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79 out of 92 people found the following review useful:

Zelig is a masterpiece

10/10
Author: Enrique Sanchez from Miami, FL
3 July 2004

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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50 out of 58 people found the following review useful:

A Delightful Story In An Engaging Format

9/10
Author: Salon_Kitty from State College, PA
27 March 2005

Was this the first "mockumentary"? I checked out IMDb and it predates Guest, Reiner and co.'s This Is Spinal Tap by a year. Not only was it a fake documentary, it sustained the format throughout, never once breaking into an enacted scene. Allen told his story, set in his favorite time period, The Roaring 20's, using special lenses to create the old style newsreels. Using photo stills, mixing real footage with his, and providing exposition via modern-day "historians" and aged characters, he gave this innovative film such an authenticity that if one didn't know any better, you would swear there had been an actual Leonard Zelig.

Allen plays Leonard, a man so devoid of identity, so eager to assimilate, that he literally takes on the appearance or, at least, the attributes of anyone he comes in contact with. Mia Farrow plays his psychiatrist, Dr. Eudora Fletcher, and taken in smaller doses, she actually is perfect in this role. There are a few moments when you get to see an extended dialogue between the two, most notably when her brother is filming "The White Room" sessions at her country estate. This is the only time that Allen's shtick gets to flex, as he cracks jokes about teaching a Masturbation class. Advanced. I also loved Zelig groaning about Eudora's terrible cooking under hypnosis. Eventually, Dr. Fletcher is able to cure him, and with his newfound personality, he and Eudora fall in love.

Allen also introduces the idea of Zelig's story being filmed as a movie, so he inter cuts some of the news sources with scenes from the film (very funny). The one thing that really stood out for me, though, was this revelation towards the end of the film. Woody as Leonard Zelig was smiling. A lot. It was kind of weird to see, but his happiness actually imbued the film with positive emotion and charmed the pants off me (not literally, of course) to such a degree that I will undoubtedly be repeating my viewing pleasure many more times.

I'll be honest. There were moments early on that I perhaps wondered if he was going to be able to sustain my interest. I thought he might be playing this conceit a little too long. What had, in the first 20 minutes, been enchanting and amusing seemed to dwindle in the middle of the film. Would he really succeed at telling an engaging story in this method? Well, I stuck with it and I'm glad I did. He layers so many meanings into his character's transformations, and all of his historians offer different interpretations. The importance of being yourself. How Zelig's journey was America's journey during the tumultuous and wild 20's. He also has a great running gag about Moby Dick that lampoons the Great American Novel.

Will Allen ever be this innovative and original again? Well, it appears he's making an attempt with his newest film, Melinda and Melinda, in which he tells the same story twice, with one tone being humorous, while the other is tragic. If nothing else, he at least continues to strive for an authentic voice in this littered landscape of movie franchises and ridiculously insulting comedies. Go Woody.

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58 out of 75 people found the following review useful:

Zealous about "Zelig"

10/10
Author: Varlaam from Toronto, Canada
1 October 1999

Leapin' lizards! This film is brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

"Zelig" was a revelation in 1983, an utterly ingenious faux-documentary, without any precedent, at least not on this scale. Hilarious then, it still is today. That quick glimpse you get of the all-Hasidic production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is priceless. It gives renewed meaning to "Lord, what fools these mortals be!"

Allen's technique is extraordinary. "Zelig" has the best bogus documentary footage quite probably since "Citizen Kane".

As the film urges, everyone should "Do the Chameleon", by seeing "Zelig". Woody Allen creates a trenchant comment on people's desire for conformity: "Everybody, go chameleon." We all tend to do that to some degree, but it's not usually so amusing. Try to blend in with the crowd rushing out to find "Zelig" on video.

It is probably worth noting that a Jewish Nazi is not as ridiculous a stretch as Woody makes it seem. Reinhard Heydrich, the vicious organizer of the Final Solution, fell into that category. The top Nazis were all misfits in one way or another.

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36 out of 44 people found the following review useful:

Woody strikes again!

9/10
Author: Mister-6 from United States
21 April 2000

Woody can be clever. Woody can be funny. And when Woody's clever AND funny, you get "Zelig".

Telling the story of Leonard Zelig (Woody Allen, who else?) who transforms himself chameleon-like into anyone just to get people to like him, he finds himself the object of on-going observation from a kind doctor (Farrow), who eventually falls for him.

But lest you think this is simply a love story, there are also pot-shots at fame, fads, the 1930s (!!), medical conventions, product cash-ins and the joys and pitfalls of celebrity.

Then there's the sheer joy of the technical wizardry that allows Woody's Zelig to stand alongside such figures as Josephine Baker, Brickhouse, William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies, "Red" Grange, Al Capone, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lou Gehrig and Fanny Brice. This is the same type of FX visible in "Forrest Gump", and eleven years before the fact! Nice going.

But you haven't lived till you've seen Woody trying to blend in at an Adolph Hitler speech.

There's a lot of slapstick but there's also a lot of great lines ("I have to council a group of chronic masturbators", Zelig complains, "and if I'm late they'll start without me.") Classic.

But at the center of it all is Woody himself, just like his Zelig character, wanting only to be liked, if not loved. He succeeds. Once you see "Zelig", you'll love it.

Eight stars, plus one star more for watching Woody be serenaded by Fanny Brice. He's the cat's pajamas!

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26 out of 29 people found the following review useful:

Woody Allen Does the Chameleon

9/10
Author: EmperorNortonII from San Francisco, California
25 April 2003

"Zelig" is a very clever movie, the kind you just know Woody Allen is capable of. In this "mockumentary," Woody plays Leonard Zelig, an insecure man who goes to the ultimate length to fit in. Mia Farrow offers the love interest as Dr. Eudora Fletcher. In "Zelig," we get to see Woody spliced into old footage, including the Nazi rally. This came before the effect became used more often, in movies like "Forrest Gump." I see this as a transition in Woody's movies. It comes somewhere between his early funnier movies, like "Bananas" and "Take the Money and Run," and his later, more introspective ones, like "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "Husbands and Wives." It makes a statement about individuality, and produces laughs in the process.

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19 out of 24 people found the following review useful:

Identity Crisis

10/10
Author: nycritic
18 December 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Before FORREST GUMP told the story about its eponymous main character managing to find himself at the center of this country's main events we had this oddity of a mockumentary that only the uber-intellectual mind of Woody Allen could come up with. Appropriately narrated in that self-important newsreel voice-over that is the template of most documentaries, we are taken into the life of this 'human chameleon' called Leonard Zelig. Zelig has the ability to show up and blend into whomever he is around with at any given moment and pops up in the most interesting of places.

Soon he catches the interest of psychiatrist Dr. Eudora Fletcher who decides to undertake the task of 'curing' Zelig. She subjects him to a series of sessions to find out the meaning of his condition and thus further her own breakthroughs in psychology. At the same time we see comments from real-life celebrities as diverse as the day is long which pretend to explain his effect on events in general, his marriages, the man and the myth. Their presence lends an air of veracity and at times it's hard to believe one is watching an extremely clever mockumentary due to the footage utilized. Allen, in making ZELIG well before CGI, was able to painstakingly age film and process photos as to make it seem that Zelig in effect was "there" when things happened. Viewers at the same time will feel tempted to look for the dividing line between montage and real footage; one memorable scene is a rally led by Hitler (an actor playing Hitler, not the real man) which Zelig witnesses as a German Nazi. Dr. Eudora Fletcher follows him there and hilarity ensues as she points him out in the middle of Hitler's rousing dissertation. However, there is a greater irony as this event becomes a grossly fictionalized "film version". Allen is clearly toying with the viewer in saying that even when he is presenting "the facts" about this personage, events will be glamorized, and the line between fact and fiction will be blurred. Clever, indeed.

ZELIG falls short of being one of Woody Allen's great films for the reason it's a mockumentary; it barely has his presence and that of Mia Farrow as familiar faces and is a visual attack of archive footage and old jazz tunes. At the same time, one of his much shorter tales of self-existentialism in the threat of blending in, it does serve as something of an allegory that bears his indelible mark.

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19 out of 24 people found the following review useful:

A Minor Masterpiece

10/10
Author: mhberest@hotmail.com from Central California
16 April 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Zelig is, I think, my favorite Woody Allen movie. It's strange to prefer it over Annie Hall or Manhattan or Hannah and Her Sisters, and perhaps it's just my trivia loving personality that points me toward Zelig rather than one of Allen's more traditional movies.

Regardless, it is an incredible film. Years before computer animation, Allen was able to insert himself convincingly into old movies. His ability to replicate both the look and sound of old newsreels, in addition to the scratches and discolorations, is remarkable, but this is just window dressing for something that exists on several different levels.

At one level, Zelig is a simple satire, a fake documentary about a made-up "human chameleon" celebrity of the 1920's. It's rich with typical Allen touches and lines. But at another, it is a serious examination of how we adulate then try to destroy celebrities in America. At yet another, it is an examination of the Jewish compulsion to assimilate into whatever society we happen to be in.

But there are even more layers to this film. Allen manages to be laugh out loud farcical through most of this movie, but in the way of all great screen comedians, injects pathos into the film when Zelig, about to be sentenced for multiple crimes committed when he was in his "chameleon states" disappears leaving his heartbroken fiancée/psychiatrist behind.

And at an even deeper level, it's a rejection of the modern tendency to have to understand what things mean, rather than just appreciating them. This latter bit is shown by an actor discussing his book, "Interpreting Zelig," immediately followed by the late Susan Sonntag, playing herself, disputing this while the subtitle identifying her shows her as the author of "Against Interpretation." Indeed any film that manages to have Dr. Bruno Bettleheim, Irving Howe, Saul Bellow and Sonntag playing in it, commenting on the fictional Zelig, is something that can appeal to many people in many ways.

Undoubtedly, this reflects the complex character of Zelig himself, who could be so many different things to so many different people. This complexity is, like it is for Zelig, both a curse and its redemption. Rather than just a silly little fake documentary or a complex dissertation on art and philosophy, it's both and neither.

All this creates a remarkably rich cinematic experience which is genuinely unique, even among Allen's several "mockumentaries" like "The Harvey Wallanger Story," "Take the Money and Run" and "Sweet and Lowdown." See it once, or a hundred times, there are always details, either on the screen or in the ideas presented, that seem new and wonderful.

If it isn't Allen's great masterpiece (which in my mind, it could be), it's a minor masterpiece worth seeing.

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18 out of 23 people found the following review useful:

"Identity Crisis and Its Relationship to Personality Disorder "

10/10
Author: Galina from Virginia, USA
25 May 2006

One of the most sophisticated, cleverest, funniest, exquisitely shot and edited, scored, and acted movies ever made, "Zelig" is a masterpiece and astounding work even for Woody Allen whose mediocre movies are way above the regular Hollywood fares.

With the modest running time less than 80 minutes, this mockumentary tells the story of a "human chameleon", Leonard Zelig, Leonard the Lizard who possessed an extraordinary ability to transform himself in anyone he met (or should I say, an extraordinary ability possessed him?).

Leonard is a shy, little, meek Jewish man whose rare personality disorder consists of not having his own personality at all and successfully and effortlessly adapting any personality he came close to and fitting perfectly to any surroundings. His skin turns black when he is with the Black people, with the Native Americans, he became one; attending the dinner with the intellectuals, he speaks brilliantly with F.S. Fitzgerald, when on the baseball field, he is Babe Ruth. The meeting with an intelligent and compassionate psychiatrist, Dr. Eudora Fletcher (Mia Farrow) will begin the slow and long process for Zelig of searching and finding his own personality and possibility for love and happiness. The movie provides laughs and smiles but it also makes the viewer think of more serious subjects. Are we all have a Zelig inside? Don't we all want to be liked and try to adapt to our surroundings to feel comfortable? The movie can also be viewed as the meditation on the nature of the acting ability. While watching "Zelig", I kept thinking of a book I read recently. One of the characters was a great actor who had the similar to Zelig's disorder - he had no personality at all until he was given a part to act on stage. That Actor made the best and most convincing and complex Shakespeare's heroes - he was a brilliant reflective Hamlet but his greatest success was tragic Othello. The actor's transformation to Othello was so real that he acted it at home with his wife whom he suspected in cheating - he played his role perfectly with the same as in the play results. He ended up in the asylum where he could not act but he was allowed to read...Dostoevsky's novel "The Possessed" from which he chose to adapt the personality of Nikolai Stavrogin with rather unpredictable results. When his doctor finally realized what happened, he took all books with the exception of "The Idiot". Finally, the actor became a gentle and kind Prinz Myshkin, and that was the end of book.

Both, the book and the movie "Zelig" made me think of the price the artists pay to achieve perfection in their art. Are they vampires sucking the life out of their victims only to use them as characters for their acting roles? Is that the ultimate price the artist is paying for being a great artist? Does he need lives and souls of others to be able to create? This is one of many subjects "Zelig" makes you think about.

Allen seamlessly weds Black and white newsreel footage with his humorous but deep and fascinating tale allowing Zelig to be exactly where and when History was made. Using special lenses to give the movie the old style, mixing his own footage with the real documentaries, including his favorite music, dances, feeling perfectly forever gone era, Woody recreates The Roaring 20Th with breathtaking authenticity.

M:IWIHSIIT - according to my new grading system, a Masterpiece, I wish I had seen in the theater

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19 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

My brief review of the film

Author: sol- from Perth, Australia
26 July 2005

A fascinating pseudo-documentary with an intriguing premise, the footage shown looks very authentic, edited well together, with apt sets and costumes. A number of original songs written especially for the film are included, and they sound exactly like the type of tunes expected in a 1930s musical. The non-original music choices also suit the project. Woody Allen superbly acts out the interesting character that he has written for himself: a very different type of insecure, neurotic person to what he usually plays. Even at less than eighty minutes, the material nevertheless wears thin by the end, but some great ideas are developed along the way. It also feels a bit odd to watch, as the film is not really a comedy, nor a drama - not fitting into any genre - then again, in general real life are not meant to be straight comedies or dramas, are they? With the limitations of the style that Allen has chosen for the film taken into account, he does a pretty good job.

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13 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

Layered into Reality

Author: tedg (tedg@filmsfolded.com) from Virginia Beach
20 October 2003

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Spoilers herein.

Woody's films, enjoyable or not, represent a walk though all the larger philosophical observations and experiments in film. Most of those - at least in this period - have to do with how the camera distorts reality.

We get this in the reinvention of history overlain on the very nature of a fake documentary. It is echoed in the story, of course, which gives Woody a chance to mug and romance his new girl. (She `saves' him.)

Anyone who thinks this is about a man needs to have his license to watch Woody revoked.

I consider this a practice session for his best film: `Sweet and Lowdown,' which deals with these same issues, in the same way but so much more subtly and powerfully. That's in part because Woody's biggest liability as a director is Woody the actor, and he substituted the best folded actor in the world. But it is also because `Sweet' didn't have the distraction of manipulating old film.

Still, this is a pretty sweet idea, the idea of having a character be sufficiently powerful that he is able to actually modify existing filmed history.

Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.

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