Film: Lemon Popsicle: Of Winners and Losers / Eskimo Limon – Eis am Stiel: Von Siegern und Verlierern (2018)

May 10, 2019 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer:  n/a

Extras: n/a

Label:  n/a

Region: n/a

Released:  n/a

Genre:  Documentary / Film History

Synopsis: Affectionate, frank, and ultimately provocative examination of those who benefited from the cult 1978 Israeli teen comedy-drama “Lemon Popsicle.’

Special Features:  n/a

 


 

Review:

Eric Friedler’s documentary on the hugely successful Lemon Popsicle franchise may begin as a benevolent examination of the little film that could, but by the finale it’s indirectly critical of co-writer / director Boaz Davidson and producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus for exploiting, neglecting, and being disconnected with specific issues stemming from the original film’s production, and its impact on specific cast members.

As the title suggests, the winners were its makers – Davidson’s idea, based on someone he knew during his youth; and the producers who moved to the U.S and built Cannon Films into a major indie production entity – and the losers were those left in a wake of confusion, career doldrums, persecution, and financial disaster.

It’s an unusual curve that Friedler follows, seeding clips, rare stills and behind-the-scenes footage, and initially amusing anecdotes that become more critical. Everything converges towards a director willing to abuse and push his cast using sometimes cruel manipulations, and producers who made a bundle from the fresh-faced cast, some of whom appeared in the West German, co-produced sequels, but failed to find more diverse roles.

With a budget of $300,000, the film was submitted to the Berlin International Film Festival, and to the director’s surprise, it was accepted, and led to deals for distribution and several sequels. Golan & Globus sold the film for $10 million each to Japan and Germany, and in 1978, when Israel’s population was around 3 million, almost half the country saw the film which depicted three teens squiggling through unrequited love, abortion, and frank sexual activities and nudity.

And it is a teen comedy – a pioneering entry in the genre, and a rare example of casting actors much closer to their characters’ high school ages than subsequent U.S. films, top-heavy with twentysomethings.

The shock and euphoria of the film’s success was a surprise to the young cast, and the sequels no doubt provided a somewhat steady stream of work, but for actors like Zachi Noy, the role of the funny / awkward fat kid became a curse.

Actress Ophelia Shtruhl who played nymphomaniac Stella saw her career destroyed as moviegoers couldn’t separate character from person, and she claims she was brutally pilloried and rendered unemployable in spite of being one of many actors giving earnest, funny, and affecting performances.

Anat Atzmon’s disrobing for Stella’s abortion scene is bizarre, and there are suggestions Davidson either had no idea of abortion protocol, or directed the scene with maximum titillation to ensure solid sales for the European market.

Director Friedler isn’t out to slam the filmmakers, but he allows their disconnect to emerge by straight cross-cutting between what the actors and costume designer say, and more disciplined responses by Globus and director Davidson.

The most tragic figures are those whose characters existed for laughs and contrived tragedy. Now in his 70s, Noy is filmed singing a ‘fat kid’ song to a small audience of German Lemon Popsicle fans; Shtruhl is still disheartened by the venal reaction from ordinary people for what was just a part; and Sibylle Rauchm, the German ex-Playboy model turned actress appeared in several sequels before diverting to hardcore porn, and falling on hard times.

The questions that emerge from the final moments in the doc deal with responsibility. Should filmmakers turn a blind eye to a person in need of help, especially after earning millions? Should members of a successful franchise deserve revised contracts and share in the remunerations? Does a filmmaker’s manipulations justify hurting & humiliating an actor to get the right performance and moment that’s supposed to evoke a happy period from his past? And as series star Yftach Katzur opines, do actors bear some responsibility in participating in scenes that seed, shape, or inadvertently validate sexist attitudes in audiences?

Exploitation films tend to get a pass from fans because they are the products of an era when certain views, behaviour, and offensive caricatures and attitudes were treated as humorous by filmmakers, and largely accepted / tolerated by audiences due to a lack of diversity and maturity in genre films.

Such films shouldn’t be banned or censored, and most video labels make efforts to assemble essays and interviews to contextualize the content and not invalidate the film, its makers, nor its connoisseurs, but it’s rare when a documentarian pulls back the veneer of a beloved franchise, and allows the wounded humanity to emerge from beyond the aged celluloid images of smiling actors, colourful posters, and a franchise’s supposedly untouchable reputation.

Lemon Popsicle: Of Winners and Losers (2018) had its Canadian premiere at the 2019 Toronto Jewish film Festival, as did Friedler’s other doc, It Must Schwing! The Blue Note Story (2018).

 

 

© 2019 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

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