Blu-ray Review: Zelig - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Zelig (1983) is a major work in the Woody Allen filmography, based around one of the most ingenious concepts of his career. Allen stars as Leonard Zelig, a man with the incredible chameleonic ability to blend in with whatever kind of company he happens to be keeping. He's the "ultimate conformist," according to real-life psychologist Bruno Bettelheim. The film is structured as a faux documentary, which is why Bettelheim and other noteworthy intellectuals appear in interview clips. Throughout the economical, 79-minute runtime, we see clips of Zelig in the '20s and '30s as he makes his mark on history.

What's absolutely perfect about Zelig is how tightly reigned-in Allen's approach to the "mockumentary" is when compared to the more consciously zany tactics often employed by other filmmakers working in the same subgenre. Zelig is so dry and straightforward that, were it not for the presence of famous faces Allen and Mia Farrow (as Zelig's dedicated psychiatrist Dr. Eudora Fletcher), it could've aired on the History Channel or PBS without attracting attention. There are a few brief moments where Allen indulges in a bit of his usual shtick (when Zelig is interviewed by Dr. Fletcher), but for the most the film is stylistically indistinguishable from a real documentary. The blending of then-new footage of Allen with old newsreel footage (allowing us to see Zelig on deck at a '20s-era Yankees game, for example) was technically groundbreaking for its time. 

Zelig BD booklet (299x380).jpg As a romance develops between Zelig and Dr. Fletcher, Zelig takes a rather conventional turn toward pat resolutions. But until then it's a consistently, thrillingly inventive ride. The commentary on our need to blend in (and just how far we're willing to go in order to do so) is impossible to miss, yet it's still unpredictable as Allen reveals his tall tale. Thanks to the sympathetic take on the character, Zelig is somehow relatable even while being a complete and intentional cipher. The film charts the efforts made to "cure" Zelig of his inexhaustible capacity for conformity, even as opportunists take advantage of him by exhibiting him as a side-show attraction. Though not the only "mockumentary" in Allen's filmography, Zelig remains a one-of-a-kind entry in his body of work due to it's unique style and approach.

Twilight Time's Blu-ray offers a 1080p high definition transfer that is difficult to access in conventional terms. The film is made up largely of "vintage" clips that have been deliberately aged. These clips are intentionally rough and damaged in appearance. Looking at the credits and then-new interview clips, it's evident that there are instances of print debris. Compared to the original MGM standard DVD there is, however, enhanced clarity in the new Blu-ray. Audio is presented in lossless DTS-HD MA 1.0.

As is customary for a Twilight Time Limited Edition release, the score is available as an isolated track. No surprise to find no other extras (besides the theatrical trailer), since that is typical of Woody Allen films.

Collector's of Allen's films will no doubt want to upgrade to this Blu-ray edition. While supplies last, Zelig can be ordered at Screen Archives or via the official Twilight Time website.

Zelig BD cover (301x380).jpg

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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