Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on July 15, 1983
Directed by Woody Allen
Written by Woody Allen
Cast: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, John Buckwalter, Marvin Chatinover, Stanley Swerdlow, Paul Nevins, Howard Erskine, George Hamlin, Michael Jeter, John Rothman, Deborah Rush, Stephanie Farrow, Susan Sontag, Saul Bellow, Bruno Bettelheim, Patrick Horgan (narrator)
Although I’m a fan of Woody Allen’s early comedies, and pretend to understand his high-hat arthouse films of the late 1970s, it’s his work from the early ’80s that I enjoy and appreciate the most: Stardust Memories, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and of course, Zelig, a fictional look at a Roaring Twenties phenomenon named Leonard Zelig, a man—played by an understated Allen—who can assume the personas, traits, and even nationalities of those around him, a ‘chameleon man’ who wants only to fit in and be liked.
The story followed Zelig as he traveled an up-and-down course from discovery to hospitalization to stardom, then to his sudden disappearance, and finally a return to a normal life; while it played as both a drama and a comedy—the Woodyisms that snuck their way into the dialogue and the droll, dry-humored narration harkened back to his comedies of old—the film was at its most interesting and entertaining as a faux documentary, not far removed from Allen’s classic prison escape comedy Take the Money and Run.
Here, Allen took the idea a step further, and went all-out in re-creating the look and tone of the 1920s and 1930s, from the interview footage and home movies of Zelig interacting with his psychiatrist (played by Mia Farrow), right down to photographs, newspaper clippings, and even popular songs of the era. He then took it a few steps further, and placed himself and his co-stars into actual newsreels and photos from that period (such as when he stood in the on-deck circle of a baseball game with Lou Gehrig at the plate, or sat behind Adolf Hitler at a Nazi rally), a realistically-administered integration that looked sensational.
Not often do movies get these effects just right, but Allen and his longtime cinematographer Gordon Willis did, and did it extremely well. In fact, Allen had time to direct two other films while these effects were being worked on in post-production! Though the film made a statement about the need for acceptance, and the drawbacks and dangers of being a reluctant celebrity, it was mostly just a lot of fun, and a prime example of Woody Allen at his artistic and comedic best. (10/10)