Flickhead
Film Review
By Irene Dobson

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Zelig

The Cat’s Pyjamas

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    Why has everyone written about Leonard Zelig in Woody Allen’s film Zelig, but no-one has written about Eudora Fletcher? The film is a tribute to her. She is the still center of the film, whilst Leonard Zelig, the chameleon man, is everything to everyone!
    Woody Allen doesn’t like intellectuals. In Manhattan, Mary is a clever but hapless girl. In A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy Dr Leopold is a pompous man singing at the piano while his wife doggedly plays. In Another Woman, Marion must change her life. But Dr Eudora Fletcher is a charming little waif struggling against a tide of scientific opinion. This is her story. She is like Madame Curie, or Marie Stopes in their fields, a woman battling alone to change the way people think about personality disorders. The pastiche of the Warner Brothers biopic that we find in Zelig is so apt. Woody Allen was an expert filmmaker in the 1980s and Zelig is an exceptional achievement. But in the ‘White Room Sessions,’ in a metaphorical way at least, he seemed to abdicate his auteurship to Dr. Fletcher. There is a detailed description of the way they arrange the room in which Dr. Fletcher and Leonard work, the lights on the wall, the sparse furnishings, the unobtrusive microphones. We are introduced to Paul the cameraman who will be out of sight and out of mind to the scientists who will watch the sessions, just like the cameraman of Zelig is out of sight for us. Eudora has a brainwave, and we see her swapping roles, becoming the patient to Leonard’s doctor, in order to get to the nub of his problem. By now, Allen’s film has slowed down after the ferocious ballyhoo of the newsreels and fashion parades. We have moved nearer to narrative cinema from the distanced documentary effect the auteur is aiming for. But this is not a documentary, nor yet a ‘mockumentary.’ This is a woman’s picture. Eudora’s story is slower, more considered, sober like Dr. Fletcher herself. Here is the heart of Allen’s film, and he gives it to Mia! The newsreel caption suggests the flighty society in which Eudora lives, ending with—“She’s pretty, too!”—diminishing the woman and her achievement. I like the relationship between Eudora and her aviatrix sister Meryl. For their first tryst together, Eudora takes Leonard to Meryl’s. When Leonard is discredited, it is Meryl who shakes her out of herself by taking her to nightspots. Meryl is there to comfort Eudora when Leonard becomes the accused in a paternity suit. Meryl relates this history in the present and her contribution is specifically acknowledged in the credits. In this woman’s picture Meryl is the wisecracking friend of the heroine!

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Mia Farrow and Woody Allen in Zelig

    Why has no-one written about Mia Farrow’s quiet performance? Eudora runs the gamut of emotions from curiosity to longing, from frustration to loss yet she scarcely emotes in any obvious manner. The film gives her pensive moments in which she stares through glass or stands alone smoking in the garden of her provincial retreat like one of Bergman’s women. I like her wardrobe, her boyish body wrapped in tweedy browns and beiges, her patent leather shoes. In public those plain cloche hats make her seem like a shop girl. In the Manhattan Hospital those clinical overalls make her seem like just another intern. Allen confers on her the sad autumnal colors he will confer on his films in the late-80s. Eudora’s plain wardrobe plays out the melancholy mise-en-scène of her personality, the thwarted ambition, the lack of love, the dryness inside, the sadness, the ‘buried’ quality of this character: “Martin Koslow was the sort of man my mother felt I should marry.” That hairdo with its plaits severely arranged on the back of her little head speaks of a dutiful little Swiss miss, or a very proper Philadelphia upbringing. Those little round glasses speak not of womanly vanity but of cloistered academicism. Dr. Fletcher is surely Charlotte Vale’s sister, an unsung angel in a scriptorium. Meanwhile, the silly tabloids hoot: “Who says women are only good for sewing?”
    People used to say that Woody Allen turned Mia Farrow into himself in every role he wrote for her. This is easier to see in Hannah and Her Sisters and Shadows and Fog. But one of the best things about this pseudo-documentary is that Woody Allen’s character really doesn’t know who he is here. Dr. Fletcher may look like just another girl of her time, but in Zelig Eudora Fletcher is the truest and most authentic character in a sea of personality, opinion and false intuition. When the journalist, thinking he is being clever, tries to intuit a happy conventional childhood in Eudora’s history, her mother sternly rejects the notion. (I love this bit).
    Finally, Eudora is one of the only characters who is still alive to testify to the past at the end of Zelig. Having survived the madcap history, she brings the past together with the present, the doctored newsreel with today’s talking heads, narrative to fiction, history to art. She guarantees the veracity of the film’s account of the past. This is only a pseudo-documentary, but Dr. Fletcher’s face should appear on a stamp for she is truly the cat’s pyjamas!

—Irene Dobson