Zelig by Woody Allen

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Description From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Zelig is a 1983 American mockumentary film written and directed by Woody Allen, and starring Allen and Mia Farrow. Allen plays Zelig, a curiously nondescript enigma who is discovered for his remarkable ability to transform himself to resemble anyone he's near.

The film was shot almost entirely in the style of 1920s-style black-and-white film newsreels, which are seamlessly interwoven with stock footage from the era, including cleverly filmed re-enactments of historical events. Narration is likewise largely in newsreel style. While being mostly set in the 1920s, the storyline occasionally shifts to present day (1983) interviews, shot in color.

Production notes

Woody Allen used actual newsreel footage and inserted himself and other actors into the footage using bluescreen technology. To provide an authentic look to his scenes, Allen and cinematographer Gordon Willis used a variety of techniques, including locating some of the actual antique film cameras and lenses used during the eras depicted in the film, and even going so far as to simulate damage, such as crinkles and scratches, on the negatives to make the finished product look more like vintage footage. The virtually seamless blending of old and new footage was achieved almost a decade before digital filmmaking technology made such techniques in films like Forrest Gump and various television commercials much easier to accomplish.

The film uses cameo appearances by real figures from academia and other fields for comic effect. Contrasting the film's vintage black-and-white film footage, these persons appear in color segments as themselves, commenting in the present day on the Zelig phenomenon as if it really happened. They include essayist Susan Sontag, psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, Nobel Prize-winning novelist Saul Bellow, political writer Irving Howe, historian John Morton Blum, and the Paris nightclub owner Bricktop.

Also appearing in the film's vintage footage are Charles Lindbergh, Al Capone, Clara Bow, William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies, Charlie Chaplin, Josephine Baker, Fanny Brice, Carole Lombard, Dolores del Río, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Göring, James Cagney, Jimmy Walker, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Adolphe Menjou, Claire Windsor, Tom Mix, Marie Dressler, Bobby Jones, and Pope Pius XI.

In the time it took to complete the film's special effects, Allen filmed A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy and Broadway Danny Rose.

The soundtrack includes such period songs as "I'm Sitting on Top of the World" and "Five Feet Two, Eyes of Blue" by Ray Henderson, Sam Lewis, and Joe Young; "Sunny Side Up" by Henderson, Lew Brown, and Buddy G. DeSylva; "Ain't We Got Fun" by Richard A. Whiting, Ray Egan, and Gus Kahn; "Charleston" by James P. Johnson and Cecil Mack; "I'll Get By" by Fred E. Ahlert and Roy Turk; "I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling" by Fats Waller, Harry Link, and Billy Rose; "I Love My Baby (My Baby Loves Me)" by Harry Warren and Bud Green; "A Sailboat in the Moonlight" by Carmen Lombardo and John Jacob Loeb; "Chicago (That Toddlin' Town)" by Fred Fisher; and "Anchors Aweigh" by Charles A. Zimmerman and Alfred Hart Miles. In addition, Dick Hyman composed a number of tunes allegedly inspired by the Zelig phenomenon, including "Leonard the Lizard", "Reptile Eyes", "You May Be Six People, But I Love You", "Doin' the Chameleon", "The Changing Man Concerto", and "Chameleon Days", the latter performed by Mae Questel, the voice of Betty Boop and Minnie Mouse.

Before being shown at the Venice Film Festival, the film opened on six screens in the US and grossed $60,119 on its opening weekend. Its domestic revenue eventually totaled $11,798,616.

Zelig has the distinction of being the last Orion Pictures film released by Warner Bros. Unlike other Warner-released Orion films, whose rights were retained by its original theatrical distributor, this film is owned by Orion's successor MGM alongside A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy.
[edit] Critical reaction

Zelig has an overall approval rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

In his review in the New York Times, Vincent Canby observed, "[Allen's] new, remarkably self-assured comedy is to his career what . . . Berlin Alexanderplatz is to Rainer Werner Fassbinder's and . . . Fanny and Alexander is to Ingmar Bergman's . . . Zelig is not only pricelessly funny, it's also, on occasion, very moving. It works simultaneously as social history, as a love story, as an examination of several different kinds of film narrative, as satire and as parody . . . [It] is a nearly perfect - and perfectly original - Woody Allen comedy."

Variety said the film was "consistently funny, though more academic than boulevardier", and the Christian Science Monitor called it "amazingly funny and poignant". Time Out New York describes it as "mildly amusing", while TV Guide says, "Allen's ongoing struggles with psychoanalysis and his Jewish identity - stridently literal preoccupations in most of his work - are for once rendered allegorically. The result is deeply satisfying."
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