Writer-director Woody Allen’s 1983 comedy is a smartly conceived but clumsily developed and largely unfunny fictional spoof documentary, or mockumentary, about a human chameleon nobody called Leonard Zelig (Allen).
Zelig becomes a celebrity through being able to look and act like those around him and associate with such Twenties and Thirties figures as F Scott Fitzgerald, Babe Ruth, Charles Chaplin, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Göring, James Cagney, Roosevelt, Charles Lindbergh, Al Capone, Woodrow Wilson, Tom Mix, Clara Bow, William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies and Eugene O’Neill.
The idea is excellent, and exerts a strong fascination, but there are perhaps only three or four actual laughs in the entire script, so the film’s main real interest lies in placing Zelig among the once-famous and the extremely clever film trickery and editing that integrates Allen into real newsreel footage of the last century’s famous.
Maybe it is not enough for an Allen classic but the pioneering visual effects (John Caglione Jnr, Joel Hynick, Stuart Robinson, Richard Greenberg), Gordon Willis’s gleaming and inventive cinematography, Mel Bourne and Speed Hopkins’s production designs and Dick Hyman’s music score help a lot.
Mia Farrow co-stars yet again, as Dr Eudora Nesbitt Fletcher, a psychiatrist who wants to help Zelig with his strange disorder after he is admitted to her hospital.
And also in the cast are Garrett Brown, Stephanie Farrow, Will Holt, Mary Louise Wilson, Sol Lomita, Michael Jeter, Paul Nevens, Howard Erskine, Stanley Swerdlow, George Hamlin, Ralph Bell, Gale Hansen and Louis Wilson. Patrick Horgan is the voice of the Narrator. Academic Susan Sontag and writer Saul Bellow appear as themselves.
It is a technical tour de force. Miraculously, the virtually seamless blending of old and new footage is achieved here almost a decade before digital film-making technology. Allen uses newsreel footage and puts himself and other actors into the old footage using blue-screen technology.
© Derek Winnert 2016 Classic Movie Review 3958
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