Of all the complaints that might be lodged against AN AMERICAN HIPPIE IN ISRAEL, “same old/same old” would not be one of them. The movie is off the hook, off the charts, and entirely its own animal, however it may have drawn inspiration from such diverse texts as Walden and The Lord of the Flies.
When Mike and his fellow First World apostates prepare to strike out for some small patch of land “without clothes, without governments and without borders” only to have their number cut down by machine gun-toting funeral directors (well, that’s what they look like) and try to make a run for sanctuary only to find themselves stranded on a desolate island surrounded by sharks, I was put in the mind of Peter Watkin’s PUNISHMENT PARK (1971), which had opened early in 1971, a few months before AN AMERICAN HIPPIE IN ISRAEL (or, rather, THE HITCHHIKER) went into production.
Sitting back and wondering just where this all came from is only one of the joys of watching this movie, though others have made great fun by shouting its own dialogue back at it (“Wonderful feeling!” is the phrase that pays, you’ll see), dancing along to the hippie songs, or even pantomiming being mowed down by submachinegun mimefire. I get the MST3K response but I came of age before that service, so I tend to watch these movies, warts and all, free of the compulsion to mock as I view.
You may well find this film unwatchable — certainly, that was the consensus back in 1972 when the decision was made to shelf the whole affair — but there’s a lot here for me to love, from the quasi-Nouvelle Vague theatricality of the performances to the grindingly slow traveling footage that charts the protagonists’ journey from the city (Tel Aviv, never so named but unmistakable) to the port of Eilat on the Red Sea and on to Pharaoh’s Island (then controlled by Israel, now controlled by Egypt), and all the wacky intervals inbetween and beyond.
Followed by Lana-Turner-drops-acid flick The Big Cube (1969):
At the time of this film’s release in 1969, Hollywood was being turned upside down by the success of Easy Rider and a spate of deeply conflicted “youth culture” movies such as Wild in the Streets (1968) and The Trip (1967) which seemed to regard the Woodstock generation as a lucrative but dangerous crowd whose loose morality could easily spell the downfall of America. The Big Cube certainly represents an extreme example of this mindset, fusing a diatribe against drug-sodden kids while spinning out a particularly wild variation on the “drive-the-heiress-crazy” plotline already familiarized in glossy melodramas like Gaslight (1944) and Midnight Lace (1960).