|Directed by||Woody Allen|
|Produced by||Robert Greenhut|
|Written by||Woody Allen|
|Narrated by||Patrick Horgan|
|Music by||Dick Hyman|
|Edited by||Susan E. Morse|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||US$11.8 million|
Zelig is a 1983 American mockumentary film written and directed by Woody Allen and starring Allen and Mia Farrow. Allen plays Leonard Zelig, a nondescript enigma, who, out of his desire to fit in and be liked, takes on the characteristics of strong personalities around him. The film, presented as a documentary, recounts his intense period of celebrity in the 1920s and includes analyses from contemporary intellectuals.
Zelig was photographed and narrated in the style of 1920s black-and-white newsreels, which are interwoven with archival footage from the era and re-enactments of real historical events. Color segments from the present day include interviews of real and fictional personages, including Saul Bellow and Susan Sontag. Zelig has been favorably received by critics.
Set in the 1920s and 1930s, the film concerns Leonard Zelig (Woody Allen), a nondescript man who has the ability to transform his appearance to that of the people who surround him. He is first observed at a party by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who notes that Zelig related to the affluent guests in a refined Boston accent and shared their Republican sympathies, but while in the kitchen with the servants, he adopted a coarser tone and seemed to be more of a Democrat. He soon gains international fame as a "human chameleon".
The question of whether Zelig was a psychotic or merely extremely neurotic was a question that was endlessly discussed among his doctors. Now I myself felt his feelings were really not all that different from the normal, what one would call the well-adjusted, normal person, only carried to an extreme degree, to an extreme extent. I myself felt that one could really think of him as the ultimate conformist.
Dr. Eudora Fletcher (Mia Farrow) is a psychiatrist who wants to help Zelig with this strange disorder when he is admitted to her hospital. Through the use of hypnotism, she discovers Zelig yearns for approval so strongly that he physically changes to fit in with those around him. Dr. Fletcher eventually cures Zelig of his compulsion to assimilate, but goes too far in the other direction; for a brief period he is so intolerant of others' opinions that he gets into a brawl over whether or not it is a nice day.
Dr. Fletcher realizes that she is falling in love with Zelig. Because of the media coverage of the case, both patient and doctor become part of the popular culture of their time. However, fame is the main cause of their division; the same society that made Zelig a hero destroys him.
Zelig's illness returns, and he tries to fit in once more. Numerous women claim that he married them, and he disappears. Dr. Fletcher finds him in Germany working with the Nazis before the outbreak of World War II. Together they escape and return to America, where they are proclaimed heroes (after Zelig, using his ability to imitate one more time, mimics Fletcher's piloting skills and flies back home across the Atlantic upside down).
- Woody Allen – Leonard Zelig
- Mia Farrow – Dr. Eudora Nesbitt Fletcher
- Patrick Horgan – narrator
- John Buckwalter – Dr. Sindell
- Susan Sontag – cameo
- Saul Bellow – cameo
- Bruno Bettelheim – cameo
- Irving Howe – cameo
- John Morton Blum – cameo
- Ada "Bricktop" Smith – cameo
Allen used newsreel footage and inserted himself and other actors into the footage using bluescreen technology. To provide an authentic look to his scenes, Allen and cinematographer Gordon Willis used a variety of techniques, including locating some of the antique film cameras and lenses used during the eras depicted in the film, and even going so far as to simulate damage, such as crinkles and scratches, on the negatives to make the finished product look more like vintage footage. The virtually seamless blending of old and new footage was achieved almost a decade before digital filmmaking technology made such techniques in films like Forrest Gump (1994) and various television advertisements much easier to accomplish.
The film uses cameo appearances by real figures from academia and other fields for comic effect. Contrasting the film's vintage black-and-white film footage, these persons appear in color segments as themselves, commenting in the present day on the Zelig phenomenon as if it really happened. They include essayist Susan Sontag, psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim, Nobel Prize-winning novelist Saul Bellow, political writer Irving Howe, historian John Morton Blum, and the Paris nightclub owner Bricktop.
Also appearing in the film's vintage footage are Charles Lindbergh, Al Capone, Clara Bow, William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies, Charlie Chaplin, Josephine Baker, Fanny Brice, Carole Lombard, Dolores del Río, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Göring, James Cagney, Jimmy Walker, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Adolphe Menjou, Claire Windsor, Tom Mix, Marie Dressler, Bobby Jones, and Pope Pius XI.
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The soundtrack includes such period songs as:
- "I'm Sitting on Top of the World" and "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue" by Ray Henderson, Sam Lewis, and Joe Young;
- "Sunny Side Up" by Henderson, Lew Brown, and Buddy G. DeSylva;
- "Ain't We Got Fun?" by Richard A. Whiting, Raymond B. Egan, and Gus Kahn;
- "Charleston" by James P. Johnson and Cecil Mack;
- "I'll Get By (As Long as I Have You)" by Fred E. Ahlert and Roy Turk;
- "I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling" by Fats Waller, Harry Link, and Billy Rose;
- "I Love My Baby (My Baby Loves Me)" by Harry Warren and Bud Green;
- "A Sailboat in the Moonlight" by Carmen Lombardo and John Jacob Loeb;
- "Chicago (That Toddlin' Town)" by Fred Fisher;
- "Anchors Aweigh" by Charles A. Zimmerman and Alfred Hart Miles.
In addition, Dick Hyman composed a number of tunes allegedly inspired by the Zelig phenomenon, including "Leonard the Lizard", "Reptile Eyes", "You May Be Six People, But I Love You", "Doin' the Chameleon", "The Changing Man Concerto", and "Chameleon Days", the latter performed by Mae Questel, the voice of Betty Boop.
Zelig has an overall approval rating of 100% on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on reviews from 24 professional critics with an average score of 7.9/10. In his review in the New York Times, Vincent Canby observed:
[Allen's] new, remarkably self-assured comedy is to his career what ... Berlin Alexanderplatz is to Rainer Werner Fassbinder's and ... Fanny and Alexander is to Ingmar Bergman's ... Zelig is not only pricelessly funny, it's also, on occasion, very moving. It works simultaneously as social history, as a love story, as an examination of several different kinds of film narrative, as satire and as parody ... [It] is a nearly perfect – and perfectly original – Woody Allen comedy.
Variety said the film was "consistently funny, though more academic than boulevardier", and the Christian Science Monitor called it "amazingly funny and poignant". Time Out described it as "a strong contender for Allen's most fascinating film", while TV Guide said, "Allen's ongoing struggles with psychoanalysis and his Jewish identity – stridently literal preoccupations in most of his work – are for once rendered allegorically. The result is deeply satisfying".
In Empire magazine's poll of the 500 greatest movies ever made, Zelig was ranked number 408. Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly listed the work as one of Allen's finest, lauding it as "a spot-on homage to vintage newsreels and a seamless exercise in technique." The Daily Telegraph film critics Robbie Collin and Tim Robey also named it as a career highlight and argued, "The special effects, in which Allen is seamlessly inserted into vintage newsreels, are still astonishing, and draw out the aching tragicomedy of Zelig’s plight. He’s the original man who wasn’t there." Calum Marsh of Slant magazine wrote, "We are infinitely pliable. That's the thesis of Zelig, Allen's wisest film, which has much to say about the way a person can be bent and contorted in the name of acceptance. Its ostensibly wacky conceit [...] is grounded in an emotional and psychological reality all too familiar to shrug of [sic] as farce. We'll go very far out of our way to avoid conflict. Zelig seizes on that weakness and forces us to recognize it."
Awards and nominations
- Zelig at Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- Gabbard, Glen O.; Gabbard, Krin (1999). Psychiatry and the Cinema (2nd ed.). Arlington County, Virginia: American Psychiatric Publishing. pp. 263-264. ISBN 978-0-880-48964-5. ISBN 0-88048964-2.
- Eudora Fletcher was the name of the principal of P.S. 99 in Brooklyn, NY, the elementary school Allen attended as a child.
- "My favourite Woody Allen movie". Time Out. Retrieved January 31, 2017. Film critic David Jenkins, who chose Zelig as his favorite, notes the film's "footage filmed on antique cameras, recontextualised newsreel and shrewd use of blue screen technology."
- ""Zelig" - The films of Woody Allen". CBS. Retrieved January 31, 2017.
- Canby, Vincent (July 15, 1983). "FILM: 'ZELIG,' WOODY ALLEN'S STORY ABOUT A 'CHAMELEON MAN'". The New York Times. Retrieved January 31, 2017.
- "Zelig". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 7 February 2018.
- Carby, Vincent (17 July 1983). "Zelig (1983) WOODY ALLEN CONTINUES TO REFINE HIS CINEMATIC ART". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved 4 July 2012.
- Variety review
- Christian Science Monitor review
- Huddleston, Tom (22 December 2011 – 4 January 2012). "Zelig review". Time Out. New York. Retrieved 28 August 2013.
- TV Guide review
- Nashawaty, Chris (July 18, 2016). "Woody Allen Films, Ranked: 5. 'Zelig' (1983)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved February 1, 2017.
- Collin, Robbie; Robey, Tim (October 12, 2016). "All 47 Woody Allen movies - ranked from worst to best". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved February 1, 2017.
- Marsh, Calum (July 21, 2014). "The 10 Best Woody Allen Movies". Slant. Retrieved February 1, 2017.
- Karlinsky, Harry (October 2007) . "Zelig: Woody Allen's classic film continues to impact the world of psychiatry [Zelig syndrome or Zelig-like syndrome]". Canadian Psychiatric Association. 3 (5). Archived from the original on 15 August 2013. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
- King, Mike (2008). "Zelig and the Narcissism of the Other-Directed Person (pp. 166–167)". The American Cinema of Excess. Extremes of the National Mind on Film. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-786-43988-1. ISBN 0-78643988-2.
- Sickels, Robert (2005). "Chapter 11. "It Ain't the Movies! It's Real Life!" Cinematic Alchemy in Woody Allen's "Woody Allen" D(M)oc(k)umentary Oeuvre (pp. 179-190)". In Rhodes, Gary D.; Springer, John Parris. Docufictions. Essays on the Intersection of Documentary and Fictional Filmmaking. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7-864-2184-8. ISBN 0-78642184-3.
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