Monday, December 28, 2009

#408: Zelig (1983)

Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Woody Allen & Mia Farrow

Have you ever known somebody who changes their personality to blend in with different cliques? Well, you've never met somebody who does it as well as Leonard Zelig. Not only does Zelig put on the personality and speech of the people he associates with, but his physical appearance morphs into something similar as well. Physicians are stumped by his abnormality, but Dr. Eudora Nesbitt Fletcher is certain that the base of his ability is psychological.

I'll start with the praise. Woody Allen has always somehow walked a line between being incredibly ahead of his time while presenting his material from the Old Days (-- at least this has been true until his more recent films, which have departed from the time period he used to treasure so much). What brings him ahead of the rest of the crowd is twofold in Zelig.

As always, he has come up with some ridiculous scenarios that somehow wouldn't be all that surprising in the real world. For example, Zelig's ability to blend in with any crowd is immediately exploited by advertising agencies. The second, and most obvious way he is ahead of his time is his use of historical footage of famous characters and perfectly places his own image into the scene. This same technique was used about a decade later in Forrest Gump, and the technique even then was considered remarkable. But Forrest Gump didn't place the most blatantly Jewish film icon into a clip from a speech by Hitler.

Unfortunately, I've found that Zelig has one horrible problem. Woody found one great joke.. and dragged it on for an entire film without really going anywhere. This brings its greatness down a notch, leaving it somewhere between one of his classics like Radio Days and - oh, I don't know - Corky Romano. Okay, that was harsh, but you get the idea.

I give it a B.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Mae Questel, the voice of Betty Boop from 1931 to 1989 is the voice of Helen Kanesinging "Chameleon Days".
  • To create authenticity, the production used actual lenses, cameras and sound equipment from the 1920s, and used the exact same lighting that would have been done. In addition, 'Gordon Willis' took the exposed negatives to the shower, and stomped on them.
  • In 2007, Italian psychologists discovered a rare form of brain damage which affects its victims much like Zelig's condition (without, of course, the accompanying physical transformations). Researcher Giovannina Conchiglia and associates have proposed the name "Zelig-like Syndrome" for the disorder, because of the parallels to the film.

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