Sunday, July 24, 2011

Newsreel Days

Zelig (1983) / Woody Allen
The driving force of the film, apart from its Forrest Gump-ish devotion to following the wholly inadvertent influence of a simple-man on the construction of pop-culture, is nostalgia. Much like The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Radio Days (1987) and Shadows and Fog (1992), Allen’s period-film is essentially whatever he remembers of the period – a factual depiction distilled through a personal recollection. It is absolutely vital, obviously, that Zelig is a character from the past – a myth that is not absolute – a notion that seeps in to the present through the pores of grainy newsreel footage, because only then can he be speculated upon, or because only then can his story be ‘told’ by various people. Allen cheekily gets the subjects of his faux-vox populi to speak of how Zelig will essentially only remain a symbol – as if to discourage the viewers of the film from coming up with their own interpretations (he even interviews Sontag herself.) But quite crucially so, it is impossible to, because for all its worth, Zelig is definitely the most dense of all Allen films – and one of the shortest. The character of Leonard Zelig symbolizes a lot – the liberation of the far-left and the conservatism of the far-right, America and the rest, the vice of conformism and the gift of individuality, and because it is an Allen film – the literary allusions : Zelig as the Kafka-esque man who must fit into whatever mould the society demands of him, as also the Dostoevsky protagonist who must perform arduous labour to discover his true ‘identity’. Ofcourse, the greatest accomplishment of Zelig is not how it cleverly turns a clearly sensational second-rate science-fiction plot into a film about love and its healing power – but that in it, Allen is mostly playing a lot of people, but not Allen himself.

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