Friday, March 21, 2008
"Zelig" (Woody Allen, 1983) One of The Woodman's most experimental films, playing not only with the story-telling form but the way film documentary can be distorted. "Zelig" was an early example of the "mock"-umentary, telling the tale of Leonard Zelig (Woody Allen), famed in the Roaring '20's as "The Human Chameleon" for his ability to "blend" with whoever he's with. Zelig is "the ultimate conformist" changing views, attitudes, dress and skin color in order to feel safe and accepted. Contemporary "interviews" are interspersed with amazingly integrated historical footage that places Zelig at Yankee Stadium, in a ticker-tape parade down Wall Street, at the Vatican with Pope Pius, and, hilariously, on the dais behind Hitler at the Munich rally. The interviews are fine with such folks as Saul Bellow, Susan Sontag and Dr. Bruno Bettelheim playing along, although there are some shifts in the folks playing older versions of the subjects of the "found" footage. There is a verbal disconnect between the actresses playing Dr. Eudora Fletcher (Ellen Garrison and Mia Farrow), and Farrow's portrayal is flat and mousey, though she serves the purpose of Allen's straight man, especially in a scene where she calls Zelig's bluff about posing as a fellow psychiatrist ("You've got problems, lady!"). The satire has depth, showing Zelig's "influence" on society with a wealth of tin-pan alley songs, including "Chameleon Days" sung by "Betty Boop" herself, Mae Questel. And one can't argue with the moral of the story: "It just goes to show what you can accomplish when you're a total psychotic!"