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Zelig is a masterpiece
Enrique-Sanchez-563 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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A Delightful Story In An Engaging Format
Salon_Kitty27 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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Woody Allen Does the Chameleon
EmperorNortonII25 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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Woody strikes again!
Mister-621 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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Zealous about "Zelig"
Varlaam1 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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More Relentless Self-Deprecation From The King
kjphyland30 July 2015
This could well be a review of 90% of Woody Allen's oeuvre. The film is a smorgasbord of fabulousness - exquisite concepts, very clever lines and very funny ones. No film maker has ever had such a grasp of irony, sarcasm and the ridiculous, and still imbue it with wit and (occasionally) subtlety. But it is the relentless self-deprecation and extant feelings of worthlessness that eventually become wearing after you have watched as many Allen films as I have. This is the film that most impresses you with his confusion over identity however. I could go on about self-analysis for pages but it's unnecessary...just watch any given Woody Allen film. He mellows it out with a rather forlorn sense of romance that becomes endearing rather than pathetic...a skill that is essential to engage with his films. This is a fine film. Oh yeah...and very funny...if you get the references.
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"Identity Crisis and Its Relationship to Personality Disorder "
Galina_movie_fan25 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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My favourite Woody Allen film
roystephen-812527 February 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Out of all Woody's movies, this is my all-time favourite. Deep and meaningful, a perfect blend of drama and comedy. It was filmed in black-and-white, like Manhattan, but this time in the mockumentary style of Take the Money and Run. Less comedic than that film, though, but just as entertaining. The special effects (blending the actors with documentary stock footage) are simply astounding for their time. It was only 10+ years later that another film (Forrest Gump) managed to pull this thing off with the same success. (Now that I mentioned it, Forrest Gump may have a lot more in common with Zelig... There are clearly parallels not only visually, but thematically, as well.) It is also very concise. Lasting only 70 minutes, there is no unnecessary fat at all. A time very well spent for anyone who loves bittersweet, heart-warming movies.
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A Minor Masterpiece
Into_The_West16 April 2005
Warning: 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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Identity Crisis
nycritic18 December 2005
Warning: 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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My brief review of the film
sol-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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Zenith Zelig.
ptb-823 February 2008
ZELIG is simply a jaw-dropping sight and sound as a film; hilarious.... out loud. The funny premise is polished to some astonishing level of trickery with editing and matte effects seamlessly blending real 20s with recreated 20s adding Allen and Farrow and dialog and interviews that will have you recalling and roaring with laughter for days. I had not seen it since 1983 and now in 2008 to be reminded how stunning and hilarious this creation is, well, I am just delighted to be back on the wavelength of this genuinely brilliant hoax documentary. Now I can see how FORREST GUMP came about, given that it is a similar 'historic' premise using real footage of events and eras mixed with the lead character. But ZELIG is another perfection altogether; if you know your 20s, silent films, the imagery, the early sound newsreels and all those silly songs, then ZELIG is a superlative treat. It even features Mae Questrel singing a new Betty Boop song and for that alone I cheer this almost perfect film. What a delight. If you also get to see the early Peter Jackson hoax documentary FORGOTTEN SILVER or Stanley Donen's MOVIE MOVIE you will be equally rewarded.
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Layered into Reality
tedg20 October 2003
Warning: 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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You Wanted More When It was all over!
Sylviastel28 November 2010
I have to say that even though Zelig is less than 80 minutes, I was deeply saddened by it being over. I actually wanted more of it. Woody Allen is brilliant as Leonard Zelig, a human chameleon, who can transform to other races, religions, and ethnicities. Anyway, Woody Allen does it subtly and brilliantly without going over the top. Woody Allen is a genius with his neurosis. In this film, it's a love story before doctors getting intimate with patients had become a frowned upon today. Zelig came alive in the 1920s and 1930s. His character always seems to be looking for a place to fit in society. Woody Allen's brilliance is really about examining his life in film especially his relationships. The psychiatrist is played by Mia Farrow who was involved with Woody Allen at the time. The cast is usually New York actors like Deborah Rush. But I enjoyed seeing Susan Sontag in this documentary spoof. Zelig is perhaps one of the best spoof documentaries of all time. When it's over, you just want more.
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Woody Allen's "Epic" film of a man finding his place in society
Quinoa198426 March 2010
Woody Allen's Zelig is a funny, but that's to be expected. Right from the start one gets that this is a "mockumentary" done mostly with archival footage and interviews, so it would be hard for Allen (working in this form the first time) to keep a straight face as a filmmaker. He has to make jokes, as a character and as a writer, and it would be hard not to when having a 'chameleon' like the one Leonard Zelig is in the film, going from scene to scene, place to place, historical event to celebrity to circus act to scandal-celeb and, finally, anti-Nazi hero.

But there's more to the piece than I remembered first seeing the film when I was younger. It's a very smart and precise account of what a person in society becomes when he tries, and succeeds, to become like those around him. What happens when conforming- or just getting people to 'like' you or respond well to you- goes too far in a direction? We see how Zelig, who first got this gift/curse to be a human chameleon after being beat up as a child (there's a funny story to that, by the way, if you can believe it), does this trick with some people not quite noticing at first, then it spreads like wildfire that this guy can go along with any group he's in. He can be a fat guy, a black musician, a politician, a man with a mustache, anything. We're not shown him being a woman at any point, but that option could be open as well.

Zelig is also an epic, in a sense, and as perceptive- maybe a lot more focused in its approach- as Forrest Gump. Where that posited a man drifted through the highs and lows of the 50's through the 60's, with Zelig we're treated to what a man goes through in the world of the press and high fashion and glitz and glamour and living high in the 1920's and 1930's. Allen loves this time period, and the footage he puts together (what he filmed exactly and what wasn't is hard to spot, making it all the more masterful and exquisite, aside from the laugh factor) is infectious in its spirit. And it looks and feels so much like a documentary that it immerses the viewer into its subject matter without a moment's thought of thinking "oh, that looks fake". Often, I was laughing at the specific photos, the way people are put together, and Allen's wit as Zelig that I wouldn't bother to notice its "fake" elements.

But beneath its satire on society and what it means to fit in, or not, and the trappings of fame and the fun with psychology ("Freud and I disagreed on Penis Envy," says Zelig as a "Psychologist", "he said it only worked for women"), is a heart. We do feel for Zelig, as well as his state of being and finding of himself with the doctor played by Mia Farrow. So, when these crazy things do happen to him, or around him, or little visual puns are made (San Simeon clips are some of the best), he isn't just some running one-note gag. Allen makes him a character, and even delivers one of his finest performances. He'd have to - he's everyone and no one at once. A+
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A homage to Peter Sellers?
manuel-pestalozzi4 April 2003
This is my favorite among Woody Allen's movies. I also think it is his best. It has real depth, there is less incoherent babbling than normal. The message here is clear and really touching. The idea to make a pseudo documentary, with pseudo old record scores and all, was a great and resoundingly successful experiment. It shows the extent of Allen's genius. To set the story in the Roaring Twenties and early thirties seems to be a decision that is dead right. It really enhances the quality and the message of the movie.

I wonder if the character of Leonard Zelig is motivated by the personality and the performances of Peter Sellers to whom Allen is somehow indebted. There is no doubt for me that Sellers must have influenced Allen as an actor quite profoundly. And it was Sellers who used his uncanny chameleonic talents that sometimes made him appear as a sort of a freak. Sellers died in 1980, Zelig came out in 1983. Pe-ter Sel-lers, Len-nard Ze-lig ... is this Allen's personal secret? Or am I mistaken?
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Human Freak of Nature/Curiosity Gets Woody Allen Treatment
mdm-116 May 2005
Just before giving us the campy "Purple Rose of Cairo", Woody Allen created "Zelig", another very unique film. The title character is a man who, like a Chameleon, changes his physical appearance to blend in with whomever he is sharing present company. When getting acquainted with an obese man, Zelig suddenly develops a pot-belly; among Asians, Zelig changes appearance to resemble the people near him; no matter how different the person in Zelig's company, he changes to adapt.

Mia Farrow plays a psychiatrist (an unusual occupation for a woman in the 1920s & 30s) determined to figure this case out. The predictable romantic involvement ensuing adds to the confusion. The film is enveloped in countless news real excerpts and newspaper headlines. The elaborate "joke" may have been even more effective if kept to a shorter format. A 30 minute short is not always improved by an 80 minute feature film.

The Woody Allen character is depicted as not only a curiosity or a freak of nature, but as someone incapable of functioning independently. A human chameleon may be a curiosity, but it does not render an intelligent person as helpless and in need of guarded confinement. Although offering many chuckles and even big laughs, the idea of caging someone who is different, treating him like an "E.T." or "Elephant Man" can make viewers uncomfortable. Our society has not fully evolved to accept such differences. I'm not certain if this film is an argument for or against acceptance of human curiosities. Although the special effects, mainly authentic "aged film footage" and period music are outstanding, the story line is somewhat disturbing.
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Boring, repetitive, seemingly interminable film
angelofvic11 August 2006
I felt trapped in this film, and to me it was a misery to sit through. It's 80 minutes of the exact same gimmick repeated ad nauseum, a gimmick that the audience "gets" in the first 5 or 10 minutes, and then we are ready to move on to another joke. But no other joke is forthcoming -- it's just an endless, mind-numbing repetition of the exact same thing, a joke that wasn't that funny (to me) to begin with. If the fact that certain people are social chameleons is news to some people, then those people may, perhaps, enjoy this film. Otherwise, I'd admonish: Stay away.

I personally advise skipping this film. In my opinion, it's a one-note film based on a joke that isn't funny even the first time you hear it.
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How to blend in the funny way
Artimidor15 May 2013
Woody Allen's genius, intelligence and wit are often only hampered by his insistence to play the same character over and over again in a multitude of films, or at least a version of that archetypal protagonist: a whiny, talky, at any rate neurotic American Jew with never ending problems in the romantic area. This makes him a welcome guest for shrinks, and the resulting filmed self-analysis is all garnished with the typical sophisticated Woody Allen humor. In "Zelig" he is all that and more. As this time our hero proves more adaptable. Literally. And it's a good thing.

Allen, who brought the world such fresh comedy ideas like film stars stepping out of the screen, characters sensing that they might be out of focus, writers lost between fiction and reality to name just a few, created with "Zelig" one of the best mockumentaries to date. Subject of course is this peculiar director/writer/actor, who loses himself in the role of a human chameleon, a freak of nature, who has anything but an identity to count on. Apparently his former roles as time traveler, dictator by accident or Vulgarian "spy" were not enough, so Allen pulls out all the stops and turns clown, dentist, professor, Indian, black, fat, mustached and what not - all in one picture. Adapting involuntarily to anything regardless of profession, ethnic or political orientation, the Zelig character goes all the way through, even finding himself consequently in Nazi Germany at a Hitler rally. And he makes a point. Aside from the comic effect of this premise and its perfect execution via newsreels, photo manipulation and the like containing mystifying historical details that never happened, there's that other level to the film as well: "Zelig" deals head on with the complex relationship between individual and society, poses questions about identity and assimilation, and in bringing up all those serious issues is simply hilarious.
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Rate Shifter
becky-dewaters17 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I'm so glad I watched this film.

At first I was disappointed that it was a period piece, thinking that it would look like another modern movie attempting to appear like it was set in the 20s, but now I think maybe I've gotten that impression because I've seen a lot of modern movies trying to look like a Woody Allen film set in the 20s.

I laughed and laughed throughout.

(Rate shifters are viewings that make me want to bump all my other scorings down at least one star, except the other rate shifters, given my tendency to overrate films.)
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Funny and technically remarkable
blanche-214 September 2007
"Zelig" is another terrific film from Woody Allen, about a chameleon who lived earlier in the century and was treated by a psychiatrist to become one, whole person. Done in documentary style all the way through and narrated by Patrick Horgan, it's difficult to tell sometimes who is real and who is acting. Leonard Zelig is a young man who, simply by standing with someone, becomes just like them - if he's with a black person, he becomes black; if he's near a fat person, he becomes rotund and so on. He is the subject of articles as well as songs ("Leonard the Lizard," "(You Have Such) Reptile Eyes," and "You May Be Six People, But I Love You," to name a few) and inspires a popular '20s dance, "The Chameleon." Dick Hyman composed the songs perfectly in the style of the '20s, and one, in fact, is sung by the voice of Betty Boop, Helen Kane. Zelig is attacked by Labor Unions because they claim that, as a chameleon, he's holding down six jobs. The KKK doesn't know what to make of him - he can become anything they hate in seconds. While working with a dedicated psychiatrist, Eudora (Farrow), Leonard's sister and boyfriend take him out of the institute and use his chameleon qualities to commercialize him and make a bundle. After a murder/suicide, Eudora gets Leonard back and continues to work with him.

The best part of "Zelig," of course, are the film clips and photos from the '20s and '30s that place Zelig and/or Eudora actually in them. The old film was apparently matched to the new by such technical things as stepping on it, putting it in a shower, and crumpling it up. The production used actual cameras and lighting from the '20s to give the right effect, and a technique used in a series of Time-Life specials that inserted Dick Cavett into archival footage was used - and actually was the inspiration for the film, it fascinated Allen so much. All of these photos and film clips are remarkable, but the best is the appearance of Leonard Zelig on the podium near Hitler while Hitler is giving one of his impassioned speeches.

"Zelig," though, is more than a technical wonder. It's the story of a man who has no identity of his own and, through the dedication of one doctor, develops one. It's also very funny in parts, particularly one of Leonard's sessions under hypnosis when he talks about the meaning of life.

A wonderful film with jaw-dropping editing, done meticulously. Highly recommended.
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Amazing concept, diminishing laughs
secondtake6 September 2009
Zelig (1983)

Amazing concept, diminishing laughs

When this starts, it's astonishing, and funny, and inventive. And very very well done. Starting with Susan Sontag, the real Sontag, is a leap of reality that seems like it'll carry the whole 79 minutes. And there are truly moments that show up throughout that are good for a gasp or a laugh, the Hitler scene for one.

But the concept is the key, and to some extent it's been done before, at least in stills. And once you get it, which might take three minutes or might take ten, you've got it, and it depends more on acting or cleverness from then on. And for me it falters too often to really make it worthwhile (Mia Farrow is really a bore throughout, and even Allen is sometimes straining). I have to say, the first time I saw it I didn't get as tired of it, so if it's the first time you might be thrilled. And if you've seen the 1994 Forrest Gump (and liked it), you owe it to yourself to see Zelig for being first, and in my small view, better, technically.

Because technically this is a complete marvel. The original footage is as authentically 1920s and 30s as anything authentic (an odd post modern truth), and the newly composed music and dance numbers are really fabulous, and funny. The team Allen has during all his films this period (many of them my favorites) is none other than Gordon Willis behind the camera, Susan Morse editing, Juliet Taylor casting, and Santo Loquasto costumes. The music by Allen veteran Dick Hyman, who is now more famous for his ragtime renditions, is key, of course, and really convincing (sometimes convincingly bad, very period).

So whatever my reservations, this is in many ways a fresh, unique, brilliant film, a small one with big brief moments.
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MartinHafer4 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
First, I need to point out that I generally don't like Woody Allen movies. This is not just due to his weird off-screen antics but the fact that over the years his movies just stopped being funny. Instead, introspection and artsy-fartsiness have replaced genuine humor. Take the Money and Run, Bananas, Sleeper and Play It Again Sam were good (though not great) films. However, starting in the late 1970s, he tried too hard to "say something" and forgot humor. Despite this, in the midst of his unfunny phase, he created a gem. In my opinion this is his best film and no others come even close. However, I will freely admit that this movie is not for everyone. To understand and appreciate Zelig, you really need to understand and care about our history. Since I am a history teacher and LOVE history, it was not hard to follow the historical references. I knew who nearly all the people were who were shown in the documentary films that were spliced into the film. But, for the average viewer, this could be a real sticking point. They may know who Hitler was, but haven't the foggiest notion who William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies, Charlie Chaplin, Al Smith or any of the other people were who show up in the movie. To make matters even worse, the first time I saw this movie, someone I know said "gee--I never even knew this Leonard Zelig guy existed". In other words, despite the movie's preposterous elements, this dunderhead believed it was ALL true! This is an extreme case, but feel that in general this movie is "too smart" for the average viewer and as the years pass, this problem will become greater. This is a real shame because they also will not, in many cases, understand the context in which this movie was made. The amazing computer enhancements we come to expect today were not available in the early 80s when this film was made. Instead, painstaking blue screen shots were made and superimposed flawlessly into archival film and some scenes had to be created using modern actors who doubled for the real historical figures. The amazing detail and time needed make this a great film and an important one as well.
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Joke Stretched Thin
kenjha23 January 2011
In this mockumentary, "historical" footage is used to tell the story of a man who had a chameleon-like ability to integrate himself into his surroundings. This is a one-joke movie, and that joke is stretched much too thin to produce any laughs. There is also just one message: conformity is bad. The joke and the message are exhausted in the first 15 minutes. However, the film then drags on for another hour of repetitious footage as Allen belabors the point. The main purpose of this film is for Allen to show off the technique of merging new footage with historical footage, something that had never been done on this scale. It's an interesting exercise for a short, not a feature film.
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Terrific concept, great effects, lackluster final product.
Movie-Man-Bob4 June 2004
This movie looks and feels just like a real documentary. Real 1920's newsreel footage (into which Woody Allen has been seamlessly inserted) is impossible to tell from the faux-footage Mr. Allen filmed himself. Scenes from the fake 1935 movie telling the Leonard Zelig story, which are shown periodically throughout the film, not only look like a film of that era, but are written and acted as such as well. And interviews with real experts, on the fictional character of Zelig, complete the effect quite nicely. There can be no doubt that this movie looks terrific. But the problem lies in the content.

Leonard Zelig, the human chameleon, is a fascinating character. But someone besides Woody Allen should have played him. Mr. Allen is (or can be) a brilliant writer/director, but his range as an actor is limited. And so, though we see plenty of brilliantly done, authentic-looking footage, photos, etc. of Leonard Zelig blending in with his surroundings, we hardly ever see him interact in those surroundings. The pictures and clips of Woody Allen as a rabbi, a fat person, a Nazi, etc. are amusing, but they are not substantial. We are told that he is able, not only to look like those around him, but to converse like them to. But the only time we see him do this is when he's playing a psychiatrist: no stretch for Mr. Allen, who discusses psychoanalysis in many of his films (though usually from the recipient's point-of-view). And so the only time we actually hear from Zelig is when Dr. Eudora Fletcher puts him into a trance, at which time he has no personality of his own. It's a shame; he's such a fascinating character, but the only way we really know he's a fascinating character is because we are told so by others. In lieu of scenes that help us get to know the characters personally, we are given narration and talking heads. This is not the way to make any film, not even a documentary.

When it comes to Woody Allen mockumentaries, I much prefer Take the Money and Run. It's not as researched and authentic-looking as Zelig, but it's far funnier, and far more engaging.
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