A matured hippie
"I think there is nothing more pathetic than a bald revolutionary. Revolution belongs to the young," says director Yaky Yosha.
"I think there is nothing more pathetic than a bald revolutionary. Revolution belongs to the young," says director Yaky Yosha. "With most artists, as they mature, they undergo a process of introspection - psychological processes and their investigation become more urgent than social situations. When people start hearing the Angel of Death's footsteps, they deal increasingly with the world of the mind and the spirit. However, this doesn't necessarily indicate a lack of caring."
Yosha, 56, still sports the splendid mane of hair and the round glasses that, along with his early films' political content and acute social criticism, gave rise in his youth to his image as a rebellious hippie. When his first long film, "Shalom, Prayer for the Road," came out, Lili Yudinsky of the mass-circulation daily Ma'ariv called it "the first and perhaps the last hippie movie made in Israel."
The cover of the movie's DVD, which was released recently along with eight more of Yosha's films (a total of seven feature films and two documentary films), shows a close-up photo of a kiss between the film's two main characters, played by Yosha himself and his wife Dorit. Back then, the couple's hair, glasses and their relationship, along with the film's anti-war messages, offered a kind of local version of John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
"I shot the film in 1972. I was 21 years old and the hippies were still influencing life a bit back then. Whether I want it or not, I am a product of the 1960s," says Yosha during a meeting at a Tel Aviv cafe. "I grew up in Tel Aviv. Back then, that was our reality."
"Shalom, Prayer for the Road" was produced as an independent film. Because of its skimpy budget, shooting took more than a year. "The first hippie movie" did not confine itself to love and flowers, and from it arise the criticism and disillusionment that spread in Israeli society in the wake of the Yom Kippur War, even though the film was produced before the war. In it, Yosha plays a young man who answers to the symbolic name of Shalom. He scraps with policemen, is angry at the establishment and holds long discussions with his buddies about the army and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"The film was more of a political statement than a hippie statement," Yosha says. "It spoke about the period between the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, when there was a sense of euphoria here, as though we were the Roman Empire of the Middle East. Back then, when [Moshe] Dayan said 'better territories without peace than peace without territories,' everyone applauded him. We were just kids then and we were trying to find out who else shared our sense that this wasn't true. I am glad to be among the few who already thought so back then."
Today, 34 years later, Yosha is working on a new film called "While I'm Still Walking" ("Od ani holekh"). About two weeks ago, the Israel Film Fund informed him that it will support the film. Yosha explains that the screenplay is based on a book he has written, which will be published in two months under the same title (by Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House). "This film will be a big brother of 'Shalom.' It will follow the protagonists of 'Shalom' one generation later and will depict the young people trying to figure out the social and political situation they are living in, when they are more mature. It will follow the handsome youths whose hair has already thinned, whose looks are already fading, and as for the place in which they live - heaven help us." Two weeks ago the Tel Aviv Cinematheque held a festive screening of his second and much-admired film, "Rockinghorse," to mark the 30th anniversary of its production. Shmulik Kraus, who celebrated his 70th birthday at the same event, played an artist who refused to conform to the frameworks of his parents' generation and to what is expected of him by the patriotic Israeli society of that time. Yosha - who wrote, directed and produced the film - was invited at the time to show it at the Cannes Film Festival. It was the first Israeli film to be invited to the festival's "Directors' Fortnight."
His third film, "The Vulture" (1981), was also shown at the Cannes Festival. However, in Israel, the film turned Yosha into an "enemy of the people," as he puts it. "The Vulture" expressed acute criticism of the commercialization of the industry for commemorating the fallen of Israel's wars and made bereaved parents very angry. They said the film hurt their feelings and demanded that it be removed from the screens. For them, the film desecrated the memory of the dead and smashed the myth of the Israel Defense Forces' heroism. "At that time I felt it was worth saying those things, that maybe it could change something," says Yosha. "This film just tried to stop for a moment and relate to the attitude that prevailed back then, which held that if you die, you are a hero and therefore it is perhaps worth dying."
However, many Israelis did not see eye-to-eye with him. The film and theater censorship board ordered him to cut out a number of scenes, the deputy defense minister took steps to have the movie's screening license revoked, the High Court of Justice was called upon to settle the dispute and the press followed the fuss with great interest. "They smashed my car windows nine times. The auto glazier informed me that he didn't have any more windows for me," Yosha says.
The High Court of Justice ruled against Yosha and ordered him to cut 40 seconds from the film - but today he clarifies he never complied. "After the High Court of Justice decision, I said 'screw that!' and I didn't cut the film," he reveals. "Some policemen came to the Jerusalem movie theater where the film was being screened and took the copy. They informed me that I would have to pay a fine to get it back. I paid 5 Israeli pounds and took the film back."
Yosha left the Herzliya Gymnasia in 10th grade and began playing in the beat group "The Monsters" (alongside Yaakov Goldwasser). Initially he tries to evade he question of whether he served in the army but finally he changes his mind and admits: "The IDF decided it would win the next war more easily without me."
Instead of a khaki uniform, he donned bell-bottoms and went to work for Avraham Pashanel and Uri Zohar's production company. At first he worked as stage manager at their Popular Theater and then the two took him to work in films. "I was the pet hippie of Pashanel and Zohar," he says. He can't quite reconstruct what he did on the set but he definitely remembers how they would sit around backstage and smoke illegal substances. Weighing down on the atmosphere of free love and the joys of revolution in his first films is the sexism that is also evident in Zohar's films. In one of the scenes in "The Vulture," for example, the protagonist gets into bed with a girl and forces himself on her, despite her protests, until she submits to him in the end.
"At that time, pinching a girl in her bottom was like saying hello," Yosha justifies himself. "You have to see it in the context of that period. That's the way it was then, and it will never be that way again."
After "The Vulture," he directed "Dead End Street" (1982) and "Sunstroke" (1984), after which he disappeared from the local film scene for a long time. He went to try his luck in Hollywood and remained there for nine years. He enjoys recounting how Sean Penn wanted to make a film with him and claims that Orson Welles also wanted to star in one of his movies but in the end neither project came to fruition.
Welles, he says, was enthusiastic about a screenplay he had written, based on Yoram Kaniuk's book "Adam Resurrected." However, the productive relationship between the novelist and the director, which had previously engendered the screenplays for "Rockinghorse" and "The Vulture" (in which Kaniuk played himself), ran aground and metamorphosed into a prolonged conflict.
In the 1980s the two grappled in court over the film rights to "Adam Resurrected" and a few months ago, more than 20 years after the conflict between them first erupted, it was announced that Paul Schrader is slated to direct a Hollywood version of the work starring Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe. In the wake of that decision, the quarrel flared up again: Yosha threatened to sue the production for infringing on his rights, he and Kaniuk started quarrelling again on the pages of Haaretz and in the end they settled the dispute outside of court.
Ultimately Yosha returned from the United States with only one film in his quiver, "Sexual Response" (1992), which was made in the spirit of the erotic Hollywood thriller of that period. Since his return to Israel he has made only two feature films - "Shabazi" (1997) and "Blood Guilt" (1998). His main focus has been on making television series and documentary films. He says that he particularly enjoyed the work on the documentary series "Police," which was based on the American series "Cops" and aired on Channel 2 in 1999 and 2000. In the series, he documented the activity of police teams, accompanied them on chases and followed their missions. The director, who in his first feature film confronted the police and saw them as a symbol of the oppressive establishment, testifies that while working on the series he suddenly saw them in a different light. "The series was very depressing, so far from the image of the police. I discovered that in fact they are doing sacred work." This, apparently, is how a matured hippie speaks.