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HOW TO STUFF A LEMON POPSICLE

By • Aug 4th, 2008 • Pages: 1 2 3

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LEMON POPSICLE @ 30

'I was 17 and she was only 16. We laid on the beach and listened to Elvis. The moon was full. It happened in the summer of '58'. LEMON POPSICLE (Israel)

“If you wore pointy shoes, grease in your hair, walking on your way to a party with an Elvis record in your hand – you felt like a king.” reminisced Boaz Davidson. He grew up in 1950’s Tel-Aviv, where teenagers formed street gangs, hung out at the local ice-cream parlor and were first introduced to sexuality. All in the key of the latest Elvis record, even if it took it a year to get there from the U.S. “Every Friday we would meet and dance, and dream of Dodge cars, of Chevrolets…” He told an Israeli reporter*, “the American dream is far and wonderful when you come back home and there’s dad reading a newspaper, eating yogurt, listening to news on the radio and everything seems so small and poor.”

Davidson began his career as a film director with the 1971 musical, SHABLUL, and had his first big hit a year later in AZIT, THE PARATROOPER DOG. Throughout the decade he became the most successful film director in Israel. In 1978, Davidson partnered with producers Menahem Golan & Yoram Globus to make a film based on his teenage experience. None of them imagined that the result, a nostalgic, coming-of-age tale set in 1950’s Tel-Aviv, would become an international blockbuster and spawn seven sequels and an American remake.

LEMON POPSICLE (original title, ESKIMO LIMON) follows the misadventures and sexual capers of 3 high-school friends: Yiftach Katzur as the sensitive, film version of Davidson – Benzi, Jonathan Segal as the gigolo – Momo, and Zachi Noy as the heavy-set, Yudale.

Benzi falls in love with Nili, the new girl in school but she is in love with Momo, who snubs her when he finds out she is carrying his baby. In a moment of despair, Nili turns to Benzi to finance her abortion. Finally, he gets the girl. When all is said and done, Benzi finds Nili at a party, back in Momo’s arms. He walks out brokenhearted to the sound of Bobby Vinton crooning “Mr. Lonely”. The End.

“I felt like a criminal who goes back to the scene of the crime, we even used some of the real locations.” Davidson said about directing such intimate autobiographic moments. Despite the film’s comedic nature and provocative sexual content, melancholy and nostalgia dominate from the heartbreaking opening song, “Greenfields” by The Brothers Four to the unusual downbeat ending.

The Teenager has been a dominant character in the American film industry ever since the baby boom of the 1950s when Teensploitaiton bloomed (ie the BEACH PARTY franchise, ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK and other Sam Arkoff and Sam Katzmann shenanigans). In Israel however, characters used to represent various faces of the Zionist on the backdrop of the country’s political landscape and social hierarchy. LEMON POPSICLE was the first to break from that mold and offer a hedonistic point-of-view of Israel’s youth. It encountered accusations of pornography from various sources that didn’t like its glorification of the intruding American culture and indulgence in sexuality. That cultural clash between Israeli and American cultures creates an interesting time capsule. Rock ‘n’ Roll music gives the tone in the streets but the old generation rules the home.

Film historian, Shmulik Duvdevani, observes: “It documents the influence of popular American culture at the time, such as Elvis, etc. And on the other hand, in 1978 the Americanization of Israel was at a prime: hamburger joints push over the falafel stands, ‘American Ice Cream’ pushes the local products, the first mall was opened in 1978 – There was an attempt to copy American culture with brands and such. So LEMON POPSICLE has English opening titles and it’s no problem to dub it and because of that it’s a film that represents the Americanization Israel was going through in the 70’s as well.”

LEMON POPSICLE became an immediate hit, breaking every record set before it in Israel. 1,300,000 viewers flooded the theaters. At the time this meant 1 out of every 3 people in the country.

And then it screened at the MIFED International Film Market in Italy. Yoram Globus recalls, “It was the first time I attended MIFED. I’m screening my film and after 30 minutes people start walking out. In Israel it’s the biggest hit and here people are walking out??? I then realized they all ran to stand in line to buy the film for distribution – They were all afraid of someone else buying it first”.

EIS AM STIEL: THE POPSICLE IN GERMANY & BEYOND

From the program of the 1978 Berlin Film Festival

Jeanine Meerapfel, a filmmaker and member of the 1978 Berlinale selection committee: “I remember seeing it and having a lot of fun but thinking we can’t show it in the Berlinale – it’s too popular! I said that a film like that coming from Israel has to be shown because it was unexpected, you expect drama from Israel and here comes a light, well done comedy.”

Not only was LP the first Israeli film to be screened at the Berlinale competition in 5 years but the screening was a huge success and viewers voted it the 4th most popular in the festival. German producer, Sam Waynberg (REPULSION, CUL DE SAC), bought the distribution rights for Germany and signed the 3 lead actors to his company, thus insuring his involvement in future sequels. When it opened theatrically as EIS AM STIEL, it surpassed the success of the competing GREASE and SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. A Golden Globe nomination followed and in 1979 and, when released in Japan, it became one of the most profitable films in theaters.

LEMON POPSICLE was also commercially distributed in Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Hungary, Greece, Brazil, Korea, Thailand and more. It was not as successful in Italy, where the sex-comedy was a popular genre; it also failed to catch on in France, where it was titled JUKE BOX. In 1980, after the success of LA BOUM, starring Sophie Marceau, Golan and Globus re-titled the sequel to LP as LA BOUM AMERICAINE, but still to no success.

On the cover of 'Films and Filming', September 1978

In England the hype was exciting – A double spread pictorial in “Films and Filming” and an article about Zachi Noy in The Daily Express: WATCH OUT TRAVOLTA, A BIG, BIG, BIG ISRAELI STAR IN BORN. Noy’s response: “If Travolta is doing half as well as I am, then he is having a ball.”

LEMON POPSICLE filled a gap in German cinema by offering mainstream entertainment for teenagers in an art-house industry. Germany did have youth-oriented cinema in the past, inspired by the American Teensploitation movies of the 1950’s, they produced successful Rock-n-Roll musicals starring local musical teen-sensations such as Peter Kraus & Cornelia Froboess (WHEN CONNY AND PETER DO IT TOGETHER, EVERYBODY LOVES PETER).

Dr. Lothar Mikos, a professor at the Konrad Wolf Academy of Film & Television (HFF/B) in Potsdam: “Since then there was no teenage cinema in Germany. The German film industry collapsed more or less because of TV in the late 50’s and beginning of the 60’s. Other German directors proposed a new German cinema during 60’s-70’s, which was financed by government institutions. LEMON POPSICLE was popular since the new German cinema of the 60’s did intellectual films for young adults and no film dealing with emotion and sex and also comedy.”

Ironically, while many Germans who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s got their first peak of sexuality by watching a LEMON POPSICLE movie, many who grew up in Israel got theirs by watching the naughtier, German, SCHOOLGIRL REPORT series.
Dr. Andreas Raucher: “The SCHOOLGIRL series tried to be sold as documentaries, but later everybody knew it’s a bad excuse for a porn movie. LEMON POPSICLE was regarded as a teen sex comedy.”

Zachi Noy became the face on POPSICLE and a big star in Germany and Austria. His comedic talents and versatile use of his heavyset body proved a winning combination. Under the management of Sam Waynberg, he capitalized on his new status by appearing in a string of German comedies in theaters and on tv: POPCORN UND HIMBEEREIS (1978), ARABIAN NIGHTS (1980) and DIE UNGLAUBLICHEN ABENTEUER DES GURU JAKOB (1983) amongst others.

Demand called for it and in 1979, a sequel, GOING STEADY, was produced. The original crew was back and the sequel was very much in tone with its predecessor, almost a direct extension. GOING STEADY was a guaranteed international hit.

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'In LEMON POPSICLE they fooled around, now they are... GOING STEADY' - Israel

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