Crumb (Terry Zwigoff, 1994)

An intimate portrait of the controversial cartoonist and his traumatized family.

Back in my CEGEP years (equivalent of College) I had access to a huge library of comic books. Sometimes I would read comics that I never heard of or read about. When I got into Robert Crumb’s it was a revelation and a schock to me. His irreverent humor, social satire, and explicit sexual material (believe me for a seventeen year old it was something) left a permanent mark in my memory.

It was not until about ten years later I was in a book store in Manhattan that I read again a Crumb comic. This time I noticed his name and just by the drawings and the subjects I recognized the artist.

On the other hand, I must admit being a huge fan of documentary and no matter what the subject is I will be stuck to the screen. Just read my ecstatic review of Steve JamesHoop Dreams for example. Plus, Crumb is considered as a cult film and an essential viewing.

Terry Zwigoff’s portrait of the cartoonist Robert Crumb is one of the most intense and truthfull depictions of a man, his inspirations, and his life. Being an outcast as a teenager which more people actually are and can relate to, he concentrated on drawing as a way to exorcise his demons and his frustrations. Also following his older Charles who he sees as his superior and a better artist than he is. We also encounter their mother and Robert’s other brother Maxon who begs on the streets of San Francisco and paints beautifully.

This is more than a straight portrait of a man and there seems to be no filters to what is being presented to us. Just like Robert’s drawings that are a mirror of his subconscious, his sexual desires, and his views of society and life. Robert is shown as a recluse but also a funny man that loves his family, especially Sophie and Jesse.

The context of creation of Robert Crumb’s art is what interested Zwigoff with his film and it is well shown with the time taken to interview his past girlfriends and his family. There is nothing fake about this documentary and this is what comes out first. It gave me the urge to get my pencils out and try to draw something. Maybe someday I’ll publish some of my sketches on this blog just to spread it a bit. But I digress.

Filmed in nine years by Zwigoff, this work of dedication paid off and is still considered as a must. In fact, this is a mandatory documentary that represents a facet of American alienation and a resonant effect of the forced conformism of society in a world of contempt for outsiders, artists, and intellectuals.

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