Monday, July 6, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: Zelig (1983) - How Voice Over Can Help a Satire

[Quick Summary: In the 1920s, a psychiatrist tries to help Zelig, an actual human chameleon who has lost his identity.]

I tip my hat to Woody Allen on this script.

It's not perfect, but it's one of the most unique ideas I've seen in ages.

Zelig unconsciously adopts to whomever is in his surroundings, including attitude, skin color, etc. If he's with Asians, he acts/speaks/looks Asian. 

He shows up at big historical events, becomes famous, and then disaster follows.  The public celebrates Zelig, then demonizes, then celebrates him.

I thought the choice to use of frequent narrated voice over was odd for this satire. However, it began to make sense in hindsight.

Satire uses ridicule and exaggeration to make a point. 

I think this script is satirizing how public opinion can turn on a dime.

The script uses voice over:
1) to lead us through the public's thought processes, and then
2) to exaggerate it to poke fun.

ex. "NARRATOR'S VOICE-OVER: That Zelig could be responsible for the behavior of each of the personalities he assumed means dozens of lawsuits. [He had no idea what he was doing, but let's still make him responsible!]

The film moves inside the courthouse, where the presiding judge is seen over the shoulders of the packed room. Lawyers walk back and forth in front of the seated spectators, exchanging documents, talking among themselves in clusters, going up to the judge. As the narrator continues, the film cuts to a somber-looking Zelig, sitting at a table with his lawyer. His hands are clasped in his lap.

NARRATOR'S VOICE-OVER: He is used for bigamy, adultery, automobile accidents, plagiarism, household damages, negligence, property damages, and performing unnecessary dental extractions. [He's liable for the kitchen sink!!]"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: In satire, voice over can be used to state the premise, then ridicule it.

Zelig (1983)
by Woody Allen
Published in Three Films by Woody Allen (1987)

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