Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time - ZELIG & THE BLACK STALLION RETURNS on Blu-ray ""

Friday, July 29, 2016


ZELIG (1983; Woody Allen)
Amidst a career as vast as Woody Allen's, it should be no surprise that some of his better efforts get lost over time. BROADWAY DANNY ROSE, INTERIORS, ANOTHER WOMAN and others just don't get the continued love and affection that many of his other movies do. ZELIG is one of those films and it's more interesting because of how it could have been an influence on stylistic trends we are bombarded with these days. You see, it's a mockumentary of sorts and though it's not quite the first of it's kind, it is certainly an example of this narrative approach that I'm sure more people (and future filmmakers) saw around the time it came out (or even on video) and that shows how effective said approach can be. Nowadays, it is completely commonplace for movies and TV shows to use a "found footage" or faux documentary style even though we are absolutely aware of the artifice
In the case of ZELIG, Allen is clearly going for more of an "is this real?" kind of thing and at the time, I'm sure the film may have given more than a few viewers moments of pause before they might have caught on to what he was doing. I know for a fact that Paul Thomas Anderson was influenced by ZELIG. In the introduction to the published version of his script for BOOGIE NIGHTS, he talks about it in relation to the DIRK DIGGLER STORY short he made which was ultimately expanded into a feature:
"The short film was a fictional documentary, basically a Spinal Tap and Zelig rip-off. A couple of years later, when I was nineteen, I expanded the short into a feature, keeping the structure of a fictional documentary. Well, by that time, the format, so wonderfully done so many times, had, in fact, 'been done so many times.'"

When I was getting into Anderson's work after being blown away by BOOGIE NIGHTS, I found statements like this to be indicative of a true movie person. Nobody (not even other directors) I was reading interviews with at the time were name checking ZELIG and I thought that was pretty neat. Peter Jackson was certainly a ZELIG-ite as well and he made his own faux documentary FORGOTTEN SILVER (which is great if you haven't seen it) that was the closest "historical hoax" doc cousin to Allen's film that I can think of. 
Woody does a nice job establishing something that feels real right of the gate with an opening interview bite from American writer/activist Susan Sontag that depicts her recollecting Zelig as if he were a true (if odd) historical figure. The basic idea of Leonard Zelig (played by Woody Allen) the man is that he rose to some notoriety in the 1920s for his chameleon-like ability to take on the characteristics of high profile folks of that era. Allen does a delightful job of blending archival footage with his own newsreel-style black and white sequences and still photos of Zelig himself as well as present-day conversations with scholars and intellectuals about this enigmatic fellow and his exploits. What starts as a pretty straightforward near-PBS type thing becomes more and more ridiculous and outlandish, but in that sometimes subtle Woody Allen kind of way, which makes it a fun watch. Interestingly, Woody doesn't say all that much throughout the course of the film. A good portion of the Zelig footage in the film is MOS and thus Allen is left to either express the comedy through his actions or his face - much like a silent film actor. 
Special Features:
-Isolated score track
-Original Theatrical Trailer

Buy ZELIG on Blu-ray here:

When I was a kid, my family was fully immersed in the VCR and renting videos culture. What we were less into was HBO and other premium pay cable channels. Economically, it just wasn't a thing that worked for us. We did however have basic cable and very much enjoyed the "HBO Free Weekends" which cropped up regularly during the mid to late 1980s. HBO is a fascinating cultural touchstone in that it is still an extremely relevant channel today (now more than ever), but it was a huge deal back then for different reasons. Back then, there was a seemingly limited pool of movies that could be licensed and shown on premium movie channels like HBO, so certain films got run repeatedly. We still see this a bit today, but with so many more options for content available, it doesn't impact the culture in the same way. When  I was a kid, EVERYBODY knew THE CANNONBALL RUN really well because it ran on HBO all the time. That and BEASTMASTER (HBO has even been affectionately called "Hey Beastmaster's On").  Movie fans today don't fully understand the impact of huge swaths of people seeing the same movies over and over. Sure, we still watch movies again and again now, but it's not the same because we have so much more to see (in terms of both TV and films) that we don't always watch things into the ground like we did back in those 80s HBO days. When you watch a movie enough times, it just becomes part of your DNA and I miss that. I miss those cable regularities that you could throw out lines from or start conversations about anywhere. THE BLACK STALLION RETURNS ('bout time I actually get the the movie right?) was just such a cable TV staple for me when I was a kid. I think I may have even seen it before I saw THE BLACK STALLION (which I also undoubtedly caught on HBO) but that didn't matter. It made enough sense to me as a youngster and I was particularly intrigued by the movie because I had the tendency to only catch parts of it for a while before I finally saw the whole thing. That's another thing that doesn't happen as much now with so much of our movie watching done via streaming. There's something fascinating (if not altogether ideal) of seeing movies in parts. You kind of have to put the pieces you've already scene together in your head and when you finally see the complete film, your experience with it is different. Anyway, about the time that THE BLACK STALLION RETURNS was cropping up on TV, I was in a big INDIANA JONES phase. I had seen the first movie and TEMPLE OF DOOM in the theater and was utterly captivated by them. Needless to say, I was then drawn to any adventure-y films I came across from ALLAN QUATERMAIN to ROMANCING THE STONE (another cable favorite) to whatever else you can think of. THE BLACK STALLION RETURNS fit the bill for me at the time as it featured some exciting action sequences and the garb and general atmosphere reminded me of RAIDERS in some ways. On top of that, I was then and am still a big fan of animal movies. By that I mean movies wherein in there is a bond between a person and their animal - be it a dog (most often), cat, or horse. There is always this unspoken affection and loyalty conveyed generously by movies like this and it really has always struck a chord for me. I guess that's why I love dogs as much as I do and the reason that I've had them around pretty much my entire life, but I digress. THE BLACK STALLION got a nice Criterion Blu-ray last summer, which was great and well deserved treatment for a fine motion picture. It is a magical and moving effort from director Carroll Ballard. It's never been altogether forgotten, but the same can't be said for THE BLACK STALLION RETURNS. I must admit myself that when I got my hands on that Criterion Blu-ray, never once did I think about RETURNS again. I knew it had existed, but it had completely slipped from my memory because it had been so long since I had seen it. It wasn't until Twilight Time announced their Blu-ray that I finally had my "oh yeah!" moment. When I saw that artwork again, it started to come back to me again. 
As with a lot of sequels and follow-ups, THE BLACK STALLION RETURNS ups the ante a bit and cuts to the chase (literally) a bit more quickly than the first film did. A lot of what is wonderful about THE BLACK STALLION is its poetic lyricism and many quieter moments. RETURNS has some of that, but it is ultimately a bit more conventional (and that's not meant as a knock against it). It's really just the story of a boy trying to get his horse back from some bad guys and the peril he gets himself into to do so. I think that having both BLACK STALLION films is a boost to any cinephile's collection of family-friendly fare and I've often found that my kids get more invested in movies when there are more than one chapter to them. I think we are all just looking for a familiarity of characters and a little bit of adventure after all and THE BLACK STALLION RETURNS has both.
Special Features:
-Isolated score track
-Original Theatrical Trailer

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