‘If you are not in the mood for my obsessions, than you may not be in the mood for my film.’
Surprisingly altogether different and yet wonderful film made by Woody Allen. The film is a mock documentary about a fictional phenomenon man set in 1920s and 30s. He's a bizarre human chameleon who transforms himself into different personalities. The great intellectual American writers such as Saul Bellow, Susan Santog, Irwing Howe saying things about this enigmatic strange man named Leonard Zelig who created such diverse impressions playing shifting personalities everywhere he moved.
Unlike his early mock documentary ‘Take Money and Run’, this is not just comedy but a film made with certain serious intents. Undoubtedly this is one of the brilliant writing and maybe prelude to Woody’s wonderful film ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’ where fantasy and reality interweaves into one. Here the protagonist is suffering from psychological delusional reality about himself; personally he’s nobody and non existential loner who wanted to seek attention and favors. Behind his identity disorder he’s the man with an extreme urge for social security and acceptance. ‘Wanting only to be liked, he distorted himself beyond measure,’ wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald about Zelig.
Those who’ve seen David Lynch’s ‘The Elephant Man’ find queer resemblance here. The performing freak who’s seeking to be loved and cared by society and not mocked. It’s only Zelig’s psychological doctor played by Woody’s better half and wonderful actress Mia Farrow who devotedly cares, loves and cures her patient that became the curiosity of the age. Soon after his cure, he was claimed as immoral man or criminal for things he had done prior to cured state. It is the same society who found him too amusing earlier now found him humiliating and again found him adorable after his aviation stunt ruining Hitler’s speech? Now who’s the real chameleon here?
The film is not all that serious, there’re few moments of fun too but not off the hook! Especially the scene where under hyptonotic trance Zelig confessed things to his beloved doctor or addressing to the public. Narrated in third person voice over narrative, the film is as authentic as documentary should be. The production and other technical detailing of the film’s periodic setting are just pitch perfect and Woody’s favorite cameraman Gordon Willis captured the tone of 20s and 30s B&W silent montage and stock footage so authentically and gracefully with fine details. With surprising restraint Woody kept himself as Zelig, almost excluding himself from whatever amount of personal traits and stocks that made him famous icon on screen.
Needless to say must watch for all Woody admirers.