Thursday, June 6, 2013

Crumb (1994)

Title: Crumb (1994)

Director: Terry Zwigoff


Robert Crumb stands proudly high and above the world’s cartoonists, leading the pack as the world’s best doodler. The guy is a genius; his drawings and cartoons comment on the American way of life. Crumb is the ultimate watcher, his view is that of a god viewing American society from up above. This is probably the reason why he did a self portrait which depicts him as having a third eye on his forehead. He doesn’t pass judgment with his comics; he simply states and shows things for what they are, if you don’t like it, well, tough luck, but that’s the way life is. His art is not filtered; his comics are blunt, over the top exaggerations of real life. How did Crumb get so good? Well, the guy has never stopped drawing. If you were to ever meet the guy in person, you are likely to see him with a pen in hand, doodling something on anything, be it a sketchbook, a napkin, or a place mat in a restaurant.  Crumb’s been drawing comics since he was a kid, he and his brothers had their own little comic book company, and the three would draw and write their own comic strips and sell them to their friends. Coolest part about the whole thing is that he never went to art school; he learned by doing, the pure definition of ‘a natural’.

The guy is one of my personal heroes because my artistic life echoes his in some ways. I also did comics when I was a kid and sold them to my friends, I love drawing ‘old school’ black and white comics, with pencils, paper and ink. No computer boloney, just old school, hand drawn, home grown sketches. I will be self-publishing a magazine this year which will be available to you, my dear readers sometime soon, so look forward to that! But watching a documentary like Terry Zwigoff’s  Crumb is inspiring in many ways because here’s a guy who is completely devoted to doing what he is best at. Here’s a guy who draws for a living, and he does it 24-7; literally, I don’t think Crumb ever stops drawing! Proof of this is his work, if you one day decide to explore Robert Crumb’s body of work you will see that it never seems to end, there’s volumes and volumes of his stuff! I admire the guy for all these reasons, because he is a true blue talented individual with dedication to spare. The other side of the story is that all this talent comes with a life that many would consider downright bizarre. One of my greatest heroes is undoubtedly a ‘weirdo’. But hey, that’s the name of one of his magazines, so it’s not like he’s hiding the fact.

And this is where Zwigoff’s documentary comes in and opens the flood gates of Crumb’s life for everyone to see, and it’s a pretty freaky affair. I mean, I love the guy’s work and how truthful and unfiltered it is. One thing I love about his stuff is how autobiographical it is, he isn’t afraid to expose himself to the world. Reading some of his comics is like taking all your inhibitions and throwing them out the door, it’s talking about all those things about sex you wanted to talk about but were afraid to ask. When asked about some of his more offbeat ideas and sexual habits his answer is “I don’t know, you tell me!” As if saying, why are humans the way they are? I don’t have the answer, if you have it then I’m all ears! But honestly, who’s to explain humanities often times bizarre behavior? On this documentary you’ll learn about Crumbs obsession with voluptuous ladies, especially those with a –pardon my French- huge ass. He has a foot fetish; the guy even likes riding piggy back on girls! Crumb has a love/hate relationship with women; he admires their beauty, but at the same time he comes off as misogynistic. So be ready, Crumb truly exposes himself here, he is who he is whether you like it or not. But that’s nothing, Crumb is “normal” when compared to the rest of his family, which by the way you get to meet on the documentary.

And here’s where the documentary gets extra weird in such a strange way that you won’t want to stop watching. You won’t believe how freaky some people in the world can get. For example, we meet Robert’s Crumb’s brother, Charles Crumb; an obsessively reclusive individual who lived with his mother most of his life. He never left his apartment, didn’t care much for personal hygiene, basically, this was an individual filled with self loathing. The saddest part about the whole thing is that before the documentary was released he committed suicide! And that’s just brother number one, Crumbs other brother, Maxon Crumb likes to sit on a bed of nails and eats a string every now and then so that it will “cleanse his system”; “it takes three days to come out the other end” he says. And let’s not get started on Crumb’s mother! Crumb also has sisters, but for whatever the reason they declined to appear on the documentary. One wonders what other levels of weirdness they would have brought to the table! You kind of get the feeling that even with all his sexual antics, and his dark outlook on life, Crumb turned out pretty much alright.

Terry Zwigoff

Crumb was directed by Terry Zwigoff, the director behind Ghost World (2001) and Art School Confidential (2006), two films that have a lot to do with Crumb and his world. Ghost World is a film that’s about this young girl who has an affair with an older guy named Seymour. Seymour is one of these hard core collectors of old records and old art, one could easily think that Steve Buscemi is playing Crumb, hell, the character even looks like Crumb! Art School Confidential is all about an art school student who painfully discovers that art school isn’t as cool as he thought it would be and that it’s all very fake. He ends up meeting a reclusive character who resembles one of Crumbs own freaky brothers. Basically, Zwigoff has always been an expert on Crumb; he took six years to make this documentary! This is the reason why the rest of his films are somehow related to Crumb’s artwork and lifestyle. Three films that are all linked together. Seeing them back to back is a good idea, you’ll feel like you’re watching films that exist within the same universe. Sadly, Art School Confidential turned out to be such a somber and downright depressing film with a not so happy ending that it ended up being a flop, so Zwigoff hasn’t made a film again. But Crumb garnered critical acclaim and attention when it was released. Jeffrey Anderson, critic for the San Francisco Examiner called this “the greatest documentary ever made” and “one of the most bravest and honest films I’ve ever seen” which is absolutely true, I agree, Crumb the documentary is a lot like Crumb’s comics; he isn’t afraid to put himself, and his flaws out there for all to see. I agree very much with Roger Ebert’s take on this film. In his review he says that this documentary “gives new meaning to art as therapy”, which is exactly how Crumbs comics function, you kind of get the feeling that Crumb works many of his own issues through his art, as many good artists do. Brave in deed, and well worth a watch; highly recommended. 

Rating:  5 out of 5   



danyulengelke said...

Great review!

We're linking to your article for Artist Documentary Thursday at

Keep up the good work!

Franco Macabro said...

Glad you liked it and thanks!


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