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Zelig (1983) – DVD review

Zelig DVD cover art


Written and Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, John Buckwalter, Martin Chatinover, Patrick Horgan


  • Informational pamphlet
  • Theatrical Trailer

Released by: MGM Home Video.
Rating: PG
Region: 1
Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Borrow it unless you’re a Woody Allen fan.

In these media-saturated times, we are all familiar with people famous for being famous. This can happens when someone’s life is self-destructing like the deposed King of Pop, Michael Jackson, or when someone’s life is made up of constantly getting caught on tape naked like socialite slut, Paris Hilton. The birth of the media sensation occurred with the beginning of mass media, the Roaring 20s. With the introduction of radio and cinema and with communications starting to shrink the world, people could attain notoriety overnight. One man, Leonard Zelig (Allen), even received the world’s attention by blending into a crowd.

[ad#longpost]Zelig had such a pathological desire to fit in with whomever he was with, he subconsciously changed his mannerisms, his voice, even his appearance to become part of whatever group he was with, be they a black jazz band, the New York Yankees, or even a group of psychiatrists. His immersion was so complete, people would swear Zelig was Chinese, Scottish, or Native American. While many are eager to use Zelig to make their careers, make money, or make the news themselves, only one woman is interested in actually curing him, Dr. Eudora Fletcher (Farrow). But will she be able to make Zelig his own man before he loses himself completely in the maddening crowd?

This “mockumentary” has more in common with Forgotten Silver than This is Spinal Tap, with its focus on the look of the film rather than the writing. A mix of film clips from the period and new footage shot with equipment from the time does make Allen and Farrow seem they were really in 1929. It really does look like Zelig is chatting with Josephine Baker and being serenaded by Fanny Bryce. A couple of shots look like an obvious editing job, but for the most part, it’s almost comparable with Forrest Gump and other movies of historical fiction. Allen’s use of a human chameleon to show how difficult it can be to be your own man while being one of the faceless masses or an internationally known individual is interesting. The idea that the love of a good woman can cure all is somewhat contrived. Another problem is Allen sticking in some of his shtick in his performance. It reminds you that you’re watching Woody Allen, not Leonard Zelig. In contrast, Farrow submerges herself into the role.

While there are no special features on the disc, the box has an informational pamphlet talking about some of the themes about the movie, Allen’s own thoughts, and some trivia about its making. It’s odd that they didn’t include this on the disc, where you wouldn’t have the risk of losing the separate leaflet. But oh well. Since Allen doesn’t provide much in the way of features normally, we don’t really have much room to bitch, but eh, we can dream. Anyway, while Zelig is an interesting movie, I think it can be only of interest to Allen aficionados. Everyone else should try and watch it without spending any money on it.

Woody Allen and Mia Farrow from Zelig
Mia Farrow and Woody Allen

Camels ad from Zelig