Review by Michael Jacobson
Woody Allen, Mia Farrow
Director: Woody Allen
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: Theatrical Trailer
Length: 79 Minutes
Release Date: November 6, 2001
have to get back to town…I teach a course at the Psychiatric Institute on
not guilt related. I teach
before Forrest Gump chatted with presidents, there was Leonard Zelig, sitting
behind Adolph Hitler at a Nazi rally waving to his girlfriend.
In Woody Allen’s brilliant faux-documentary Zelig, we learn the
complicated and fascinatingly funny story of how he got there.
(Allen), in the documentary, was a figure in the 1920s who was once as famous as
Charles Lindbergh, but has since faded from the public memory.
He came into notoriety for an unusual condition, which allowed him to
physically change his appearance to match those around him.
He could become Italian, Oriental, even African American, and blend in
with whatever crowd he happened to be a part of.
“the human chameleon”, Zelig’s condition frustrates top medical doctors,
but wins the interest of a young lady psychiatrist, Eudora Fletcher (Farrow),
who believes that his strange physical ability stems from a mental problem.
She believes that Leonard’s deep-rooted desire to be accepted by his
peers has led his body to develop this changeling capability as a defense
out like a real documentary, the audience follows Dr. Fletcher during her
lengthy “white room” sessions with Zelig.
Two things begin to occur: she
helps Leonard find comfort within his own real personality, and he in turn
begins to fall in love with her.
celebrity in the 20s leads to recordings, jokes, and dance crazes, but like most
persons in the spotlight, things begin to go sour for Leonard just as he should
be at his happiest. People duped by
his former disorder are coming out in droves against him.
Lawsuits and infamy mount against him.
“I especially want to apologize to the Trochman family in Detroit,”
he states publicly. “I’ve never delivered a baby before, and I just though
ice tongs were the way to do it.” Soon
his newfound freedom to be himself starts to give way to his old desire to be
liked at all costs.
strange turn of events does in fact lead to Nazi Germany…and I would be a
fiend if I told you more than that. The
story is warm, funny, and endlessly imaginative, with limitless opportunity for
gags and gentle but cynical digs at the culture of celebrity, medicine, and even
fascism (who better than a human chameleon to be absorbed by a movement of
non-thinking robot-like warriors?).
All of this is presented in a film with masterful
technique, creating the look and feel of a documentary with authentic 20s styled
film footage. “We got old lenses
from the 1920s, old cameras and old sound equipment,” Allen has explained.
“We tried to get all of that kind of stuff that still existed…And we
filmed it in exactly the kind of lighting they would have had at the time.”
Of course, one must also consider the historical
clips that, with the insertion of Allen, brings Zelig into the screen with Babe
Ruth, Jack Dempsey, F. Scott Fitzgerald and more. The results are convincing, and serve the narrative
beautifully. I’ve known people to
watch Zelig for the first time not knowing what it was, and who were
convinced they were watching a very real, if very strange, documentary.
Allen’s wit is at its sharpest as writer and
director. He explores his comic
possibilities ad infinitum, and the result is one of his funniest pure comedies.
As Zelig himself states, “It just goes to show there’s no telling
what you can do when you’re a raving psychotic!”
Allen filmed this movie and A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy simultaneously.
is a quality anamorphic transfer from MGM, and having owned a couple of VHS
copies of this film in my life, I can say that Zelig looks better than
ever. Keeping in mind that much of
the “old” footage is purposely scratched and scarred and with occasional
jump cuts to mimic 60 year old film stock, concentrate instead on some of the
brief segments of modern photography that show good natural coloring and clean,
crisp lines with good detail. Enjoy
also the contrast without undue grain brought about in the black and white
photography. Master cinematographer
Gordon Willis seemed to have had much fun with this movie, but his brilliance
shows through the humor.
Woody Allen films have mono soundtracks per his direction, and as with most of
the DVD releases of them, this is a perfectly decent and serviceable if
unspectacular audio offering.
supremely comic tour-de-force that masquerades as the documentary of a man, who,
“wanting to be liked, he distorted himself beyond all measure”.
This is one of Woody’s funniest and most technically brilliant
offerings, and is one that even non-fans are bound to find hilariously