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Blu-ray Review: ‘An American Hippie in Israel’

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The Film
An awesome/awful cult object that has long been largely unavailable, 1972’s An American Hippie in Israel finally comes to home video courtesy of the good folks at Grindhouse Releasing. Let’s be clear: This is not some lost, unearthed classic, although I guess it could be depending on what your definition of classic is. But it is a highly entertaining (sometimes; it can be equally enervating at points) curio that’s been given most loving treatment here in this stellar Blu-ray release.

An American Hippie in IsraelThere’s a lot to deride about American Hippie: The achingly sincere anti-war sentiment is delivered with all the subtlety of a steamroller (that’s literally the opening credits scene); director Amos Sefer has no clue how to direct actors, resulting in some of the most inappropriately inflected line readings ever; jump cuts are deployed in utterly bizarre fashion; and there are probably more scenes of aimless driving than there are in Manos: The Hands of Fate, except this time they’re accompanied by the thunderously repetitive folk score of Nachum Heiman. Did I mention there’s a pair of machine-gun-wielding mimes, a couple of extremely, um, lifelike sharks and a silent dream sequence where men with tape recorder heads attack our hero?

And yet, derision and enjoyment go hand-in-hand here. If you didn’t know better, you might assume this was tailor-made for the riffing era, but thankfully, the film is far too earnest in everything it does to possess one ounce of self-awareness, which would have likely dampened the fun. And the thing is, Sefer is a more competent filmmaker than you might imagine, showing a nice eye for location photography (shot capably by Ya’ackov Kallach) and varied shot selection. Even the editing is pretty decent when Sefer stays away from the jump cuts.

None of the actors portraying the film’s central foursome, the American hippie Mike (Asher Tzarfati), actress Elizabeth Lily Avidan, wild-eyed, Hebrew-speaking Komo (Shmuel Wolf) and his flower-child girlfriend (Tzila Karney), are particularly gifted, but they throw themselves with gusto into their characters’ desire to establish a hippie utopia. The film’s attempts at doing something radical seem pretty tame by today’s standards, but there’s a likable cracked integrity to the whole thing, and the miserably stupid ending threatens to redeem the whole experience for those who found the film more of an endurance test than a camp delight.

The Blu-ray Disc
An American Hippie in Israel is presented in 1080p high definition and a screen-filling 1.78:1 aspect ratio. This is a pretty phenomenal transfer for a film of this ilk, presenting a very clean, quite sharp image with strong levels of detail. Colors do appear to be pretty washed out, but this desaturated look may have been intentional. The uncompressed mono track is pretty lifeless, but plenty intelligible. It gets the job done. For those sitting alone at home who want to experience the midnight movie effect, an alternate 5.1 track includes audience reactions from an actual screening. Optional Hebrew subtitles are also provided, because duh.

Special Features
This stacked three-disc set collects a host of bonus material, including deleted scenes, 16mm screen tests and interviews with Tzarfati, Wolf, assistant production manager Moshe Berman and folk duo Susan & Fran, whose song in the film is a rare moment of unironic beauty. Sefer’s silent short Be Careful Children is also included, along with featurettes that look at the film’s legacy in Israel as a rediscovered cult object. Still galleries, filmographies and the legendary theatrical trailer round out disc one. Disc two is a DVD copy of the film, while disc three contains a DVD of The Hitchhiker, a slightly longer alternate cut of the film that pushes the envelope a bit more. The print used here is in bad shape, with burned-in subtitles, but it’s a nice inclusion nonetheless.

The Bottom Line
While American Hippie probably works best with a packed audience at a midnight movie screening, this is a disc that will delight fans of utterly earnest cinematic trash.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.