Zelig


1h 24m 1983

Brief Synopsis

A documentary traces the strange life of a man who could adapt himself to any group he encountered.

Photos & Videos

Film Details

MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Comedy
Release Date
1983

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 24m

Synopsis

Leonard Zelig, the "human chameleon", is profiled in this mock-documentary.

Crew

Fred E. Ahlert

Song

Woody Allen

Screenplay

Pamela Scott Arnold

Assistant Editor

Joseph Badalucco

On-Set Dresser

Ken Bernstein

Production Assistant

Fred Blankfein

Assistant Director

Leslie Bloom

Set Decorator

Mel Bourne

Production Designer

Timothy M. Bourne

Location Coordinator

Norma Brooks

Song Performer

Lew Brown

Song

Fern Buchner

Makeup

Dell Byrne

Researcher

John Caglione Jr.

Makeup

Kay Chapin

Script Supervisor

Jim Chory

Assistant Director

Bill Christians

Wardrobe Supervisor

Lancey Saunders Clough

Wardrobe Supervisor

Danny Daniels

Choreographer

James A Davis

Production Assistant

Karen Dean

Photography

Buddy G Desylva

Song

Marjorie Deutsch

Sound Editor

Rick Dior

Sound

Don Donigi

Assistant Editor

Don Donigi

Film Lab

Raymond B Egan

Song

Karen Siegel Engel

Art Department

Fred Fisher

Song

A Harrington Gibbs

Song

Anthony Gittelson

Assistant Director

Jeff Goodman

Researcher

Frank Graziadei

Sound Mixer

Bud Green

Song

Romaine Greene

Hair

Robert Greenhut

Producer

Joe Grey

Song

Bill Hansard

Photography

Roz Harris

Song Performer

Kerry Hayes

Photography

Ray Henderson

Song

Speed Hopkins

Art Director

Dick Hyman

Music

Joel Hyniek

Other

Charles H. Joffe

Executive Producer

James P Johnson

Song

Rosemarie Jun

Song Performer

Gus Kahn

Song

Charles Kaufman

Production Assistant

Jeffrey Kurland

Assistant

Judy Lamb

Photography

Mary Lance

Researcher

John Leob

Song

Sam Lewis

Song

Harry Link

Song

Carmen Lombardo

Song

Joan Lopate

Other

Santo Loquasto

Costume Designer

George D Lottman

Song

Cecil Mack

Song

James Mazzola

Props

Kati Meister

Researcher

Alfred H Miles

Song

Dick Mingalone

Camera Operator

Michael Molly

Art Assistant

Philip Moore

Other

Susan E Morse

Editor

Charles Musser

Researcher

Richard Nord

Assistant Editor

Cole Palen

Stunt Man

Michael Peyser

Production Manager

Michael Peyser

Associate Producer

Joseph Pierson

Production Assistant

Steven Plastrik

Animator

Mae Questel

Song Performer

Thomas Reilly

Assistant Director

Helen Robin

Production Coordinator

Stuart Robinson

Other

Jack Rollins

Producer

Billy Rose

Song

Janet Rosenbloom

Set Decorator

James Sabat

Sound Mixer

Dan Sable

Sound Editor

Domenico Sanino

Song

Duncan Scott

Assistant Director

Gail Sicilia

Other

Cosmo Sorice

Scenic Artist

James Sorice

Scenic Artist

Ezra Swerdlow

Unit Manager

Juliet Taylor

Casting

Roy Turk

Song

Fats Waller

Song

Bob Ward

Key Grip

Richard A. Whiting

Song

Christine P Williams

Assistant Editor

Gordon Willis

Director Of Photography

Harry Wilson

Song

Leo Wood

Song

Joe Young

Song

Charles A Zimmerman

Song

Film Details

MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Comedy
Release Date
1983

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 24m

Award Nominations

Best Cinematography

1983

Best Costume Design

1983
Santo Loquasto

Articles

Zelig


In 1983 Woody Allen released his twelfth theatrical feature, Zelig, about a man who just wants to be liked. The trouble is, Leonard Zelig wants to be liked so much that he mentally and physically morphs to look like the people he wants to fit in with. Thus Zelig transforms effortlessly from a psychiatrist to a black jazz musician to an orthodox rabbi to a Chinese restaurant owner to a . . . well, you get the idea. Zelig also manages to find himself in the most implausible of scenarios such as next at bat behind Babe Ruth or rubbing elbows with Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge. Zelig's life is a series of human impressions and historical sideswipes, a concept popularized eleven years later by Forrest Gump (1994). But unlike Gump, Zelig did not have the luxury of computerized digital technology; old footage of stars and celebrities were painstakingly melded with new footage to create the notion that Zelig was not just there, but everywhere.

Presented in pseudo-documentary style, the film alternates between flashbacks of Zelig in the twenties and thirties and modern-day "interviews" with such notables as social commentator Susan Sontag and Saul Bellows pontificating about his life. Not surprisingly, Allen plays Leonard Zelig and Mia Farrow plays his love interest, Dr. Eudora Fletcher. Incidentally, the word zelig means alternately "dear departed soul" or "blessed" in Yiddish; both interpretations work for different reasons, and Fletcher was reportedly named after one of Allen's schoolteachers. Allen and Farrow were also filming A Midsummer's Night Sex Comedy (1982) around the same time; production for the films overlapped. Derived from a short story by Allen, Zelig was originally intended to be a made-for-TV movie before plans for a theatrical release were finalized. Like the namesake character, the film went through some changes of its own; working titles ranged from The Chameleon Man, The Cat's Pajamas, The Changing Man (the name of the film within the film), and Identity Crisis and Its Relationship to Personality Disorder.

Although the shoot wrapped in twelve weeks, the postproduction took over a year, nine months of that time was for editing alone. Headed up by legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis, the visual effects team undertook the arduous task of marrying different types, ages, grains, and qualities of film footage together. To aid in the process, antique camera and sound equipment from the 20s and 30s were used where possible, and new film was made to look aged during production using flicker mattes. After a day of shooting, the crew would purportedly take the film into a shower area and step on it while the water was flowing; the result was footage that appeared fifty years older. Willis, of The Godfather trilogy fame, would later remark about his work on Zelig: "There was a point when I thought we were never going to finish, a point when I thought I was going to go nuts. I have never worked so hard at making something difficult look so simple." It was worth it: Willis was nominated for a 1984 Oscar for Best Cinematography, one of the only nominations for the film.

Dick Hyman, a regular collaborator with Allen, produced six original songs for the film, each hilariously named after Zelig with titles like "You May Be Six People But I Love You." Mae Questel sings one of his tunes, "Chameleon Days" -- she also provided the voice for Betty Boop. In a strange coincidence, she was also cast (through a completely random audition) as Allen's mother in Oedipus Wrecks, his offering in the three-part film, New York Stories (1989).

A number of the film's interiors were shot at the Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, which served as the East Coast office of Paramount during the silent and early sound era. Other locations included the John Jay College of Criminal Justice on West 51st St. in Manhattan and Teaneck, New Jersey where D. W. Griffith and the Biograph Company players had made films some 70 years earlier. Also adding a touch of authenticity to Zelig was the appearance of several famous "witnesses"; among them were Susan Sontag, Irving Howe, Saul Bellow, Bricktop and Bruno Bettelheim. "Among those whom Woody failed to fit into the film," according to Julian Fox in Woody: Movies From Manhattan, "were the then elderly Jack Dempsey, who was in poor health (though he does appear in the stock footage), and Greta Garbo, who didn't reply to Woody's letter. He did, though, manage to shoot an interview with Lillian Gish but 'I didn't use it, because I didn't like the way it came out."

Although Allen's films are known to be short in length, Zelig was the shortest at 79 minutes. A general success with critics and audiences, the film garnered good receipts but great reviews and was Allen¿s first #1 film on Variety's Box Office chart. Zelig is admired by almost all as a masterful technical achievement in film except perhaps its creator who, as ever, maintains a unique perspective: "To me, the technique was fine. I mean, it was fun to do, and it was a small accomplishment, but it was the content of the film that interested me." Well, would we expect any less?

Producer: Robert Greenhut
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Production Design: Mel Bourne, Michael Molly
Cinematography: Kerry Hayes, Gordon Willis
Costume Design: Santo Loquasto
Film Editing: Susan E. Morse
Original Music: Dick Hyman
Cast: Woody Allen (Leonard Zelig), Mia Farrow (Dr. Eudora Fletcher), John Buckwalter (Dr. Sindell), Paul Nevens (Dr. Birsky), Deborah Rush (Lita Fox), Garrett Brown (Actor Zelig), Mary Louise Wilson (Sister Ruth), Sol Lomita (Martin Geist).
BW & C-80m. Letterboxed.

by Eleanor Quin
Zelig

Zelig

In 1983 Woody Allen released his twelfth theatrical feature, Zelig, about a man who just wants to be liked. The trouble is, Leonard Zelig wants to be liked so much that he mentally and physically morphs to look like the people he wants to fit in with. Thus Zelig transforms effortlessly from a psychiatrist to a black jazz musician to an orthodox rabbi to a Chinese restaurant owner to a . . . well, you get the idea. Zelig also manages to find himself in the most implausible of scenarios such as next at bat behind Babe Ruth or rubbing elbows with Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge. Zelig's life is a series of human impressions and historical sideswipes, a concept popularized eleven years later by Forrest Gump (1994). But unlike Gump, Zelig did not have the luxury of computerized digital technology; old footage of stars and celebrities were painstakingly melded with new footage to create the notion that Zelig was not just there, but everywhere. Presented in pseudo-documentary style, the film alternates between flashbacks of Zelig in the twenties and thirties and modern-day "interviews" with such notables as social commentator Susan Sontag and Saul Bellows pontificating about his life. Not surprisingly, Allen plays Leonard Zelig and Mia Farrow plays his love interest, Dr. Eudora Fletcher. Incidentally, the word zelig means alternately "dear departed soul" or "blessed" in Yiddish; both interpretations work for different reasons, and Fletcher was reportedly named after one of Allen's schoolteachers. Allen and Farrow were also filming A Midsummer's Night Sex Comedy (1982) around the same time; production for the films overlapped. Derived from a short story by Allen, Zelig was originally intended to be a made-for-TV movie before plans for a theatrical release were finalized. Like the namesake character, the film went through some changes of its own; working titles ranged from The Chameleon Man, The Cat's Pajamas, The Changing Man (the name of the film within the film), and Identity Crisis and Its Relationship to Personality Disorder. Although the shoot wrapped in twelve weeks, the postproduction took over a year, nine months of that time was for editing alone. Headed up by legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis, the visual effects team undertook the arduous task of marrying different types, ages, grains, and qualities of film footage together. To aid in the process, antique camera and sound equipment from the 20s and 30s were used where possible, and new film was made to look aged during production using flicker mattes. After a day of shooting, the crew would purportedly take the film into a shower area and step on it while the water was flowing; the result was footage that appeared fifty years older. Willis, of The Godfather trilogy fame, would later remark about his work on Zelig: "There was a point when I thought we were never going to finish, a point when I thought I was going to go nuts. I have never worked so hard at making something difficult look so simple." It was worth it: Willis was nominated for a 1984 Oscar for Best Cinematography, one of the only nominations for the film. Dick Hyman, a regular collaborator with Allen, produced six original songs for the film, each hilariously named after Zelig with titles like "You May Be Six People But I Love You." Mae Questel sings one of his tunes, "Chameleon Days" -- she also provided the voice for Betty Boop. In a strange coincidence, she was also cast (through a completely random audition) as Allen's mother in Oedipus Wrecks, his offering in the three-part film, New York Stories (1989). A number of the film's interiors were shot at the Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, which served as the East Coast office of Paramount during the silent and early sound era. Other locations included the John Jay College of Criminal Justice on West 51st St. in Manhattan and Teaneck, New Jersey where D. W. Griffith and the Biograph Company players had made films some 70 years earlier. Also adding a touch of authenticity to Zelig was the appearance of several famous "witnesses"; among them were Susan Sontag, Irving Howe, Saul Bellow, Bricktop and Bruno Bettelheim. "Among those whom Woody failed to fit into the film," according to Julian Fox in Woody: Movies From Manhattan, "were the then elderly Jack Dempsey, who was in poor health (though he does appear in the stock footage), and Greta Garbo, who didn't reply to Woody's letter. He did, though, manage to shoot an interview with Lillian Gish but 'I didn't use it, because I didn't like the way it came out." Although Allen's films are known to be short in length, Zelig was the shortest at 79 minutes. A general success with critics and audiences, the film garnered good receipts but great reviews and was Allen¿s first #1 film on Variety's Box Office chart. Zelig is admired by almost all as a masterful technical achievement in film except perhaps its creator who, as ever, maintains a unique perspective: "To me, the technique was fine. I mean, it was fun to do, and it was a small accomplishment, but it was the content of the film that interested me." Well, would we expect any less? Producer: Robert Greenhut Director: Woody Allen Screenplay: Woody Allen Production Design: Mel Bourne, Michael Molly Cinematography: Kerry Hayes, Gordon Willis Costume Design: Santo Loquasto Film Editing: Susan E. Morse Original Music: Dick Hyman Cast: Woody Allen (Leonard Zelig), Mia Farrow (Dr. Eudora Fletcher), John Buckwalter (Dr. Sindell), Paul Nevens (Dr. Birsky), Deborah Rush (Lita Fox), Garrett Brown (Actor Zelig), Mary Louise Wilson (Sister Ruth), Sol Lomita (Martin Geist). BW & C-80m. Letterboxed. by Eleanor Quin

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Summer July 15, 1983

Released in United States August 1997

Shown at Locarno International Film Festival (50 Years of American Film) August 6-16, 1997.

Todd-AO

Released in United States Summer July 15, 1983

Released in United States August 1997 (Shown at Locarno International Film Festival (50 Years of American Film) August 6-16, 1997.)