Showing that shlock trumps taste, nearly 100 people crowded the Tel Aviv
Cinematheque on Friday night for the midnight screening of the burgeoning cult
film An American Hippie in Israel.
The 1972 film – surely one of the
worst films ever made in Israel, or beyond – has been appearing at midnight on
the first Friday night of the last four months, and has evolved into an Israeli
cult event on par with the midnight screenings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show
in the US, albeit one still in its infant phases.
As a result of its
new-found popularity, the film is also set for a limited US release later this
year, following its acquisition nearly a decade ago by US company Grindhouse
Releasing, which specializes in cult and “exploitation films.”
company’s theatrical director, David Szulkin, said the film has received very
positive feedback after two previous showings in Los Angeles, and that the
company plans to release it in US theaters and on Blu-ray disc this
The film bears all the hallmarks of a classic cult movie: terrible
dialogue, worse camera work and editing, and heaps of gratuitous nudity and
This wreck of a movie is also benefited by the all-Israeli
cast’s awkward mangling of the all- English script, which is at times both
blindingly naïve and completely nonsensical.
Filmmaker Amos Sefer (an
actor who left Israel for the US after making the movie, his only attempt at the
craft) also didn’t skimp on ham-fisted symbolism, in particular the opening
segment, which depicts a steam-roller flattening a patch of wildflowers,
interspersed with Vietnam battle scenes showing bullet-ridden corpses covered
with maggots in shallow jungle graves. But despite – or because of – its
shortcomings, the film is also undeniably hilarious and enjoyable to
The movie centers around New York native Mike, the hippie (played
by Asher Tzarfati), who, fresh from the killing fields of Vietnam, lands in
Israel one sunny morning clad in a white rabbit fur vest, bellbottoms and a
bowler hat. He links up with some Israeli flower children and they skipacross the city, eventually making their way to Eilat to build a utopia far away
from the rat race.
The love fest predictably soon turns into a bloodbath,
and floating plastic sharks prevent the crew’s escape from the coral island
south of Eilat. Throughout the movie, Mike is hounded by a duo of menacing mimes
in black suits and zombie make-up, whose motives are unknown but whose methods
The monthly midnight showings were engineered by Yaniv
Eidelstein, a 32-year-old Tel Aviv resident who hunted down the film after
finding a trailer for it online in 2007.
“In 2007 I found the trailer of
the movie on YouTube. It didn’t have any details, it just said An American
Hippie in Israel
– but I recognized the actor Shmuel Wolf from the
trailer. So I found him and asked him about the movie, and he started to
tell me the story.”
Eidelstein, who has been
called the movie’s “evangelist,” told The Jerusalem Post
that after hunting down
Wolf (who plays the supporting lead role of Komo), he convinced the actor – now
77 – to lend him his copy of the movie to hold a showing for friends at his home
in Tel Aviv in 2007. Wolf came with his wife, and watched the movie among a
crowd of new-found fans.
“After that first showing at my house, people
kept asking me about it, wanting to know when I’d show it again, some of them
people I’d never met even,” said Eidelstein, who works as a translator and subtitle writer for movies in Israel.
“A few months ago, Time Out Tel
ran an article about the movie, and afterwards we went to the Cinematheque
and convinced them to hold a midnight showing.”
Eidelstein said he
believes the monthly showings will continue for the time being since they draw
an abnormally large crowd for a midnight screening.
“People just keep
coming. The Cinematheque told me it’s very rare for a midnight showing to
succeed, and I think they’re going to stay with it because it’s a success. It’s
surprised me too, to see people, high school kids especially, who have learned
the words to the movie,” he said.
Eighteen-year-old Matan Portnoy was at
the screening on Friday, sitting with a group of four friends, who shouted out
several of the movie’s more ridiculous lines in tune with the actors. Like many
others, Portnoy was brought to the showing, his second, after seeing the YouTube
“I heard about the movie by chance from someone who was at the
first showing at the theater, and he told me I should check out the trailer
online. Once I saw the trailer, I realized I had to see the entire movie,” he
Portnoy, who said he would definitely go to the showing again, said
what he loves is “the ending, which kills me each time. Also there’s the
dialogue, the bad acting, the plot – all of it, really.”
ending, which won’t be given away here, is in fact hilarious – almost resembling
a Monty Python animated segment – the funniest part of the movie happens after
the credits roll. The words “With special thanks: the government of Israel” roll
across the screen.
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