Oct 16, 2014

An American Hippie in Israel

Personally, I cannot think of many film titles that are more humorous and simultaneously intriguing yet repulsive than An American Hippie in Israel (1972) directed by one-time Israeli auteur Amos Sefer. While I would not exactly call myself a connoisseur of Israeli cinema and I have done little in the way of attempting to study the Hebrew nation’s rather unremarkable film history, Sefer’s strikingly hypnotic hippiexploitation flick certainly has to be one of the strangest, silliest, and unintentionally amusing films ever (mis)begotten in the so-called ‘holy land.’ The schlocky and ultimately somewhat shocking tale of a NYC-bred Vietnam War vet/idealistic hippie who travels to Israel to recruit a bunch of Hebraic hippies and create an ostensibly flower child utopia in the middle of the desert, An American Hippie in Israel aka Ha-Trempist aka The Hitch Hiker is notable in that, unlike the always phony and soulless celluloid swill directed by the culture-distorting Hebrew Zionists in Hollywood who tend to depict the counter-culture zeitgeist as some sort of meta-holy Golden Age that ‘liberated’ the evil racist goyim from their innate authoritarianism and Christian morals, it has a rather nihilistic and pessimistic ending and depicts ideas like “world peace” and “harmony” as an intangible idealistic joke dreamed up by decidedly deluded and debauched dreamers who are attempting to run away from the problems in their own loser lives. Make no mistake about it, Sefer’s celluloid affair is a B(ad)-movie of the obscenely outmoded and unintentionally humorous sort, but it has a sort of idiosyncratic character about it that is hard to ignore, even if the prospect of being around hippies, heebs, and/or the holy land makes you cringe, as it does me. While certainly nowhere near “the most psychedelic movie ever made” as advertised on the poster art released by Grindhouse Releasing, An American Hippie in Israel is most certainly the “most psychedelic Jewish movie ever made,” which may not say much, but certainly has a bizarre ring to it, no matter which way you look at it. Featuring a deadly duo of phantom-like mimes with hippie-exterminating machineguns and technocratic machine-men, Sefer’s cinematic hybrid is part sci-fi, part horror, part adventure, part action, and part unintentional comedy but all kosher kookiness. A film that makes Israel seem like a paradisiacal ghost town inhabited by the spirit of Hebraic gangsters like Meyer Lansky that is quite hostile to naïve American hippies who think they can find peace in a place ravaged by perennial hatred and war, An American Hippie in Israel certainly somehow makes the holy land way more entrancing than those rather repellant pictures of various culturally-cuckolded shabbos goy celebrities and politicians pretending to wail at the Wailing Wall. 

 Beginning with title scenes featuring flowers being crushed by a steamroller juxtaposed with sounds of gunfire and warfare in a somewhat eerie scenario reminiscent of the bulldozing of Palestinians homes by Israelis carrying out Zio-style ‘Lebensraum,’ An American Hippie in Israel then introduces the bearded ‘American Hippie’ Mike (Asher Tzarfati), who is flying into the holy land in the hopes of establishing a hippie utopia. With not a dime to his name, Mike immediately begins hitchhiking when he lands in Israel and he is soon picked up by a beautiful actress named Elizabeth (Lily Avidan), who asks him if he is a hippie, to which he stereotypically replies, “You might say so. Right on.” While on the road, Mike is followed by two deathly pale mystery men sporting gangster-like zoot suit outfits and top-hats and wielding menacing machineguns, who he calls “scum buckets” and “shitheads” and yells at for following him everywhere around the world, though he does not really know why. As Mike explains to Elizabeth, he was born and bred in New York City, but has spent the last two years or so floating around Europe. A disillusioned Vietnam War veteran, Mike also explains to Elizabeth that he resents the fact that he was turned into a “murdering machine” by the U.S. military and killed some anonymous gook at age 19, which was before he even lost his virginity, hence his new found delusional love for ‘free love’ and unconscious attempt to atone for his sins via promoting peace and selfless communal living.  After demonstrating flower power to Elizabeth by pounding her flesh flower, Mike explains his ultimate dream as follows: “I’m looking for a place faraway from everything. A place where I can live with a bunch of people that think like me without anyone telling us what to do.” Indeed, before they know it, Mike and Elizabeth have established a kosher commune of sorts full of dozens of Hebrew hippies engaging in dope-smoking and free love, but that is cut short when the mysterious mime duo shows up and kills every single person present aside from Mike, Elizabeth, and an Israeli hippie couple (played by Tzila Karney and Shmuel Wolf, the latter of whom only speaks Hebrew) that was responsible for introducing the now-dead deadheads to the protagonist. 

 Although all their hip hippie homeboys were exterminated in a storm of bullets, that does not stop Mike, Elizabeth, Tzila, and Shmuel from carrying on their glorious utopian dreams of a simpler world without technology and war. After Mike declares, “from now on, we're one family” and that they are “free,” the four peaceniks make their way out to the desert in Elizabeth’s rather bourgeois convertible in search of their own little hippie Heimat. After Mike awakens from a couple nightmares involving battling machines with human legs (indeed, Mike literally ‘rages against the machine’!!!) and seeing Palestinians imprisoned in surreal mirage-like desert-based jail cells and execution squads, among other things, the four flower children buy some hippie gear, including a little goat, from some Arab vendors and make their way further into the desert where they find a serenely surreal island comprised entirely of jagged rocks and a couple pieces of ancient ruined buildings, which the self-appointed flower power Führer declares their new home, stating, “Man, this is really fantastic…really out-of-sight” and to which his automaton-like followers jubilantly declare, “Finally, we’re free!,” as if they are excited grade school children who have found the perfect spot to build a tree fort. That night, the less than fierce foursome huddle together during a bonfire where Mike self-righteously proclaims to his comrades like the corny charlatan that he is, “I want this place to serve as a living symbol for the whole world. We’ll show the world that it is possible to live without war…without violence…without machines with buttons…the only sounds that will be coming out of this place will be those of song, joy, and laughter.” 

 Despite his initial positive attitude, Mike then proceeds to go on a rather juvenile nihilistic beatnik rant, hatefully stating in the most pansy way possible: “Let’s say something to the whole world! World, you’re so full of shit…you’re so badly contaminated that it is impossible to find a corner free of smell, especially the stench of dead bodies…that’s why I hate you. There are millions that hate you…millions that want to escape to another place…a place in which they can breathe air, pure and clean, but you find them, kill them, torture them…the day of reckoning will come. You will be doomed. You will destroy yourself with your own hands...you stinking world.” Elizabeth reveals how brainwashed she is by Mike by responding to his speech with the following mindless gibberish: “I love Mike and believe in him…and if he says you’re doomed, you’d better watch out!,” not realizing that her new beatnik boy toy will be the one that is ultimately responsible for her and the rest of the group's doom. While Shmuel does not really say anything since he only speaks Hebrew, Tzila also expresses her slavish mentality by declaring: “You’re a meek world […] good riddance to bad rubbish.” After they all give their poorly articulated little ‘anti-world’ spiels, the four friends engage in an orgy to usher in the beginning of their new utopia, but little do they realize that they have reached the beginning of the end of their vapid existences as people who yearn for simpler lives yet can barely tie their shoes. Indeed, these big-nosed beatniks are in store for both a literal and figurative rude awakening that will conclude in their own Lord of the Flies-esque demise. 

 Upon awakening the next morning after the first night at their island utopia, the hymie hippies notice that the small shitty boat that they used to get to their micro-homeland has disappeared, thus cutting them off not only from the land, but also from food and fresh water. To prove his prowess as a leader and dedication to self-sacrifice, Mike volunteers to swim back to the homeland to get supplies for his fellow Dead Sea pedestrians, but he ultimately pansies out while swimming across after bumping into two ominous sharks that may or not be the mystery mime men in anthropomorphized form. After complaining to his comrades, “Bummer. If it wasn’t for those damn sharks, everything would be ok” and absurdly berating the deadly fish by shouting at them, “Blasted creeps…Get out of here, you bastards!,” Mike begins acting like the sort of authoritarian dictators he claims to hate and forces his meek followers to scavenge for food. Ultimately, only Mike finds food in the form of measly limpets, which the others refuse to eat, with Elizabeth pompously proclaiming, “You’ll never get me to eat one of those. Those disgust me.” Indeed, due to their sheltered and pampered upbringings, the ‘bobos’ (bourgeois bohemians) would rather starve to death than eat something that might gross them out. After Tzila accuses Mike of using “smooth talk” to con them into coming to the island, a pathetic fight breaks out between the two couples that results in each set of lovers occupying one side of the island. Rather absurdly, a four person civil war breaks out between the two couples, with Mike and Shmuel threatening to kill one another if they dare to set foot on the other’s side of the island. After each couple sharpens some jagged rocks, there is a showdown between the two couples to kill the little goat for food. In the end, all four of the hippies end up killing each other, with Mike screaming like a wounded animal before he perishes. After the deadly micro-civil war that ends with all four hippies and the goat lying in a holocaust-esque heap of untermensch death, the two mysterious gangster mimes show up and steal Elizabeth’s convertible. The film concludes with a giant “END” appearing on the island of lost hippie souls. 

Rather ironically, the only other counter-culture-themed films I know of aside from An American Hippie in Israel that are set in Israel are both German and nowhere as kitschy as Sefer’s truly awe-inspiring celluloid oddity. Indeed, aside from kraut cult auteur Roland Klick’s underrated ‘acid western’ Deadlock (1970) featuring a great score by Can and starring perennial screen villain Mario Adorf and West German counter-culture figures Marquard Bohm and Mascha Rabben, Veit Relin’s Chamsin (1972)—a psychedelic reworking of German poet/playwright Friedrich Schiller’s tragedy Die Braut von Messina aka The Bride of Messina (1803) starring Maria Schell (whose then-husband directed the film) and featuring a score by pioneering krautrockers Amon Düül II—was also filmed in Israel. Unquestionably, the major difference between the two German films and Sefer’s work is that while Deadlock and Chamsin are authentic works of counter-culture cinema made by counter-culture types for counter-culture types, An American Hippie in Israel is an innately anti-hippie celluloid affair that not only makes a major mockery of hippiedom, but also attempts to condemn the whole hippie Weltanschauung as an idiotically idealistic pipedream that is totally incompatible with the innate nature of mankind. Ironically, National Socialism, Zionism, and the American and European counter-culture movements were all in part inspired by the Weltanschauung and aesthetics of the German Wandervogel movement—a youth movement promoting a ‘back-to-nature’ ideology that became popular in 1896 and lasted until 1933 when the Nazis had the groups banned and replaced with the Hitler Youth—thus all three films make for interesting viewing when watched back-to-back. 

 While all three films feature a certain apocalyptic nihilism where neo-paganism reigns and music has more or less replaced religion as the opiate of the masses, only An American Hippie in Israel goes as far as primarily focusing on the counter-culture movement and its failure to make any real difference in the world, albeit in a slightly esoteric and allegorical sort of way. In that sense, Israel—the virtual epicenter for racial, religious, and cultural hatred and warfare in the world—is probably the best setting for a (anti)hippie cinematic parable about the failing of humanity and the naivety of those that believe there can be peace on earth and everlasting good will among men. In its unflattering depiction of Americans as unworldly morons who think that they have the god given right to go to foreign lands and change them however they see fit, as well as its darkly humorous portrayal of the hippie way life as an oftentimes deadly road to nowhere, Sefer's film also makes for the perfect double feature with the somewhat superior and surely underrated Spanish surrealist quasi-giallo Bloodbath (1979) aka Las flores del vicio aka The Sky Is Falling directed by Italian-Canadian auteur Silvio Narizzano, which depicts the bizarre demise of a middle-aged American hippie (played by Dennis Hopper) and a couple American expatriates who arrogantly defile a Spanish island with their spiritual and sexual degeneracy.  Sefer's hallucinatory hippiexploitation nightmare is also notable for being a work that will appeal to both would-be-hippies and hippie-haters alike, as a glaringly flawed yet undeniably unforgettable filmic fever dream set in a figurative hippie Hades where ‘The Man’ takes on ghostly, robotic, and even anthropomorphic forms.  Indeed, if you enjoy truly idiosyncratic exploitation flicks and/or seeing hippies having an apocalyptic ‘bummer’ during an existential pilgrimage, An American Hippie in Israel is certainly worth your time.

-Ty E


jervaise brooke hamster said...

In the last picture why did the director choose to pose the two geezers dead bodys as if they were faggots ?, that was rather idiotic and very irritating for all the heterosexual geezers watching the film.

teddy crescendo said...

In the picture of the two birds playing their guitars the bird on the right looks like Arlo Guthrie.

teddy crescendo said...

The picture of the geezer fighting the two computer geezers and the giant labia looks like an image from that old show called "The Pri-daughter-er" (1967-68) starring Patrick McGoohan.