July 17, 1983 [Zelig]

The camera tricks and meticulous--and often hilarious--recreations/reproductions make Zelig as much an homage to film itself as a crushing blow to our most basic social instincts--no, that sounds too impersonal; Zelig is anything but that, because Woody Allen counts on our instant recognition of "Woody Allen" to make this more than an amusing reflection on insecurity. We know that he is insecure--and wishes he weren't, tries to ignore his hair and glasses and so on to make his move and get what he wants. And this too would simply be funny if I didn't feel myself squirm--the me that adopts the cadences of others' speech, that smiles and nods--oh, just to grease the social wheels, I insist to myself--but I know better; I don't want those wheels to run me over.

Leonard Zelig puts down his chin and looks up (Allen always the silent comedian, little Harry Langdon out on the town) and hopes to be loved--and changes, all the way, so that others don't need to love him, but their own reflections--a narcissism he counts on. Zelig conspires to please, and everyone is willing to do the same, to believe that clever Zelig has read Moby-Dick, that he loves and is loved, while all the while it's the self that wants this--which makes everyone squirm, nervous chameleons working the room.

I watched Leonard the patient become Leonard the doctor, and knew he was on to something: he fends off not only his own illness but the need to be cured. And while in the end he aspires to the old virtue to be one's self, a suspicion remains: What if the real me is a zero? Who will love me then?


  1. This was one of the first Woody Allen films that I ever saw...and I blame it for my obsession over his career!

  2. Zelig is an interesting place to start with Allen: It has the pileup of gags from his early pictures, provided him a chance to experiment with visual technique, and still manage to hover around some serious business. Definitely one of his quirkier films--then again, from "What's Up, Tiger lily?" to "Shadows and Fog" and "Everyone Says I Love You," it seems that every other Allen film is a fantasy. Thanks for checking in, Nathanael.

  3. You're more than welcome!

    I've been following your blog since I subscribed...but when I saw you mention "Zelig," a film that I love and have also written a blog article on, I knew that I had to say something!


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