Saturday, June 29, 2013
Written, directed, and starring Woody Allen, Zelig is the story about a nondescript man who imitates the many personalities around him in order to fit in with society. Told in a documentary style with stock footage and all sorts of visual tricks, the film has Allen creating a fictional individual as it’s a mixture of a 1920s period film with the world of documentary. Also starring Mia Farrow. Zelig is a dazzling yet whimsical film from Woody Allen.
The film is about this man named Leonard Zelig (Woody Allen) who is called a human chameleon by those he encounters as he is someone desperate to fit in with society during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Told in a documentary style, the film recalls many of Zelig’s exploits where he assimilates himself to be part of the world as he would often have no recollections of who he is at times. When he’s taken to a hospital and examined by Dr. Eudora Fletcher (Mia Farrow), Zelig becomes a phenomenon intrigued by the public and exploited by his family with the only person who really cares for him is Dr. Fletcher. Throughout the course of the film, people ranging from scholars and psychiatrists talk about Zelig’s strange condition and that phenomenon that he created in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The narrative would often move back and forth from those in the present talking about Zelig while showing all of this newsreel material of Zelig’s life under the narration of Patrick Horgan.
Allen’s direction is very unique in not just the way he incorporates photos and newsreel footage to help tell the story but how he is able to put himself in these situations as if the fictional characters he created were real. Through the use of some visual effects and old camera and lighting equipment of the 1920s, Allen is able to create a film that is very surreal but also full of charm where he is able to tell the story of this chameleonic man that is eager to fit in but has a hard time trying to find himself. Throughout the course of the film, there is a love story while some very funny moments where Allen would use some real-life events and create something that feels very silly to create the sense that Zelig really exists.
For the more contemporary moments, Allen keeps it very simple as if it was a documentary while making the rest of the film seem like it is still a documentary with all of these recreations of newsreel footage and still photos. A lot of the situations that Allen creates in the film has this air of absurdity such as the fact that Zelig can be an African-American, an Asian, an obese man, and all sorts of things. Yet, it plays to Zelig’s desire to be someone yet it would eventually bring in trouble where Allen also creates these moments where the story is dramatized but remains in that form of documentary filmmaking. Overall, Allen creates a very sensational and witty film about a man’s desire to fit in.
Cinematographer Gordon Willis does brilliant work with the film‘s grainy black-and-white photography with the use of film stock to create something that looks and feels like something from the 1920s including a more clearer style for the Hollywood recreation sequences of Zelig‘s exploits while the interview stuff is presented in color. Editor Susan E. Morse does amazing work with the editing to help create a structure in the story where she utilizes all sorts of rhythmic cuts to play out some of the film‘s humor. Production designer Mel Bourne, with art director Speed Hopkins and set decorators Leslie Bloom and Janet Rosenbloom, does fantastic work with the set pieces to recreate some moments in the film as if it felt real while using some of the locations to play out Zelig’s own time with Dr. Fletcher.
Costume designer Santo Loquasto does wonderful work with the costumes to create the periods of the time as well as some of the historical events including a scene at a Nazi rally in Berlin. Hair designer Romaine Greer and makeup designer Fern Buchner do excellent work with the many looks of Zelig to play out his chameleon-like state through beards and all sorts of weird makeup. Sound editor Dan Sable does terrific work with the sound to manipulate some of the audio recordings of Dr. Fletcher‘s reports as well as some of the sound effects that occurred in Zelig‘s adventures. The film’s music by Dick Hyman is superb for some of the original jazz songs that are created in the wake of Zelig’s phenomenon along with the music of those times as the soundtrack.
The casting by Juliet Taylor is marvelous as it features appearances from Susan Sontag, Bruno Bettelheim, Irving Howe, Bricktop, and Saul Bellow as themselves along with Stephanie Farrow as Dr. Fletcher’s sister Meryl, Garrett M. Brown as an actor playing Zelig in a fictional film, John Rothman as Dr. Fletcher’s documentarian cousin Paul Deghuee, Sherman Loud and Elizabeth Rothschild in their respective roles as the older Paul and Meryl, and Ellen Garrison as the older Dr. Fletcher. Mia Farrow is amazing as Dr. Eudora Fletcher as a woman who is intrigued by Zelig’s case while falling for him as she becomes the one person in Zelig’s life that he needs. Finally, there’s Woody Allen in a great performance as the titular character as a man that is trying to fit in with society by pretending to be someone else as it is a character full of wit and charm.
Zelig is an outstanding film from Woody Allen that features a wonderful supporting performance from Mia Farrow. Thanks to its documentary-style concept along with some amazing technical work, the film is definitely one of Allen’s best films. Particularly as it has ambition as well as imagination to explore the idea of individuality and a man dealing with his chameleon-like disorder. In the end, Zelig is a remarkable film from Woody Allen.
Woody Allen Films: What's Up Tiger Lily? - Take the Money and Run - Bananas - Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) - Sleeper - Love and Death - Annie Hall - Interiors - Manhattan - Stardust Memories - A Midsummer’s Night Sex Comedy - Broadway Danny Rose - The Purple Rose of Cairo - Hannah & Her Sisters - Radio Days - September - Another Woman - New York Stories: Oedipus Wrecks - Crimes & Misdemeanors - Alice - Shadows & Fog - Husbands & Wives - Manhattan Murder Mystery - Don’t Drink the Water - Bullets Over Broadway - Mighty Aphrodite - Everyone Says I Love You - Deconstructing Harry - Celebrity - Sweet & Lowdown - Small Time Crooks - The Curse of the Jade Scorpion - Hollywood Ending - Anything Else - Melinda & Melinda - Match Point - Scoop - Cassandra’s Dream - Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Whatever Works - You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger - Midnight in Paris - To Rome with Love - Blue Jasmine - Magic in the Moonlight - Irrational Man - (Cafe Society)
The Auteurs #24: Woody Allen Pt. 1 - Pt. 2 - Pt. 3 - Pt. 4
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