Zelig

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Zelig
Zeligposter.jpg
Original poster
Directed byWoody Allen
Written byWoody Allen
Produced byRobert Greenhut
Starring
Narrated byPatrick Horgan
CinematographyGordon Willis
Edited bySusan E. Morse
Music byDick Hyman
Production
company
Distributed byWarner Bros.[1]
Release date
  • July 15, 1983 (1983-07-15)
Running time
79 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States[2]
LanguageEnglish
Box officeUS$11.8 million[1]

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, apparently out of his desire to fit in and be liked, unwittingly takes on the characteristics of strong personalities around him. The film, presented as a documentary, recounts his period of intense celebrity in the 1920s, including analyses by contemporary intellectuals.

The film was nominated for numerous awards, including the Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Costume Design. It was well-received by critics, receiving a 100% rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

Style[edit]

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.

Plot[edit]

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".

Interviewed in one of the witness shots, Bruno Bettelheim makes the following comment:[3]

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.[4] 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. Numerous women claim that he married and impregnated them, causing a public scandal. The same society that made Zelig a hero destroys him.

Zelig's illness returns, and he tries to fit in once more, before he disappears. Dr. Fletcher finds him in Germany working with the Nazis before the outbreak of World War II. Together they escape, as Zelig uses his ability to imitate one more time, mimicking Fletcher's piloting skills and flying them back home across the Atlantic upside down. They eventually return to America, where they are proclaimed heroes and marry to live full happy lives.

Cast[edit]

  • Woody Allen - Leonard Zelig
  • Mia Farrow - Dr. Eudora Nesbitt Fletcher
  • Patrick Horgan - Narrator
  • Ellen Garrison - Older Eudora Fletcher
  • Stephanie Farrow - Meryl Fletcher
  • Elizabeth Rothschild - Older Meryl Fletcher
  • Mary Louise Wilson - Ruth Zelig
  • Sol Lomita - Martin Geist
  • John Rothman - Paul Deghuee
  • Sherman Loud - Older Paul Deghuee
  • Deborah Rush - Lita Fox
  • Garrett Brown - Actor Zelig
  • Marianne Tatum - Actress Fletcher
  • Will Holt - Rally Chancellor
  • Peter McRobbie - Workers Rally Speaker

With Susan Sontag, Irving Howe, Saul Bellow, Bricktop, Dr. Bruno Bettelheim, and Professor John Morton Blum as themselves.

Production[edit]

Allen used newsreel footage, and inserted himself and other actors into it, using bluescreen technology.[5] 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.[6]

The film uses cameo appearances by real figures from academia and other fields for comic effect.[7] 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.

In the time it took to complete the film's special effects, Allen filmed A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy and Broadway Danny Rose. This is Orion Pictures' last film to be released through Warner Bros.

Release[edit]

Before being shown at the Venice Film Festival, the film opened on six screens in the US and grossed US$60,119 on its opening weekend; it eventually earned US$11.8 million in North America.[1]

Critical reaction[edit]

Zelig has an approval rating of 100% on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 27 reviews, with an average score of 8/10. The site's consensus reads: "Wryly amusing, technically impressive, and ultimately thought-provoking, Zelig represents Woody Allen in complete command of his craft".[8]

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.[9]

Variety said the film was "consistently funny, though more academic than boulevardier",[10] and the Christian Science Monitor called it "amazingly funny and poignant".[11] Time Out described it as "a strong contender for Allen's most fascinating film",[12] 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".[13] Gene Siskel gave the film two stars out of four, calling it "a beautifully made but slight fable."[14] Pauline Kael wrote that when the film was over "I felt good, but I was still a little hungry for a movie. There's a reason 'Zelig' seems small; there aren't any characters in it, not even Zelig."[15]

Colin Greenland reviewed Zelig for Imagine magazine, and stated that "Woody Allen's most irresistable film for quite a while. He has found a new way to make fun of his own neuroses without exposing us to the egoism which became so overbearing in Manhattan or Stardust Memories."[16]

It ranked 588th among critics, and 546th among directors, in the 2012 Sight & Sound polls of the greatest films ever made.[17] 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."[18] 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."[19] 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 off 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."[20]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Soundtrack[edit]

  • Leonard the Lizard (1983) - Composed by Dick Hyman - Sung by Bernie Kuce, Steve Clayton and Tony Wells
  • Doin' the Chameleon (1983) - Composed by Dick Hyman - Sung by Bernie Kuce, Steve Clayton and Tony Wells
  • Chameleon Days (1983) - Composed by Dick Hyman - Performed by Mae Questel
  • You May Be Six People, But I Love You (1983) - Composed by Dick Hyman - Sung by Bernie Kuce, Steve Clayton and Tony Wells
  • Reptile Eyes (1983) - Composed by Dick Hyman - Sung by Rose Marie Jun
  • The Changing Man Concerto (1983) - Composed by Dick Hyman
  • I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling (1929) - Music by Fats Waller (as Thomas 'Fats' Waller) and Harry Link - Sung by Roz Harris
  • I'm Sitting on Top of the World (1925) - Music by Ray Henderson - Sung by Norman Brooks
  • Ain't We Got Fun (1921) - Music by Richard A. Whiting - Performed by The Charleston City All Stars
  • Sunny Side Up (1929) - Music and Lyrics by Ray Henderson, Lew Brown and Buddy G. DeSylva - Performed by The Charleston City All Stars
  • I'll Get By (1928) - Music by Fred E. Ahlert - Performed by The Ben Bernie Orchestra
  • I Love My Baby, My Baby Loves Me (1925) - Music by Harry Warren - Performed by The Charleston City All Stars
  • Runnin' Wild (1922) - Music by A.H. Gibbs - Performed by The Charleston City All Stars
  • A Sailboat in the Moonlight (1937) - Written by Carmen Lombardo and John Jacob Loeb (as John Loeb) - Performed by The Guy Lombardo Orchestra
  • Charleston (1923) - Music by James P. Johnson - Performed by Dick Hyman
  • Chicago (That Toddlin' Town)(1922) - Written by Fred Fisher - Performed by Dick Hyman
  • Five Feet Two, Eyes of Blue (1925) - Music by Ray Henderson - Performed by Dick Hyman
  • Anchors Aweigh (1906) - Music by Charles A. Zimmerman - Modified by Domenico Savino (1950) - Performed by Dick Hyman
  • Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1908) - Music by Albert von Tilzer
  • The Internationale (1888) - Music by Pierre De Geyter[24]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Zelig at Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
  2. ^ "Zelig (1983)". British Film Institute. Retrieved December 5, 2018.
  3. ^ Gabbard, Glen O.; Gabbard, Krin (1999). Psychiatry and the Cinema (2nd ed.). Arlington County, Virginia: American Psychiatric Publishing. pp. 264-265. ISBN 978-0-880-48964-5.
  4. ^ Eudora Fletcher was the name of the principal of P.S. 99 in Brooklyn, NY, the elementary school Allen attended as a child.
  5. ^ "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."
  6. ^ ""Zelig" - The films of Woody Allen". CBS. Retrieved January 31, 2017.
  7. ^ Canby, Vincent (July 15, 1983). "FILM: 'ZELIG,' WOODY ALLEN'S STORY ABOUT A 'CHAMELEON MAN'". The New York Times. Retrieved January 31, 2017.
  8. ^ "Zelig". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
  9. ^ Carby, Vincent (July 17, 1983). "Zelig (1983) WOODY ALLEN CONTINUES TO REFINE HIS CINEMATIC ART". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved July 4, 2012.
  10. ^ Variety review
  11. ^ Christian Science Monitor review
  12. ^ Huddleston, Tom (December 22, 2012 – January 4, 2012). "Zelig review". Time Out. New York. Retrieved August 28, 2013.
  13. ^ TV Guide review
  14. ^ Siskel, Gene (August 19, 1983). "Great filmmaking wasted on a disappointing film". Chicago Tribune. Section 6, p. 3.
  15. ^ Kael, Pauline (August 8, 1983). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. 84.
  16. ^ Greenland, Colin (January 1984). "Film Review". Imagine (review). TSR Hobbies (UK), Ltd. (10): 37.
  17. ^ "Votes for Zelig (1983)". Sight & Sound. British Film Institute. Retrieved December 5, 2018.
  18. ^ Nashawaty, Chris (July 18, 2016). "Woody Allen Films, Ranked: 5. 'Zelig' (1983)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved February 1, 2017.
  19. ^ Collin, Robbie; Robey, Tim (October 12, 2016). "All 47 Woody Allen movies - ranked from worst to best". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved February 1, 2017.
  20. ^ Marsh, Calum (July 21, 2014). "The 10 Best Woody Allen Movies". Slant. Retrieved February 1, 2017.
  21. ^ 1984|Oscars.org
  22. ^ Sven Nykvist Win Cinematography: 1984 Oscars
  23. ^ Fanny & Alexander Wins Costume Design and Art Direction: 1984 Oscars
  24. ^ Harvey, Adam (2007). The Soundtracks of Woody Allen. US: Macfarland & Company,Inc. p. 148. ISBN 9780786429684.

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]