Although it’s somewhat of an obscure, cult curiosity in the western world today, the Lemon Popsicle franchise was a smash success in Europe, Japan, and its native Israel, paving the way for the likes of Porky’s and the American Pie series. Drenched in sex and nudity and produced mainly for laughs, the 1958 set debut entry debuted to great acclaim upon its premiere screening at the Berlin Film Festival in 1978, becoming the first major success for producers Menahem Golan and Yoran Globus, who would go on to form The Cannon Group. But as described by many who lived through it in German filmmaker Eric Friedler’s not-entirely-comprehensive documentary Lemon Popsicle: Of Winners and Losers, there was a lot of pain behind the successful franchise, which would stretch out to seven increasingly terrible films of growing disrepute.
At least a passing knowledge of the films and social standards at the time of their production is necessary going into Lemon Popsicle: Of Winners and Losers, which looks more about the backstage drama and cultural phenomenon of the movies than the content within them. While the films were known for shocking amounts of graphic nudity and sexuality, they also touched on important taboo subjects among young people that the still gestating Israeli film scene wouldn’t have thought to examine otherwise. Lemon Popsicle was a watershed moment in European and Middle Eastern cinema, but Friedler is more focused on talking about the downside of fame and fortunes that were ultimately never shared by the cast and crew.
The first half of Lemon Popsicle: Of Winners and Losers is somewhat unfocused and scattershot, bouncing sometimes confusingly around the franchise’s historical timeline in a bid to introduce the documentary’s key figures as economically as possible. From the outset, anyone unfamiliar with the films will be lost, but eventually in the film’s second half, Lemon Popsicle: Of Winners and Losers makes the most of its sometimes brutally honest interviews with cast and crew members (including regretful director Boaz Davidson, producers Golan and Globus, and actors Yftach Katzur and Zachi Noy). Lemon Popsicle: Of Winners and Losers then turns from an examination of a pop cultural phenomenon and into something more akin to a survivors’ story. Not only did the players involved with the films see very little money for their efforts, but they were often forced into doing things that would forever damage their budding careers. It’s an appropriately melancholic cautionary tale, but it could be a little better put together.
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