The New York eyewear company Moscot has this pair of frames called the Zelig, named after the Woody Allen film. That was how I got to know about the film. It’s an interesting concept, a mockumentary that plays out as part romance as well as part social commentary. It’s a parody and it’s satire and whilst it might come across a little crass and even racist as some points, I don’t think it meant to be like that and honestly, the 20s, when the film was set, was a pretty goddamn racist time anyway. Also, in Allen’s favor, he pokes fun at the Jews just as much as anyone else through the use of stereotypes.

Ignoring that minor hiccup, I have to say I enjoyed the film. The excessive faux-intellectualism garnered from staged interviews with people like Susan Sontag or Irving Howe gives the film a certain authenticity if you will. It helped immensely in making the story about a human chameleon bigger than what it was. Of course the fact that I have no clue who Susan Sontag or Irving Howe are matters not a smidge. I actually wiki-ed them whilst watching hahaha!

Allen’s character is largely shown through flashbacks and mostly through film interviews or footage. Part of this footage is from actual vintage reels with Allen inserted inside. Bear in mind, the film was made in 1983 so it was pretty innovative. Anyway, Allen’s character, Leonard Zelig, is a human chameleon. He changes his physical appearance when in the company of more dominant characters, typically men, to become like them. So when he was with a group of fat guys, he’d swell up a belly. Or when he was with some Chinese, he took on “oriental” features. Likewise with black dudes, doctors, lawyers, American Indians, politicians, actors, Greeks, Jews, you name it. Every stereotype gets lampooned.

I like how the film detached the character till it was granted a near mythical status. Despite the fact that you see Zelig constantly, he is somehow removed from the audience because he’s always a subject, something you’re considering, rather than someone you get to empathize with. This actually plays into the plot itself very well.

I think it’s kinda insane how well Allen was able to transform his idiosyncrasies into a madcap film script that allows him the space to make political statements, deride Hitler, celebrate the music of the 20s and 30s, the definite homage to Kafka and his penchant for Freud Freud Freud. On many levels, I’m very encouraged to try to do what Allen has done with film in what I’m trying to accomplish in future endeavors.

Zelig with his posse, Capone et al.

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