard to fight anyone when you’re laughing your ass off, man…
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.