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Zelig (1983)

"Documentary" about a man who can look and act like whoever he's around, and meets various famous people.




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Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 6 wins & 14 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Patrick Horgan ...
The Narrator (voice)
John Buckwalter ...
Dr. Sindell
Marvin Chatinover ...
Glandular Diagnosis Doctor
Stanley Swerdlow ...
Mexican Food Doctor
Paul Nevens ...
Dr. Birsky
Howard Erskine ...
Hypodermic Doctor
George Hamlin ...
Experimental Drugs Doctor
Ralph Bell ...
Other Doctor
Richard Whiting ...
Other Doctor
Will Hussung ...
Other Doctor (as Will Hussong)
Robert Iglesia ...
Man in Barber Chair
Eli Resnick ...
Man in Park
Edward McPhillips ...


Fictional documentary about the life of human chameleon Leonard Zelig, a man who becomes a celebrity in the 1920s due to his ability to look and act like whoever is around him. Clever editing places Zelig in real newsreel footage of Woodrow Wilson, Babe Ruth, and others. Written by Scott Renshaw <as.idc@forsythe.stanford.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

25 August 1983 (Argentina)  »

Also Known As:

Identity Crisis and Its Relationship to Personality Disorder  »

Filming Locations:



Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$60,119, 17 July 1983, Limited Release

Gross USA:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Star Billing: Woody Allen was top first billed whilst Mia Farrow received second billing. This is the only ever Allen - Farrow film where the pair have sole name-above-the-title shared billing in the vein of the earlier famous Allen - Keaton star-teamings. All the other Allen - Farrow films had at least three names or ensemble billing, or Allen did not appear being a writer-director only having no actor-star billing. See more »


At one point, the narrator mentions that there is a photo of Leonard Zelig as Pagliacci. "Pagliacci" is the Italian plural for "clowns". The correct way to say it would be " a photo of Leonard Zelig as Pagliaccio", or "a photo of Leonard Zelig as Canio (the leading male character, who plays Pagliaccio in a play-within-the-play in the opera "Pagliacci".). See more »


Leonard Zelig: I'm 12 years old. I run into a Synagogue. I ask the Rabbi the meaning of life. He tells me the meaning of life... But, he tells it to me in Hebrew. I don't understand Hebrew. Then he wants to charge me six hundred dollars for Hebrew lessons.
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Featured in American Masters: Woody Allen: A Documentary (2011) See more »


Music by James P. Johnson
Lyrics by Cecil Mack
Performed by Dick Hyman
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User Reviews

Zelig is a masterpiece
3 July 2004 | by See all my reviews

Yes, a masterpiece. The entire premise of the movie is wildly original, even coming from WOODY ALLEN who continually cranks out one interesting film after another to this day.

The label of mock-umentary just doesn't do justice to the uniqueness of this film. ALLEN and his amazingly talented staff created a movie that no other director could have made nor even thought of doing. Some of the humor is rather modern like the forward references to self-gratification during the psychiatrist scenes with MIA FARROW. But mostly, it's filled with humor from another time and place which we'll never return.

To me, one of the wonderful aspects of this is the period music dispersed throughout with joyful admiration. We are lucky that ALLEN has continued to use music from the early part of the 20th century. I think no other director has so consistently had such a reverence for this wonderful music. Perhaps no other director has such a strong knowledge of it either.

That WOODY ALLEN normally portrays himself as a nebbishy character in many of his own movies works so well in this movie. A more aggressive person who becomes a chameleon would not have worked as well at all. I am glad that MIA FARROW was still associated with him when he made this film, I think no other modern actress could have pulled this off as well as she did. She has that timeless look that is appealing but has a far-off feeling.

The flavor of the period-looking cinematography and photography is part of the genius of the implementation here. It is so right on the money. The flickering of projectors, the out-of-focus look to so man scenes shot today meld amazingly well with the contrived shots.

THINK ABOUT THIS - this is years before CGI took over Hollywood...years before FORREST GUMP and countless of other knock-offs have proliferated in movies. Gee whiz, there is CGI in so many movies these days. I watched a DVD of a recent movie recently which used special effects in the most unexpected, unlikely and unnecessary parts you'd be surprised.

Yes, ZELIG is a masterpiece and I only feel sorry for those who cannot see the astounding piece of cinema this is.

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