Zelig out-Forrest Gumped Forrest Gump – a full 11 years before that Oscar-winning movie.
The story is about a man named Leonard Zelig, a person who – out of an intense need to be liked – can take on the characteristics and even the appearance of those around him. Doctors refer to him as “a human chameleon.”
One of the doctors is played by Mia Farrow.
Zelig goes from obscure and unknown to national celebrity, but then falls out of favor and becomes an outcast again.
Told in documentary format (complete with narrator), Zelig is a combination of the aforementioned Forrest Gump and a movie called Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, a Steve Martin movie that takes film clips from classic old films and seamlessly weaves them into the noir-ish story of a hardboiled detective. Zelig does that, too, using vintage film clips, black and white footage made to look old and contemporary interviews (in color) with people today who were supposedly part of the story back in the 1920s and 30s. Even Scott Fitzgerald makes an appearance, in the clip of him sitting outside at his writing desk.
If one didn’t know this was a Woody Allen movie, one might think it a real documentary of a historical figure.
But that’s the overall effect.
Zelig, released in 1983, is inventive, creative, and just strange enough to make it riveting.
It’s an excellent film.