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Zelig
Zelig
Actors: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Patrick Horgan, John Buckwalter, Marvin Chatinover
Director: Woody Allen
Genres: Comedy, Science Fiction & Fantasy
PG     2001     1hr 19min

Mr. Personality? Or Mr. Personality disorder? Find out in Woody Allen's madcap mockumentary about an identity crisis of hilarious proportions! Thematically intricate, technically complex and filled with some of the most as...  more »

     

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Movie Details

Actors: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Patrick Horgan, John Buckwalter, Marvin Chatinover
Director: Woody Allen
Creators: Woody Allen, Gordon Willis, Susan E. Morse, Charles H. Joffe, Jack Rollins, Michael Peyser, Robert Greenhut
Genres: Comedy, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Sub-Genres: Woody Allen, Woody Allen, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Studio: MGM (Video & DVD)
Format: DVD - Black and White,Color,Widescreen,Anamorphic - Closed-captioned,Dubbed,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 11/06/2001
Original Release Date: 07/15/1983
Theatrical Release Date: 07/15/1983
Release Year: 2001
Run Time: 1hr 19min
Screens: Black and White,Color,Widescreen,Anamorphic
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 7
MPAA Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Languages: English, Spanish, Spanish
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French

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Movie Reviews

"Your pancakes... Your pancakes are terrible..."
James M. Fitzwilliam | Staatsburg, NY, USA | 01/30/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This film is perhaps the ultimate in parody-documentary. Some people might find the pace a bit slow, and the humor a bit dry, precisely because it is presented exactly as it would be if it were an actual serious documentary about a real historical personage. It requires a bit more thought and attention on the part of the vewer than does a "conventional" comedy for that reason. At one point the narrator, in his best, serious, Public Television Documentary National Geographic Special voice, describes Zelig's parents and their violent domestic squabbles: "...Even though they lived over a bowling alley, it was the bowling alley that complained about the noise." This sort of thing could go right past you if you weren't really listening.

The reason this film works is that all of the supporting details are meticulous and perfect. All of the 1920's songs about Zelig (such as "The Chameleon Dance" and "You May Be Six People, But I Love You") are written and performed so perfectly in period style that I, watching it the first few times, could hardly believe that they were not actual, real (but obscure) 1920's songs that they found somewhere which happened to fit the movie theme, rather than being modern parodies of vintage recordings. (Speaking as a musician, I can vouch for the fact that that bright, Irish popular tenor sound which was all the rage back then is a rarity these days!)

And all of the film clips are just as carefully executed. I seem to remember, back when this film was just out, an article describing how Allen's production staff took just-shot black and white footage into the parking lot and threw it on the ground and walked all over it, and carefully crinkled the film, so that it would look worn and decades-old. Another tour-de-force was inserting Allen himself, playing the title character, into REAL period footage. The most famous example is a film of Hitler ranting away to a crowd on his Nazi platform, and seated behind him among all of the party officials is... Zelig. This was an amazing technical achievement at the time, long before digital cinematography had become commonplace, and it was brilliantly done.

And then of course, there are all of the present-day intellectual luminary talking heads being interviewed for their two cents, again, just like a true documentary. One that comes to mind of course is the (now late) Susan Sontag. I am sure that all of those "experts" had lots of fun filming this.

The subject of the documentary, Zelig, has an unusual mental/physical affliction due to insecurity. He literally, and physically, becomes just like whoever he is with, in order to blend in and be accepted. This offers the opportunity for plenty of sight gags as Zelig turns into different cultures, occupations, and races -- sometimes more than one at once! He is alternately exploited as a circus freak for profit, and attempted to be cured by his caring psychiatrist. He is alternately proclaimed a hero, a villain, a traitor, and a hero again by a fickle public. Zelig's exchanges with his psychiatrist are some of the funniest dialogue in the film. When she finally manages to get Zelig under hypnosis so that she can find out what the true, non-chameleon person inside really thinks, he launches into a (dreamy, trance-voiced) tirade about her awful cooking. I still joke with my wife to this day about her "terrible pancakes." [grin]

Those who are Woody Allen fans in general will of course probably enjoy this; people who like subtle wit and parody generally will probably enjoy this; people who habitually overdose on PBS and The History Channel but still have enough sense of humor left to laugh at themselves will probably enjoy this. If you prefer jokes with punchlines, or "Gilligan, drop those coconuts!" then Zelig is probably one to avoid.

And might I add in parting: If you have not yet read Moby Dick, don't wait until it is too late!"
Another Truly Innovative Film from Woody Allen
Randy Keehn | Williston, ND United States | 12/30/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I had seen bits and pieces of Woody Allen's "Zelig" before but I had never seen the whole movie until last night. To be honest, my initial reaction was to wonder if I would be able to maintain interest throughout the whole movie. As it turned out, that was no problem.

"Zelig" tells the story of an individual who developed an unexplainable ability to appear like the people of his surroundings. It is presented in a documentary format and that format is amazingly well done. I'm of the opinion that there was plenty of actual newsreel footage from the 1920's and '30's and there was also plenty of new film made to appear that it was from that era. I was never that certain as to which was which because the cinematography was that well done. The retrospective interviews with present day theorists and aged contemporaries butressed the documentary nature of the film (as did the continuous narration).

As the title character (played by Woody Allen) assumes more and more identities, we come to understand that his efforts to be like others leaves him with no identity of his own. I understood Allen's message to be an expression of his frustration with the negative public reaction to his post-"Annie Hall" movies. He wasn't making the kinds of pictures everyone else was and his uniqueness was being dismissed. I saw him making a statement that banality lacks meaning by satirizing someone who went out of his way to avoid being himself. Maybe Allen had a higher purpose in making "Zelig" but I was comfortable with the message I got out of it."
Allen's Brillant Mockumentary
Robert Wellen | CHICAGO, IL USA | 11/19/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Zelig, the Woody Allen film that time almost forgot, is one of his 10 best. The story is well explained by other reviewers. Nevertheless, the DVD (without any extras except a fascinating trailer) is superior. The grainy film stock and sound are excellent. The movie is a timely today as it was in 1983. A fascinating film from a variety of perspectives. It was a painstaking labor of love that really addresses the need for love, assimilation, and life in the 1920s or 30s. A superior film, well worth the 15 bucks."
I Can't Believe This Movie Isn't Better Known!
Robert Wellen | 11/09/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Well, maybe I can...there's no gratuitous sex or violence, no gen-x messages about the failure of the modern American family, no explosions, car crashes, guns, or bad language.Just intelligence, and a lot of wit.This picture really reminds me a lot of the newsreel sequence in "Citizen Kane," and it's done just as well. The characters are also incredibly sympathetic...I fall in love with Mia Farrow every time I see this. The chemistry between Allen and Farrow, at least in this movie, rivals that between Hepburn and Tracy as far as I'm concerned.One disappointing thing about the DVD is the lack of special features...I'd have loved a commentary by Allen, at least. But then again, it only cost [dollar amount].I'm absolutely shocked that only 10 other people have reviewed this movie, seeing as how it is possibly the greatest film Woody Allen, a comic genius, ever made."