I can almost guarantee you that you have never seen anything quite like Amos Sefer’s 1972 film, An American Hippie in Israel. Considered a lost film for years, it has been re-discovered and unleashed on the midnight film circuit, and is now a cult classic for the ages. It is incompetent, incredibly stupid, and very, very entertaining. I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time. However, for all of its flaws, it’s heart is in the right place.
An American Hippie in Israel opens as Mike, a Vietnam vet and the hippie of the title, steps barefoot off of an airplane and into Israel. After wandering around for a bit, he eventually pops up his thumb and starts bumming around for a ride. It doesn’t take long before an actress named Elizabeth pulls over to pick him up. The two exchange in an awkward bit of dialogue, before they are interrupted by two strange mimes carrying machine guns. Apparently, these bastards have been following Mike around for a long time. Wherever he goes, they show up. He threatens to punch them if they ever show up again, and he and Elizabeth head off to her home. Once they arrive, Mike rambles off into one of many anti-war speeches in the film. He speaks of his time in Vietnam.
“They turned me into a murdering machine. A push on the button and we are forced to run to our deaths, a push on the button and we shoot people, a push on the button and we are turned into wild animals! You fools stop pushing buttons, you Fools! Fools!!! Fools!!!!”
Deep, man. Real deep. Oscar clip material.
￼After pouring his heart out to Elizabeth, the two share a cup of nice warm coffee and then proceed to have nasty hippie sex. As they lie naked on the floor post- coitus, Mike tells Elizabeth of his dream of a hippie utopia, full of people who share the same worldviews. In this beautiful new land, people wouldn’t need war, they wouldn’t need rules – hell, they wouldn’t even have to wear clothes! This must sound like an excellent idea to Elizabeth, because she immediately leaves everything behind to follow Mike on his quest to gather a bunch of like-minded hippies, and start a happy little cult. They literally skip around Israel on their search, and within mere minutes, they have collected an entire group of long- haired, sweaty, LSD loving flower children.
They all meet in some sort of an abandoned shack, where Mike shares his philosophy on life, two women strum a happy tune on the guitar, and the hippies all begin to jump around and writhe to groovy music. I could call it dancing, but each and every one of the hippies look as though they are having epileptic seizures. All is bliss. A new family has been formed. A new world has begun. You can feel the love. You can smell the B.O.
And then it happens.
The mimes show up and blow every single one of the hippies away to hippie heaven.
Only four survive – Mike (of course), Elizabeth, a Hebrew-speaking man named Komo, and his girlfriend, Francoise. They silently ride out to the gas station, where they pick up two boxes of bread and canned goods, liquor, an inflatable raft, and two boat oars. They continue on, much happier this time. They even stop at a marketplace to pick up a sweet little pet goat. Mike and Elizabeth flirt with one another in the front, while the odd-looking Komo and Francoise get busy in the backseat making love and not war, in full view of the goat, who doesn’t know what to make of all this. Meanwhile, Mike decides to take a nap, and has a psychedelic dream involving two ominous looking creatures with cassette tapes for heads. He smashes them to pieces in silent slow motion, before waking up. It’s one of the most memorable sequences in the entire film.
Before long, they arrive at a desolate island and unload the car. They make their way down to the other side of this island on a the raft, tear off their clothes, and go skinny dipping, all the while screaming, “Freedom! Free!” That night, they sit half- naked around a puny fire, eating french bread and beans out of a can, drinking whiskey, and reveling in the fact that they have now found true freedom! Cold beans and bread with no utensils, an absence of drinking water, one bottle of liquor, no clothes, a tiny fire, and good intentions! They are really sticking it to the man, lemme tell ya! After they each take a turn, standing up and telling the world exactly how they feel – with such insights as this, “World. You are a bad world! Bad, bad, bad!” – they strip off what little clothes they have on, and the four of them crawl under one big blanket and fornicate.
The next morning, they find that their raft has drifted away and is nowhere to be found. The goat has bailed, as well. The car is on the other side of the island. Mike makes an attempt to swim to the other side, before he notices three sharks heading in his direction. He swims back to the shore. “Damned creeps!,” he says of the sharks. Now, our hippie friends are in a bind. They must reach the car if they want food and water. In the meantime, the ladies lie around the island complaining, while Komo and Mike “hunt” for food. The language barrier soon becomes an issue for Mike, and he and Komo start to shout at one another. They return to the girls, who aren’t the least bit satisfied with the food that Mike has brought with him.
Francoise begins to protest loudly. Mike warns her, demanding that she “shut her ass”. At this point, the group begins to turn on one another.
Will our hippies find peace, love, and understanding on the island? Or will the dream turn into a nightmare? And what of the mimes? Will they show up again with their evil machine guns? And don’t forget about the goat!
Just in case you don’t know it by now, An American Hippie in Israel is a masterpiece of grindhouse cinema. It has initiated a devoted following in Israel, and fans line up week after week to see it again. I don’t blame them. The film is a blast. And, as one critic before me has pointed out, the film is very sincere. The people involved had every intention of spreading a positive message, it’s just that they didn’t know quite how to go about it. Everything – from the direction, to the writing, to the acting – is completely and utterly bonkers. But it is lovable! It fills you with giddy glee. You will know that what you are watching is total shit, and you just won’t care.
An American Hippie in Israel is a gift from God. Treasure it.
My review copy of An American Hippie in Israel came with a personalized letter from Academy Award winning editor and producer, Bob Murawski, which states that they have been working on this release since 1997! This set is glorious. It is a limited edition three-disc package, containing both the Blu-ray and DVD of American Hippie, plus a rare 35mm cut of the film, entitled The Hitchhiker, on a standard DVD. Special features include six deleted scenes, never-before-seen interviews with several of the actors in the film, an audio track featuring audience reactions at The Beverly Cinema in Hollywood, still galleries, trailers, and optional Hebrew subtitles. The transfer, when compared to the 35mm print, is absolutely gorgeous. It has been meticulously restored, and the audio has been cleaned up significantly. Lots of work has gone in to bringing this film to a new audience.
Fans of grindhouse cinema, you owe it to yourselves to purchase this set! Remember, it is a limited edition. It probably won’t be around for long, so get one while you can! Please, just go ahead and watch the trailer.