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Jewish comedy: Zelig

Introduction by Stefan van der Poel

Directed by Woody Allen, 1983, 79 min. 

Fictional documentary about the life of human chameleon Leonard Zelig, a man who becomes a celebrity in the 1920s due to his ability to look and act like whoever is around him.
Woody Allen's 1983 Zelig is a funny, atmospheric mock-documentary about the collision of one man's manifest neuroses colliding with key moments in 20th-century history. Allen plays the title character, a self-effacing, timorous fellow with such a porous personality that he physically becomes a reflection of whoever he is with. Complex and painstaking, the film manages to place Allen, buried under a series of makeup and prosthetic guises, in a number of scenes along with Adolf Hitler at a Nazi rally, a pope at the Vatican, and famous guests at a garden party hosted by F. Scott Fitzgerald. His transformations are seemingly limitless — over the course of the film, he also becomes Asian, Native-American, Aryan, Indian, Hasidic and even black.

Stefan van der Poel is lecturer in Contemporary History at the University of Groningen. He gained a PhD in 2004 with a thesis on the Jewish community in the city of Groningen between 1796 and 1945. In addition to modern Jewish history, Van der Poel is also specialized in Central and Eastern European history.

Every Woody Allen Movie: Zelig

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