Crumb (1994)


All this and his art is awesome too.
All this and his art is awesome too.

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Robert Crumb (Artist best known for comics Fritz the Cat & Mr. Natural)

Directed By: Terry Zwigoff (Ghost WorldBad Santa)

Overview: The documentary of life and sex of comic book artist Robert Crumb, his wife and his family, particularly his troubled brothers Charles and Maxon.

To really appreciate Crumb, it might help being the sort of person who likes graphic novels, has an appreciation of underground sub-culture and/or a healthy obsession – like say watching five or more films a week and diligently writing a film blog… for example. These things might help, but they’re absolutely not necessary. Although Robert Crumb is a geek’s geek, this little documentary should appeal to everyone. Crumb’s audience doesn’t have to care about the man’s line of work. It’s less about the man’s perverse art and career than you’d expect – or would even care to examine when compared to the goldmine that is his brain, his dysfunctions and the people behind the man behind the art. What makes the story of Crumb so interesting, dare I say what makes it such a masterpiece, is the bold exploration of his troubled relatives, most notably his afflicted brothers Charles and Maxon. Terry Zwigoff presents child abuse, addiction, sexual perversity and mental illness like a comedic everyday event, as they naturally are to the people in the film. Zwigoff does it so well that he creates a real fun trip down an otherwise very dark path, keeping it light while still having a serious undercurrent of profoundly honest truth. God, it’s glorious.

The man behind the perv
The man behind the perv

Obviously the story is about the career of hefty contributor to the underground Zap Comix, for which his one-pager “Keep On Truckin’ ” made him famous. He’s also the creator behind Fritz the cat and Mr. Natural. Of course we delve into his life and his own strange particularities – like how he hates signing autographs, fame, selling out, society even. The main topic though, is his perversion and how it translates to his art.

When I - what was it - about five or six? - I was sexually attracted to Bugs Bunny. And I - I cut out this Bugs Bunny off the cover of a comic book and carried it around with me. Carried it around in my pocket and took it out and looked at it periodically, and - and it got all wrinkled up from handling it so much that I asked my mother to iron it on the ironing board to flatten it out, and - and she did, and I was deeply disappointed 'cause it got all brown when she ironed it, and brittle, and crumbled apart. - Robert Crumb

With all his quirks, it’s Robert that’s the sane one, the bell curve of normalcy for his family. The real story, the greatness that is Crumb, comes from Zwigoff putting so much focus on his brothers. The oldest, Charles, is an unemployable depressive recluse still living at home, an avid reader of classics, a man who talks openly through a dentureless mouth about his impotence and suicidal tendencies. There’s Maxon, ever sitting in the lotus position in his filthy feet, his own art perhaps even better than Robert’s gritty style. Maxon tells of his need to molest and what he does to overcome his desires. These two brothers are intelligence and eloquent and wise, completely self-aware of their ills, coping by sheer force of will, a pleasure to listen to – Hell it’s downright inspiring. There’s women in the history of his life too: his first and current wife, his mother. The biggest disappointment in Crumb is knowing that this sexual deviant’s life excludes the opinions and input of his two sister, who vehemently refused to be a part of the documentary - a truly unfortunate thing that would have added a wonderful dimension to the man, especially since it feels like their side is a juicy story worth telling.

“He has told me that he masturbutes to his own comics” – wife Aline Kominsky-Crumb

Crumb’s cinema vérité is astounding. I can safely say that the honesty of the filming style of is some of the best I’ve ever seen, but I can’t nail down the reason why. Maybe it’s the extreme close ups, the shots of individual comic panels, or the way the interviews are told as if you were there in the room with them. Maybe it’s because Crumb is full of people who look like people - people with faults both mental and physical. Either way, it’s an incredible film that plays on the edges of madness and explores a man who made it big and obviously hated it so much he moved to a remote village in France. Since you’d probably have a hard time finding him, the next best thing is watching this.

Yep, I'd say that's pretty typical of his style...
Yep, I'd say that's pretty typical of his style...

Performance: 9 Cinematography: 9 Script: 8 Plot: 8 Mood: 9

Overall Rating: 86% (A Big Fat Speck Of Perfection)

Crumb was one of those movies that sat in my “must see soon” pile for well over a year. I was constantly reminded by different people to watch it, that it was an incredible story, and for some weird reason it just sat there waiting to be watched. I never should have waited so long. Had I watched it back when I was first told me to bump it up the list, I’d probably be on a rewrite of this review today instead of talking about the first time. Shame on me, and shame on you for not running out and watching it tonight.

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