Reviewer: John Carpenter
Released by: Grindhouse Releasing
Blu-Ray Release date: 9/10/2013
93 Mins/Not Rated
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16×9: Yes
“An American Hippie in Israel” starts off really chill. The title character refers to Mike (Asher Tzarfati), a long haired, bearded Michael Shannon look-alike who steps off the airplane with bare feet and a ‘go with the flow’ attitude. While strolling down the open road, Elizabeth (Lily Avidan) stops and picks up the foreigner. They have a little casual conversation and things seem to be trucking along at a fairly tame level for viewers then BAM! A couple of crazy looking mimes come out of nowhere. There seems to be some sort of conflict between Mike and these darkly dressed mimes. He and Elizabeth leave, make love and end up pairing up with another like-minded couple (Shmuel Wolf and Tzila Karney). They all decide to head out to an island where there are no rules and they can live how they want. Remember those mimes? They may not pop up all of the time, but they foreshadow that Mike should anticipate a few bumps in the road as he and his fellow hippies embark on their journey.
This is a strange movie that has certainly earned its cult status. Mike seems easy going enough until he provides a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ Vietnam War flashback and confesses to being a killing machine before losing his virginity. These are just a couple of the odd twists and turns in Amos Sefer’s long lost 1972 feature. Early on, “An American Hippie in Israel” feels like it is going to follow a familiar path. There are moments where it feels like a toned down version of The Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” with worse music. The film will surprise viewers though. Even before the two couples make it to their final destination, there are scenes that are just bizarre. One involves the mimes. Another is a silent dream sequence that is filled with oddities. It is these types of shifts that make “An American Hippie in Israel” bearable rather than a simple, low budget, poorly constructed “Easy Rider” type knockoff.
As much fun as “An American Hippie in Israel” can be at times, it does linger a bit. Some of the songs are on such a strong loop, I could finger pluck them with great accuracy on my air guitar before the closing credits popped up. There is also a long, fairly pointless scene where Mike and his newfound bestie (Shmuel Wolf) get into an argument because Mike only speaks English and his friend does not. Watching this scene play out is like listening to children bicker. It was funny for a brief moment, but after what feels like five minutes, grows old quickly. There are a few other issues with the pacing and overall plot of Sefer’s lone feature film, but they are overshadowed by the eccentric feel of the movie. The mimes are both creepy and unusual. A conflict that pops up on the island is comical and kind of strange. After all is said and done, it is difficult to determine if “An American Hippie in Israel” is interesting because viewers will be unable to look away from the madness or if it is actually entertaining. Aside from some of the gripes regarding pacing, I’d have to side with the latter.
Grindhouse Releasing presents “An American Hippie in Israel” with an AVC encoded, full HD 1.78:1 widescreen transfer. It has some print damage, but looks decent overall. There is a nice layer of grain that is warm and film-like. The level of detail is decent up close. Hair and skin imperfections are noticeable. Background images lose a little of their luster, but it is still easy to distinguish one item from the next. Fleshtones and colors are accurate, but the reds and blues never really pop. There is a bit of flickering, but it is very minor. “An American Hippie in Israel” has a vintage feel and this Blu-ray will be a great way for new fans to discover the movie. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track does exactly what it needs to do – balance dialogue well and not let music overpower the speaker. Aside from a couple of sound effects, the level of depth found in the music and dialogue are the only real items this track needs to worry about. It does a fine job. There are no pops or hisses and static is not audible. Grindhouse Releasing has done a fine job with their technical specs.
Another area where Grindhouse Releasing has done a great job is with the wealth of extra features found in this release. The “Deleted Scenes” (10:05) cover quite a few highlights from the feature. A full frame, beat up opening credits sequence gets things started before moving into a dream sequence and a few spoiler heavy scenes from the feature. These actually play out more like extended scenes rather than sequences that were omitted from the final cut. The scenes can be played individually or with a ‘Play All’ option. Some silent “16mm Screen Tests” (9:11) are next on the list. Aside from the raw, candid nature of these tests, getting a closer look at some of the leads from the film is fun. The lack of sound makes this a little tougher to sit through. A lengthy 2009 “Asher Tzarfati and Shmuel Wolf Q&A” (56:08) takes place in Tel-Aviv. Seeing film footage of ‘Mike’ telling off the camera before shifting to an older, grizzly version of Tzarfati reciting the same lines is a fun way to start this Q&A. This is more of a sit down interview rather than a post screening Q&A. Tzarfati and Shmuel Wolf are not in the same room for these interviews, but are very open with their thoughts about the movie. Tzarfati speaks in English with a thick accent while the peaceful looking, always smiling Wolf speaks in his native tongue with English subtitles. Edited together with scenes from the film, these actors share war stories and talk about their onscreen lovers along with revealing set locations and their opinions on war. This interview session may be lengthy, but Tzarfati and Wolf are quite interesting and fill the time well.
“Asher Tzarfati – An Israeli Actor in Israel” (17:54) is basically an extension of the interview found in the previous extra feature. Hearing how passionate Tzarfati is about film is a delight. The questions lead Tzarfati down a path that is autobiographical. Amongst the numerous topics, he covers his roots, music and what he did after “An American Hippie in Israel.” “Asher Tzarfati Filmography” is five pages worth of credits for an actor whose last role was in 2010. A touching four page look at the late director is titled “Amos Sefer Biography.” It briefly covers his upbringing before moving on to making “An American Hippie in Israel” and the obstacles it faced. The biography also talks about Sefer’s later years before dedicating this Blu-ray release to his memory. “Be Careful Children…” (6:43) is a silent, 16mm short film from Amos Sefer. This B&W, full frame short is very beat up and almost looks like old footage from a family birthday party. It definitely has an art house vibe as Sefer looks to blend his vision with some strong opinions on war. “The Beverly Cinema Experience” is an audio track that was recorded in the famed theater on June 15, 2010. Much like a similar options found on the “Sin City” and “Planet Terror” releases, this simulates being in a theater with an audience of like-minded film fans. They laugh and react to the movie, giving a communal feel to those sitting at home alone. The audience is very respectful and will not hinder the experience for anyone who decides to give this track a chance.
Don’t forget to hit that ‘Next’ button, there are more extras on this disc. “A Cult is Born” (4:39) interviews some young Israeli adults outside of a theater. They all rave about the movie and have smiles on their faces. The action shifts inside for an introduction to the movie and a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” type of screening for the movie. ”Channel 10 Segment” (10:22) is much longer than I expected it to be. This news report covers the ‘so bad it’s good’ phenomena that has made “An American Hippie in Israel” so popular. With “Moshe Berman” (4:00) is a personal story where Berman discusses how his father-in-law went against his family’s advice and invested in a film after immigrating to the U.S. Moche was the Assistant Production Manager for “An American Hippie in Israel” and reflects on the film in this 2012 interview. “Susan Devore” (7:08) is half of the popular folk duo “Susan & Fran.” The 2012 interview gives Devore a chance to reflect on their scene in “An American Hippie in Israel” and how this onscreen opportunity never unfolded the way they thought it would. “Shmuel’s Still Show” and the “Still Galleries” seem as if they are one in the same, but they aren’t. With “Shmuel’s Still Show” (5:00) the actor takes a break from answering questions to show the camera some of the photos he has on hand. He also provides a bit of commentary along the way. The “Still Gallery” is broken up into either ‘Production Stills’ or Promotional Materials.’ There are dozens of photos between the two galleries. The final extra features on this Blu-ray are trailers for “An American Hippie in Israel” (3:02), “Corruption” (2:06), “The Big Gundown” (2:14), The Swimmer” (2:43), “Massacre Mafia Style” (2:19), “Gone with The Pope” (2:00), “Cannibal Holocaust” (1:24), “Cat in The Brain (1:57), “The Beyond” (3:27), “Cannibal Ferox” (2:46), “I Drink Your Blood” (2:48), “Pieces” (0:32), “The Tough Ones” (3:30), “Poor White Trash 2” (2:08), “Death Game” (2:37), “Family Enforcer” (1:47), “Ice House” (1:39) and a “Cannibal Holocaust” (1:57) entry put together by Grindhouse Releasing. The Limited Edition Set (2000 copies) also has two additional DVDs. One is “An American Hippie in Israel” and the other is its uncensored version, “The Hitchhiker.” This version is a Full Frame presentation with both Hebrew and French subtitles. It seems to have the deleted scenes edited back in. There is also a fold out poster with the cover art for this release and some Liner Notes inside.
“An American Hippie in Israel” is far more entertaining than it has any right to be. Sure it has plenty of flaws, but cult and genre fans will find plenty to enjoy once Mike and Elizabeth team up. The audio and video presentations may not win any awards when stacked up against bigger blockbuster titles, but considering the long journey “An American Hippie in Israel” has taken it looks pretty damn good on this Blu-ray. Grindhouse Releasing has also included a TON of special features. This three disc set is limited to 2,000 copies so fans will need to act fast to get all of the goodies from Grindhouse Releasing. The set is scheduled for a September 10th release and can be preordered now from Diabolik DVD (LINK). It’s a groovy one.