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Mockumentaries are ten a penny these days, but in 1983 Zelig offered something startlingly new, as heavyweight talking heads such as Saul Bellow and Susan Sontag discuss an entirely fictional character who is nonetheless strangely convincing.
Leonard Zelig (Woody Allen) is a man so introverted and insecure that he has developed the ability to blend perfectly into the background of any given situation, regardless of the personality or even ethnicity of the people around him. But when he inadvertently becomes famous as the human chameleon after the media takes too keen an interest in his therapy sessions with Dr Eudora Fletcher (Mia Farrow), Zelig is faced with an unprecedented challenge: how do you fade into the background when the spotlight is firmly upon you?
Zelig isn t just hilarious but also an incredible technical accomplishment. Without any recourse to CGI techniques that had yet to be invented, Oscar-nominated cinematographer Gordon Willis inserts Zelig into actual 1920s and 30s footage so seamlessly that you re convinced that he s really interacting with the likes of Babe Ruth and Adolf Hitler.
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Cinematographer Gordon Willis deserves a lot of the credit for "Zelig," creatively aging his film to blend with the archive footage that has Leonard rubbing elbows with Fanny Brice, Charles Chaplin and Rudolf Hess. This "documentary" includes "contemporary" interviews with Dr. Fletcher (Ellen Garrison) and other figures in the life and times of Zelig as well as comments from critics such as Susan Sontag and Saul Bellow ("He touched people in a way that they perhaps did not want to be touched..."). I also must commend the unique narrative style provided by Patrick Horgan, who delivers the sly narration with the driest sense of humor ever recorded.
My favorite section of this film is when Zelig becomes the national craze of the moment, to be celebrated and exploited by dolls, games and puzzles, songs like "Leonard the Lizard," and even a Hollywood movie. "Zelig" is a much more subtle documentary parody than either "Take the Money and Run" or "Spinal Tap." Truth, fiction and absurdity are blended seamlessly in this film, which is that most rare creature, a "charming" Woody Allen movie that is a much more enjoyable experience than reading "Moby Dick."
A film before its time, the cinematography is amazing, and despite appearing to be quite a slight project, running at around 70 minutes altogether, this film has hidden depths, and certainly needs repeated viewings in order to get the full effect.
This brilliantly made mock documentary about a 'human chameleon' in the 1920s and 30s who unconsciously changes his appearance in a desperate attempt to fit in and be liked, is hilarious and heartbreaking, often at the same time.
Some of the visual effects are still astounding by modern standards. And Allen gives a performance that is surprisingly subtle.
There are a few slow moments, and a few jokes feel self-conscious, but not enough to hurt the film in any way. This is tied with 'Crimes and Misdemeanors' and 'Hannah and her Sisters' for my 2nd favorite Allen film behind 'Annie Hall'.
One of the greatest films by one the great filmmakers of the 2nd half of the 20th century. Very worth seeking out.
I see Zelig as building upon the flawed example of Allen's first directorial feature, Take The Money & Run. TTM&R was a kind of slapstick bio-pic about a career criminal, told through docu-style reportage with narration by an authority figure, interviews and hilarious dramatizations from the life of Allen's hopeless bank robber. It shows its age now, not least in the underwritten part for the girl playing Virgil's wife. With Zelig, again, there is a kind of emotional distance, but the overall concept is far more ambitious and thoughtful. The jokes are now used more sparingly, but are always wickedly funny when they arrive.
For anyone who mistakenly believes Allen works to a formula, where neurotic people gab on about their selfish problems against a New York backdrop - you need to see this and start rethinking your position. Zelig's metamorphoses are ingeniously handled - I really like it when he pops up on the balcony with the Pope and they start assaulting him. Mia Farrow is luminous as Zelig's psychologist. This film is a treasure trove of '30s archive footage and I can't think of another film of the period (1983) with which to compare it. Maybe that's the problem for some people.
Zelig is the movie equivalent of one of Woody Allen's loony short stories. The moral is, even if all you want is to blend in, you can't give up being yourself.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Probably Woodys funniest movie. I laughed non stop during Zelig. I did get frustrated though, this movie reminded me of how bad comedies have gotten in recent years. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Mr_Sensitivity
Pleased with film unusual and funny. Also pleased that dvd arrived promptly and nicely packaged. Woody Allen is a genuis director and this film one of his bestPublished 9 months ago by Denise Bertuchi
Woody Allen's humour comes across well here, the footage of Zelig in various situations is funny, & the narrator's descriptions are great. Good comedy by Allen. Read morePublished 14 months ago by Shutter