Zelig CoverWhat would you do to conform to society? Would you change your clothing? Would you change your hairstyle? Would you have some sort of plastic surgery to make yourself look like one of the 'pretty people'? Or would you just scream "F*ck that!" and then watch this film Directed by and Starring Woody Allen with Mia Farrow. It was made in 1983, and lasts for 79 minutes. 


This pseudo 1930’s mock-documentary tells the life and times of one Leonard Zelig (Woody Allen) – a rather strange looking nerdy chap who has the ability to transform his appearance into anybody who is around him.

Now Zelig first exhibits this ‘talent’ as a early age, just to conform to other peoples expectations of him. Moreover, this 'affectation' gradually escalates more and more as the the years progress, until it totally removes any form of his own inner-self.

Eventually, over time, Zelig strangely gains international fame as a 'human chameleon' when he is admitted into hospital under the care of psychiatrist, Dr. Eudora Fletcher (Mia Farrow), who wants to help Zelig with this peculiar 'tick'. Stranger still, is that she diagnoses him with possessing a abnormal physiological disorder which needs treatment within a solitary environment.

Unfortunately for Zelig, though, just before Dr. Fletcher can administer to this treatment, Zelig’s sister - Eleanor - takes custody of him, and subsequently parades him around the world as if he was a side-show freak.

That's a bad thing to do, right? But not as bad as how this distasteful episode comes’ to an end -  Eleanor's husband finds out that Elanor is cheating on him with another man – resulting in the three of them being killed by him in a fit of jealous rage.

So is Dr. Fletcher now able to cure Zelig with her treatment? Hypnotism and a little love and care? Err - as first - yes - and this is deemed a rousing success in the media as well. Next, however - no - because just before Zelig and Dr. Fletcher can transform their doctor patient relationship into one of husband and wife, the media then decide to hit back.


You see, a string of lawsuits are filed against Zelig, because under his previous ‘chameleon-like state’, he allegedly married numerous women – performed unneeded surgery – and generally caused harm to a select few personages. Regrettably this news causes Zelig to regress back into his 'chameleon persona' once more - and subsequently disappear in the process.

Still, that is why what next transpires is as crazy as this story itself! As Germans face reptiles - flight is turned up side down - love knows no fear - and a ticker tape parade leads everyone to understand a new man for one and all.

Then everyone dies... probably?

Now before I praise ‘Zelig’ like the filmic Goddess that she is, please let me boar you sh*tless with some trivia first, OK? (1) In the films archival footage sections, are people such as: Charlie Chaplin, Adolf Hitler, James Cagney, Charles Lindbergh, Al Capone, Betty Boop, Minnie Mouse, William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies, Josephine Baker, Carole Lombard, Joseph Goebbels, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, and Pope Pius XI. (2) This film has been critically acclaimed in the media as being a masterpiece in film-making. (3) Woody Allen filmed ‘A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy’ and ‘Broadway Danny Rose’ whilst waiting for the special effect to be developed for this film. (4) Woody wanted Greta Garbo to be an interviewed for this film. (5) Woody wanted John Gielgud to be the narrator of this film, but changed his mind when he met him, as he thought that John was ‘too good’. (6) Woody got the idea for this film whilst working with his buddy, Dick Cavett, on a HBO special. (7) To help create the look of genuine archival footage from the 1930s, the lab that handled the processing, DuArt, called out of retirement some of their experienced technicians from the 1930’s. And (8) The total running time for this film on its first release was 45 minutes, so Woody added some more footage and silliness for length.

Phew! 'Zelig' - what a movie - and in my opinion, one of Woody Allen’s greatest achievements in subverting comedy with his neurotic brand of humor.

And trust me - I am a big Woody Allen fan.

Zelig with Politicians

In a strange way, I found this film almost like an 'enhancement' to Woody's first mock-documentary 'Take The Money and Run' (click here for review), though it does have a much wider scope to it, a more defined style to it, plus has a way about it that this very unique.

Moreover, personally speaking, I feel that this attention to detail is largely due to four main factors. Firstly, the dulcet tones of the narrator of this movie is very nice to listen to - very charming indeed. Secondly, the 'altered' footage is very natural in pose - and presented on screen with such a cander, that you think that its real. Thirdly, because this film is supposed to be a documentary, it gauges the fractured structure that this filmic method adheres to, such as modern-interviews – vintage-clips – and photo-inserts, all of which jump from scene to scene to scene, seamlessly tying the whole plot together with hardly a notable jolt. And fourthly, 'Zelig' is greatly aided by grounding the pretext to a unified time period - the nineteen twenties and thirties - whilst being enhanced by celebrity references associated to this time as well.

Mia and Woody in Zelig

Oh! And how could I forget to mention the comedy in 'Zelig'! HA! The dead-pan antic on display is made even more funnier by ‘the way Woody tells them’. His one liner’s are as sharp as ever, and he fires them in such a quick line of succession, that you have to stop yourself from laughing just in case you miss a gag.

Honestly, this is one of Woody’s funniest ever movies  – and if you’re a fan of this time period as well – yowser! You can’t miss this one. Here, check out this video clip to see what I mean..

Do you know what? It is ironic really - that this is film about someone changing himself to be someone else for conformities sake. Yet no one else can make a film that can conform to this one, ha! A great film.


ZELIG ZELIG Reviewed by David Andrews on February 16, 2012 Rating: 5
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