Zelig (1983)

(On TV, December 2016) There’s something both amusing and ungraspable at the heart of Zelig, a pseudo-documentary describing a 1930s man with a magical ability to take on the characteristics and abilities of the people he happens to be at the moment. Written, directed and played by Woody Allen, Zelig is best appreciated as an experiment in mockumentary filmmaking, blending original material with period footage in an attempt to create a story out of historical context. Allen is reasonably funny as Zelig, although at times it seems as if this shapeshifting ability is only a pretext for various impressions and makeup tricks. It does build to a finale that’s not quite as interesting as you’d expect from a simple description. I was never quite able to suspend my disbelief enough to fully invest in the movie. Zelig is reasonably amusing, somewhat sympathetic, but not exceptional unless you do (and I do) have a fondness for experimental-but-accessible cinema. My own viewing of the film war marred by an execrable resolution/compression image quality due to the channel on which it was broadcast, but since most of the film is deliberately low-resolution to ape the cameras of the times, this didn’t affect the experience as much as I’d have expected.

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