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September 10, 2013

An American Hippie in Israel

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Ha-Temprist / The Hitchhiker
Amos Sefer - 1972
Grindhouse Releasing Region 0 DVD / BD Region ABC

The story of the making of An American Hippie in Israel is a sobering reminder that for every film festival discovery or cult auteur, there are at least a dozen failed filmmakers, and movies that remain virtually unseen. I know of one local filmmaker who put herself on the financial line. I also recall a story in the New York Times about a filmmaker whose efforts resulted in nothing more than a collection of rejection letters from film festivals. It may be easy to get smug and snarky about a film like An American Hippie in Israel, but I'm at a point in my life where I don't see the point of pissing on some else's dream.

The story is about a disillusioned Vietnam war vet, Mike, traveling throughout Europe, who decides to leave Rome for Tel Aviv. Hitchhiking to the city proves a problem, probably because Mike looks too much like Charles Manson. He gets picked up by a young actress driving a huge white boat of a car. The two get in on quickly, skip into town, and hang out with a bunch of hippies in a some kind of warehouse-art studio. The gang is entertained by a duo, two young women with great voices, and a protest song that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I've never heard the words, "I hate you", sung so lovingly. The hippies are all slaughtered by a pair of gun toting, white faced, gangsters. Maybe they belong to the mime mafia. They pop up out of no where, chasing after Mike. Mike, his new girl friend, and another couple, go off to a tiny island. Mike is looking for a place with no people to create his own kind of utopia, and is told about this desolate island. It never seems to occur to anyone that the place is desolate for a reason. Due to someone not thinking about moving their rubber raft fully away from the shore, the quartet finds themselves on this small, rocky island with no food. Mike's plan to swim ashore are foiled by the discovery of two sharks. Unexplained is why the sharks weren't around when the four were skinny dipping, and how come they're around when there don't seem to be any fish to snack on. Mike and the other man, Komo, and the two women, all start attacking each other. The men devolve quickly into grunting beasts. Things go badly for everyone.

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One can argue that Sefer's film is an unintended self-commentary. Neither the film, nor Mike's ideas about freedom, are well thought out. Setting aside the topical elements, there is at least one glaring plot hole that demanded an explanation. If the two machine gun wielding guys symbolize death that Mike has thus far eluded, it doesn't make sense that everyone else can see them. Just as Mike's dreams of a hippie utopia prove unsustainable, so to was Sefer's dreams of cinematic glory. A primarily English language film would not get support in Israel. The film received a U.S. release from the grindhouse distributor, Box Office Spectaculars, a company better known for for its association with gore-meister Herschell Gordon Lewis.

The BD/DVD discs include interviews with the two stars, Asher Tzarfati and Schmuel Wolf. There is also a DVD of the earlier cut of the film, The Hitchhiker, which includes English subtitles for the Hebrew dialogue that is not subtitled for An American Hippie. Tzarfati has had a long acting career, including a supporting role in Tsui Hark's Double Team. Schmuel Wolf may not have had the advantage of speaking English, but he is still active in Israeli productions. There is no information on the two actresses, Lily Avidan or Tzila Karney. Maybe this film's only value is as an artifact cemented to its time. For work done on a very limited budget, it is technically competent. The symbolism, like the flowers crushed by the tractor during the opening credit, can be heavy-handed. I have to concede that Amos Sefer's heart was in the right place, even while his art is subject to question.

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Posted by peter at September 10, 2013 07:05 AM