Saturday, February 4, 2012

Zelig - Movie Review

Woody Allen's movies always make me wonder why I had not thought of those ideas before. Almost always. And I wish to get ideas as crazy and yet so true about our lives as he does, I'd consider myself fortunate. Zelig, a mocumentary made by Woody Allen in 1983, is one such idea.

The entire movie is shown as a documentary based on the life of one Leonard Zelig (Allen) who lived in New York in the 1920s. This man's greatest claim to fame is that he changes his features to look like any group that he joins - he physically changes color, features, shapes - and earns himself the sobriquet the 'Human Chameleon'. Why he does that is found out later by a psychiatrist Dr. Eudora Fletcher (Mia Farrow) who finds that this man's incredible need for approval makes him actually change himself to fit in with the group he is with (including becoming a fat man in a bunch of fat people and a black man in a bunch of black people). The doctor and patient get closer and fall in love and she treats him successfully - only now the human chameleon has very strong opinions about everything else and is highly intolerant of other people's views - a complete opposite of what he was earlier and ends up beating the doctors who come to review his case. Their crime - he does not agree that it is a fine day as one of them thinks. Popular as he becomes with all this going on Zelig is suddenly slapped with cases of bigamy, paternity, fraud etc by several people, acts that he had undertaken in his many roles unknowingly earlier. But just before his sentencing for these crimes, Zelig disappears. Dr. Eudora Fletcher finds him sometime later however, standing behind Adolf Hitler in the WW II footage and goes off to Germany to rescue him. Her presence knocks him back to his senses and they dash off across the Atlantic in a plane. But Eudora who can fly has fainted and Zelig is the only other occupant. Zelig who is now back to his need for approval stage, transforms into a pilot in the presence of the other pilot and flies across the Atlantic in a plane that is upside down. The two get a heroes welcome.

A person with a need for approval so strong that he actually changes himself physically to fit in? What a wonderful idea. And the way Allen shoots the entire movie as a documentary is amazing - the newsreel quality of the 20s, the placement of Allen beside historical figures like Hitler, Al Capone, Babe Ruth, Lindbergh is superb. And to do it in 1983 is even more mindboggling because it was apparently ten years ahead of such technological advances in film making. To conceive, laugh at and pull off such an idea that probably laughs at all of humanity and its need for approval, Woody Allen soars far above and apart from other film makers. Truly there can be none like him. The movie is worth a watch for its sheer novelty, a mocumentary, black and white mostly, interspersed with colour clippings. But if you're looking for straight entertainment, perhaps not the one for you (but this is like a documentary isn't it?).

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