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After a long time away from the scene (which included the unexpected death of co-founder Sage Stallone), Grindhouse Releasing is back with An American Hippie in Israel – a no-budget, so-bad-it’s-good ‘masterpiece’ that was once thought lost to the ravages of time. Writer/director/producer/editor Amos Sefer’s film (originally titled Ha-Trempist The Hitchhiker – until some distributor decided change it into a spoof Vincente Minnelli’s An American in Paris) is a perfectly disastrous movie that earns that ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ title through sheer force of conviction. It sets out to appeal to a cult audience, but not quite the brand of cult audience it has culled since it started making the midnight movie rounds in 2007. Sefer, who disappeared into the ether following this one feature release, clearly believes he’s making a point with his auteuristic work, here, I’m just not sure what that point is. It definitely has something to do with war being bad, though.

American Hippie in Israel, An
The best way I can sum up the uncanny experience of An American Hippie in Israel is ‘ Easy Rider meets El Topo,’ though I don’t want to imply it’s that compelling, either. The film opens with footage of an unmanned steamroller crushing flowers in a field to the sound of machine gun fire. Because, like, war is a drag, man. As soon as the credits are finished, we’re introduced to our hero, Mike (Asher Tzarfati), as he arrives in Tel Aviv. Mike is picked up on the side of the road by a stage actress named Elizabeth (Lily Avidan). As Mike and Elizabeth get to know each other, their conversation is cut short by the sudden appearance of two mimes in black suits and black hats. Mike informs Elizabeth that these guys follow him everywhere and scolds them, telling his new friend that he ‘thinks they want his life.’ The incident forgotten, Mike quickly beds (or, rather, ‘floors’) Elizabeth. The next day the couple meets a like-minded couple (Tzila Karney and Shmuel Wolf) with whom they begin a cross-country journey to escape the mimes in black, who keep showing up to harsh Mike’s mellow.  

As a director, Sefer is perfectly capable. For a first movie made on a nothing budget, An American Hippie in Israel is relatively competently composed, especially when Sefer is keeping his shots simple. There’s no viable comparison to be made to the likes of Ed Wood, Bruno Mattei, Andy Milligan, or Al Adamson. The occasional attempts at montage editing fail pretty miserably, but Mike’s monochromatic, surrealist, slow-motion dreams are visually quite arresting and come the closest to the Alejandro Jodorowsky-isms I imagine Sefer was trying to achieve. Regrettably, it seems no one told him that slow motion is achieved via slowing down the physical film itself, not by asking your actors to move slowly (especially not when the stuff they knock over is still affected by gravity at regular speed). Cinematographer Ya'ackov Kallach also manages to capture some truly gorgeous shots of the Israeli countryside that any tourism board would be happy to include in a pamphlet.

American Hippie in Israel, An
As a writer, Sefer is…less successful. The lack of storyline and weird pacing are actually in keeping with the whole post- Easy Rider, hippie movie aesthetic, but words can’t quite describe the cringe-worthy aspects of the dialogue or the actors’ complete lack of rhythm with each other. In Sefer’s defense, on this Blu-ray’s interviews, actor Asher Tzarfati claims he and the other actors improvised a lot of the dialogue. Of course, the wooden interactions and supposedly improvised words leads to some of the film’s heartiest unintentional laughs, especially a bit where Mike describes his time in Vietnam and turns to look straight into the lens, demanding that the ‘fools stop pushing buttons.’ But I think my favourite exchange is the one that takes place when Mike and Elizabeth are introduced to each other:
Quote: ‘Are you a hippie?’
‘Well, you might say so. Right on.’
‘Why’re you a hippie, if I may ask?’
‘Well, heh, I just feel better this way.’

The funniest thing about the movie, though, is that it un-ironically captures the naiveté and listlessness of the post-Altamont hippie movement – both in its on-screen actions and with its simple existence. Sefer, like his befuddled characters, is really trying to find something significant to say or do, unaware that he’s so self-indulgent that he’s making a spectacle of himself. If someone could convince me that this was the intended metaphor, I’d be forced to call An American Hippie in Israel a brilliant satire, but the sudden influx of ham-handed Israeli-Palestinian allegories during the final minutes (including an protracted argument about language barriers and climactic rock fights over a stray lamb) leads me to assume I cannot credit him with the subtler achievement. Unfortunately, minus the experience of watching the film in a revival theater with a rowdy crowd or even at home with a roomful of inebriated friends, An American Hippie in Israel’s languid pacing and long bouts of nothingness does begin to grate. It is a patently uneventful movie. At one point the protagonists circle an entire island in (practically) real time and discover…that there’s nothing to find. It’s funnier in retrospect, I promise. Of course, moments after this, Mike tries to swim to salvation and two of the most inert fake sharks I’ve ever seen appear to chase him from out of the water (‘that was a bummer’) and, like that, I’m right back onboard again.

American Hippie in Israel, An

Video


An American Hippie in Israel marks Grindhouse Releasing’s first foray into the realms of Blu-ray technology (it’s hard to believe that they haven’t put out anything since their 2009 Cat in the Brain DVD), marking it as an especially exciting release, beyond even the whole ‘rediscovered cult classic’ thing. The lack of availability makes it hard to compare this new 1.78:1 (slightly reframed from the spec aspect ratio of 1.85:1), 1080p transfer to anything else, but it’s difficult to imagine any non-HD release (outside of a 35mm screening) matching this disc. Naturally, the image quality isn’t exactly perfect. The print is swimming in heavy grain and details are slightly smudged, but the clothing and background patterns are well-separated and there aren’t many signs of physical negative damage, aside from a few scratches here and there. The colours are vibrant and strong, especially during the heavily-gelled dream and nighttime sequences with only a little bleeding along the background edges and no major signs of macro blocking. The contrast levels are a problem, I suppose. The blacks, though plenty deep, eat up any of the darker details and the brighter white levels tend to bloom a bit.

Audio


This Blu-ray comes fitted with a lossless, DTS-HD Master Audio mono soundtrack that nestles nicely in the centre speaker. According to the IMDB specs, An American Hippie in Israel was mixed in stereo, but I doubt that, based on the film’s age, supposed price tag, and region of origin. Like so many self-important art films of the era, An American Hippie in Israel features occasional flecks of surrealist sound design (the opening title’s machine gun fire, for example), but the bulk of the sound is dialogue and music driven. It’s pretty obvious that a lot of the dialogue was added via ADR. Scenes of the characters wandering around the streets and shores of Tel Aviv usually have little to no ambient noise – just post-production dialogue and music (probably because the tiny crew wasn’t able to drag sound equipment around with them). The music is credited to Nachum Heiman, though he only wrote the incidental stuff. The mix’s loudest and fullest moments revolve around the songs, credited to a Canadian duo called Susan & Fran. These bits are roughened on the highest volume levels, a include some minor distortion and crowding, neither of which is remarkably worse than most major studio releases of older mono material.

American Hippie in Israel, An

Extras


This release really is the last word on this movie and it has the extras to prove it. The only thing missing is a director’s commentary and, well, Sefer has been dead for quite some time, so that’s not going to happen.

The Blu-ray’s massive collection of special features includes:
  • Five deleted/alternate scenes from the longer Israeli cut of the film (10:10. HD) – These are presented in scratchy, 1.33:1 video with burned-in Israeli and French subtitles and include the original titles, an extended version of the first interaction with the mimes, an uncensored version of the first sex scene (it’s still not explicit), the missing footage from the mime’s hippie massacre (it just jump-cuts to the hippies on the floor in the Blu-ray), and an insert of a flying car at the end of the movie (?!). Theses scenes are also available on an included DVD version of the original cut.
  • Silent 16mm, black & white screen tests (9:10, HD)
  • Interviews with actors Asher Tzarfati & Shmuel Wolf from Tel Aviv, recorded in 2009 (56:10, HD) – Tzarfati takes the whole thing pretty lightly and discusses the production in a laidback manner, while the more serious Wolf discusses the film’s politics and social commentary without a lick of irony. Both actors are incredibly well-spoken, but, at nearly an hour, time does begin to crawl.
  • Asher Tzarfati: An Israeli Actor in Israel (17:50, HD) – Additional footage from the same interview, where Tzarfati waxes philosophically about his life outside of An American Hippie in Israel and movies in general.
  • Asher Tzarfati’s filmography (text only)
  • Amos Sefer’s biography (text only)
  • Be Careful Children, The Ball is Not Just Yours (6:40, HD) – Silent footage from a 16mm short film Sefer made. The footage is mangled basically beyond recognition, but it’s an interesting addition for the sake of posterity.
  • The Beverly Cinema Experience – An option to watch the film with 5.1-enhanced audio recording during a full house screening (good for us lonely people that watch this stuff alone in our living rooms).
  • A Cult is Born (4:40, HD) – Footage and interviews from a Rocky Horror-style revival screening in Israel.
  • A segment from Israel’s Channel 10 about the film’s unlikely following (10:20, SD), including a cute little course on how to turn a flop into a cult hit.
  • A brief interview with assistant production manager Moshe Burman shot in his apartment in Tel Aviv (4:00, HD).
  • A brief interview with musician Susan Devore of Susan & Fran, the guitar duo that appears in the film (7:10, HD). Fran shows up via Skype later in the interview and Susan performs the song for a theatrical audience the next night. It’s adorable.
  • Shmuel’s Still Show (5:00, HD) – Footage of Wolf showing his personal collection of behind-the-scenes photographs.
  • Two still galleries (production stills and promotional materials)
  • An American Hippie in Israel trailer (3:00, HD)
  • Trailers for upcoming Grindhouse Releasing, erm, releases – Corruption, The Big Gundown (yay!), 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 Tough Ones, Scum of the Earth, Death Game, Family Enforcer, Ice House, and Cannibal Holocaust (again).


American Hippie in Israel, An

Overall


I hesitate to call An American Hippie in Israel a unique experience, because it recalls so many other movies, but it’s certainly a ‘special’ little adventure for the discerning bad movie palate. A warning, though – watch this movie with as many people as possible. It is too uneventful to sustain a solo viewing and requires audience participation to work at its full potential. It’s great to have Grindhouse Releasing back and they certainly impress with this, their first Blu-ray release by including the best possible A/V quality from a less-than-ideal source and a huge assemblage of extra material.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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