Sunday, August 27, 2006


From the Archive:

Mockumentary of the week:

The fake documentary, or mockumentary (why not the "fakumentary"? or the "fauxumentary" ?) , has been a very rich source of creative ideas for film makers. Some of the better examples are This Is Spinal Tap, Best in Show, and Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, and a virtually unknown film that I watched this weekend called NBT: Never Been Thawed - about a group that collects frozen food entrees. Here is the original that started it all.

This is perhaps the most unusual of all Woody Allen's films. Even if you don't like his movies, you might want to give this one a try. Woody portrays Leonard Zelig, the human chameleon, who is so devoid of self identity, that he literally takes on the appearance and attributes of anyone he comes in contact with. This leads to very funny scenes such as the one where he goes to a nightclub and suddenly appears as a member of the band. His condition is studied by a young psychiatrist (Mia Farrow). She publishes her papers and Zelig becomes an instant celebrity. The old newsreel footage of Zelig with celebrities and politicians from the early part of the 20th century were technical achievements at the time, since they were performed before the advent of CGI, which allowed similar effects to be used years later in Forrest Gump.

So well is the documentary format followed here that, despite the absurdity of it all, many people believed that it was real and not a "mock" documentary.

This is very funny stuff. But, as with most films in this format, the humor comes from the absolutely serious treatment of the most preposterous events and characters imaginable. Don't expect Farrelly Brothers type slapstick. Don't even expect your standard Woody Allen schtick. Woody plays this one straight and he couldn't be funnier.

Here's why I think you might like Zelig.
  1. It's funny. Not Porky's kind of funny. More .........well, Zelig kind of funny. Not less funny, just a different kind of funny.
  2. You could like tell young people that you saw an old documentary about this like chameleon guy, and he like was famous and like he/she should see it to like you know, enhance their knowledge of like historical events and stuff (you have to be ready to like speak their language and stuff). After a year or so, after they've bragged to everyone about how much they know, you can tell them it wasn't real. It was just a joke, and laugh and laugh and laugh.
  3. Woody and Mia Farrow back in the old days when they were happy ........ before he slept with her daughter.
  4. It's considered one of the most important films of the 1980's. ---- OK, that doesn't impress me either.
  5. Good special effects.
  6. It's not likely to be "out" at the video store. Actually, there may be a good chance that your video store doesn't carry it. This is because there is so much demand for this movie, that it's often stolen from the shelves, or rented and never returned, or on permanent reserve (just in case the queen of England comes in looking for it). Try your public library. If they don't have it, demand that they get it. Most libraries will import materials from other libraries if you ask - however, if it has to come from Peoria Public Library, I 'm not too sure.
  7. Features rag and Dixieland music from that time period. This is the same music Woody uses in many of his films.
  8. Quote: "And to the, to the gentleman who's appendix I took out, I...I'm, I don't know what to say, if it's any consolation I... I may still have it somewhere around the house. "
  9. To "age" the newsreel footage, they had to either scrunch the negatives up or stamp on them.
  10. It makes you use your brain. At least you'll exercise something while you park yourself on the sofa for 2 hours.
Having said all this, I recognize that this movie probably won't appeal to everybody. It requires a certain type of sense of humor that not everybody has. If you like the faux documentary format, chances are you'll like this as well. If not, then you probably won't.



At 9:32 PM, Blogger Jan Andrea said...

Why doesn't anyone ever comment here?

Zelig was the first Woody Allen film I saw, because David was appalled that I'd never seen it. Kind of spoiled me for many of the others, alas.

At 11:15 PM, Blogger FranksFilms said...

I made sure that David (and the others) saw this film - as well as such other important films as: Police Academy I and II, and Killer Klowns from Outer Space.


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