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ZELIG

Director: WOODY ALLEN

79 minutes, U.S.A., 1983, Black and White/Colour, New 35mm print


This intelligent and amusing fable about a 1930s ‘human chameleon’ named Leonard Zelig tends to get overlooked in Woody Allen’s copious filmography – presumably because it seems so untypical of its maker. True, Allen had already experimented with the by-now-commonplace ‘mockumentary’ framework in his 1969 first feature Take the Money and Run, but the exquisitely executed fakery on view in this assemblage of tricked-out newsreels and spookily-authentic archive footage displays another level of craft entirely. The central theme of a man so eager to blend in that he physically transforms himself according to his surroundings is as richly suggestive as the best short stories, but also allows writer-director-star Allen to conjure up a barrage of one-liners and often striking visual knockabout (keep your eyes on that papal balcony!). 

Take it as a metaphor for Jewish assimilation or even an insight into its maker’s private neuroses, but marvel at the film’s technical achievement in a pre-digital era. And don’t forget to laugh. (Notes by Trevor Johnston.)

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