Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Underrated Movies: Zelig

Why have I not seen Zelig before now? Why hasn't everyone seen this movie? Where is its place on the lists of great comedies?

Zelig is one of the best Woody Allen films I've ever seen. Granted, I tend to find his movies a bit hit-or-miss, but this is one of the funniest things he's done. The humor is absurd in the best way. It reminds me of some of his brilliant published material like Getting Even and Side Effects. It's a mockumentary that predates This Is Spinal Tap by a year. It successfully transplants modern performers into vintage film footage well before Forrest Gump won acclaim for doing the same, and does so without advanced computer effects.

Zelig is delightfully silly. It's the story of a man who has developed the ability to transform himself to be more like those around him. If he is near a group of scientists, his behavior becomes that of a scientist, etc. He can also change his physical appearance, even mimicking various ethnic traits like skin color.

The movie is done in the style of a documentary. Since Zelig lived in the early part of the 20th century, much of the footage used is manipulated newsreel footage from the Depression through WWII. This is mixed with present day interviews with various scholars (Zelig came out in 1983).

I had heard of this movie before seeing it, but it isn't talked about nearly as much as some of Allen's other films. But What's Up, Tiger Lilly? is another one of my favorite Woody Allen movies, so I guess I tend to enjoy his less accessible work. I highly recommend finding this on DVD and checking it out, if you haven't already.

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