• Zelig

    Released by: Twilight Time
    Released on: July 12th, 2016.
    Director: Woody Allen
    Cast: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Garrett Brown, Stephanie Farrow, Will Holt, Mary Louise Wilson
    Year: 1983
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Woody Allen’s 1983 film Zelig was really a bit ahead of its time. While films like Forrest Gump have gone on to insert fictional characters into historical situations and countless genre films have artificially degraded newly shot footage to look like older material, Zelig did it over thirty years ago – and it does it really, really well.

    Presented as a documentary, the film purports to tell the story of Leonard Zelig (played by Allen himself, of course). Like most of Allen’s characters, Zelig is an introvert – he’s awkward, he obsesses about things, and of course, he falls in love. There is, however, something that sets Zelig apart: he’s a human chameleon. He has the ability to absorb and replicate the physical, mental and emotional characteristics of those around him and replicate them. This means, for example, that if Zelig is surrounded by people of color, his skin becomes darker in appearance.

    Obviously, this poses some odd problems for Leonard. When he goes to a psychiatrist to get help with his many neuroses, he winds up poking around the doctor’s brain as much as the doctor does in his. When word gets out about Zelig’s special ability, he becomes a bit of a media sensation and then a celebrity. This brings him to the attention of a pretty young medical researcher named Dr. Eudora Nesbitt Fletcher (Mia Farrow). She tracks him down with hopes of coming up with a cure for his condition, but of course, romance blossoms between the two sooner rather than later.

    Given that the way in which Allen’s character appears in stock footage alongside real life historical characters like Babe Ruth, Josephine Baker, Charlie Chaplin, Al Capone and even Adolf Hitler (to name only a few), Zelig is an impressive technological achievement. While advances in digital filmmaking would make it would make something like this much easier to achieve in the modern day, in 1983 this was all done using film and different lenses and cameras from the era they were trying to recreate. No digital effects, no CGI – what we see here was done entirely without the aid of computers. It works incredibly well. This style contrasts in interesting ways with more ‘modern day’ footage in which various talking heads offer up their thoughts on Zelig’s story, but it’s the 1920’s/1930’s era material that impresses the most here.

    On top of that, it’s funny. The movie exploits a weird concept very effectively and Allen’s trademark nebbish acting style suits the character well. Farrow is good here too, they have chemistry in the film that’s easy to appreciate. The film’s music also adds to the humor, specifically the six songs written by Dick Hyman that relate to the Zelig character in specific ways. Patrick Horgan’s narration is deadpan enough to work and the whole thing just comes together with the type of charm, wit and warmth that Allen’s best comedies can provide.


    Zelig debuts on Blu-ray from Twilight Time, framed in its proper 1.85.1 widescreen aspect ratio in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer on a 50GB disc, and it looks very good. This is a bit of a tricky release to evaluate as far as video quality goes because the very nature of the movie dictates that it be somewhat erratic. The older newsreel and stock footage from decades past that is edited into the film is very grainy and occasionally a bit beaten up in appearance, while the color footage shot for the feature looks considerably better but is still presented with some (intentional?) degradation to the images that matches it at least partially to the black and white material. As such, there are still instances where small specks and scratches show up even in the color footage, but it’s minor stuff. In that color footage skin tones look good and Allen’s fairly subdued palette is nicely reproduced. Compression artifacts are never a problem and the image is free of any obvious noise reduction or overzealous edge enhancement.

    The English/German language DTS-HD Mono track is also of nice quality. It has reasonable depth to it but again, the newsreel footage is meant to sound like old newsreel footage, so don’t expect this to become your new home theater demo disc. This isn’t a particularly effects heavy track as most of the mix is simply made up of dialogue, so Mono works just fine. The score has good range and presence to it. Optional English subtitles are provided.

    Extras are limited to a trailer for the feature, the film’s isolated score in DTS-HD 2.0 format, static menus and chapter selection. A color insert booklet contains liner notes from Julie Kirgo that note that various collaborators that the director worked with along with some other interesting bits of trivia and some critical observations as to what makes the film work as well as it does. Well worth a read, as always.

    The Final Word:

    Zelig is smart, funny and very creative. It’s not Woody Allen’s best film, but it remains a really enjoyable watch. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray is, like almost all of the director’s releases on disc, light on extras but it looks and sounds pretty nice. This won’t win over those who don’t already appreciate the director’s output but Allen’s fan base should be quite pleased.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!