Zelig (1983)

ZELIG (1983)
Article 3999 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-7-2012
Directed by Woody Allen
Featuring Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Patrick Horgan
Country: USA
What it is: Fake documentary comedy/satire

The story is told of a celebrity of the twenties, a man named Leonard Zelig who is a “human chameleon”; he takes on the physical characteristics and viewpoints of those that surround him.

I was so intrigued by the premise of this movie that it was one of those rare cases where I went out to catch it at a movie theater. I ended up being mildly disappointed at the time, and mostly appreciated it for its stunning visual trickery, whereby Woody Allen and Mia Farrow were incorporated into actual footage of the period, most noticeably in a sequence during an Adolf Hitler rally. I liked it much better on my recent viewing; I can now appreciate more its satirical views of the desire to be liked, the need to conform, and the vicissitudes of fame. I also couldn’t help but notice how, in some ways, the story parallels that of the movie version of THE ELEPHANT MAN. Still, I do think Woody Allen is an odd choice to play a man who has no personality of his own while trying his best to adopt the personalities of everyone around him; Allen has a very distinctive personality, and in the scenes where we hear his voice, you mostly get the sense that he’s playing himself again. Had the movie been formatted in such a way that we actually saw Zelig interacting with the people he’s imitating, it most likely would have required an actor of much greater range. Still, Allen does have a grasp of the psychological underpinnings of the character, which is probably the reason he wrote and directed the movie in the first place. And the footage throughout does look pretty authentic.

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