Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Crumb (1995 film)
Directed by Terry Zwigoff, Crumb is a documentary film about the life and career of underground cartoonist Robert Crumb and his eccentric lifestyle. The film explores not just his unique work in the world of art and comics but also into his family life that include relatives who are quite eccentric in their own right. All of which play into the world of a man who is considered too strange or too provocative for the world of mainstream and high-art. The result is a strange yet exhilarating portrait of one of the greatest artists to emerge in the late 20th Century.
Among one of the key figures of the American underground comic scene of the 1960s, Robert Crumb is an artist that is known for drawing all sorts of crazy things that were controversial, odd, and provocative but were also lauded by many. While he is famous for work such as the album cover Cheap Thrills for Big Brother and the Holding Company that featured Janis Joplin, the Keep on Truckin’ comics, and the original Fritz the Cat comics. He also creates work for a series of comics that expresses his own views on the world as well as society, sexuality, and other things that are considered controversial or enticing from an artistic point of view. Yet, the film isn’t just about who he is as an artist but also the man himself as it was largely shot in the early 1990s in the span of a few years where director Terry Zwigoff doesn’t just talk to Crumb but also family including his wife Aline Kominsky-Crumb, their daughter Sophie, his son Jesse from his first marriage to Dana who is also interviewed, his mother Beatrice, and two of his brothers in Charles and Maxon.
The look into Crumb’s family including his brothers in Charles and Maxon as they’re both artists as well showcases a family that is talented but also share that sense of disdain towards modern society as the former lives as a total recluse who would sadly commit suicide a year after filming was finished. The Crumb family also display some unique eccentricities as it relates to their mother but also revel into their father who was a straight-laced man that fought in World War II as he had very little understanding of his sons’ artistic pursuits. The film also feature interviews with several of Crumb’s colleagues including a few ex-girlfriends like Kathy Goodell who all talk about his work. Even some of the most controversial works where it play into African-Americans deviating themselves into stereotypes as well as his own sexual obsessions with women where it is clear that he is perverse in a lot of ways but it is done in a very innocent and fun manner.
Much of Zwigoff’s direction is intimate as well as playful as he uses a lot of close-ups and medium shots with the aid of cinematographer Maryse Alberti to capture these moments as it shot with some grainy film stock that makes it look and feel real. Especially in the scenes where Robert and Charles are talking while their mother is heard screaming in the background asking about what is going on. It’s among these aspects in the film that are quite funny but there are also these moments in the film that are quite somber as it relates to Crumb and his sort of disconnect with modern society where it is really about the fact that he can’t really understand it. He is baffled by people wearing t-shirts that features the name of its creator on it which does play into that sense of disdain for the modern world. Even as the film reveals early on where he and Aline are in the midst of leaving the U.S. to live in the South of France for good with their daughter Sophie and Jesse joining them for frequent visits.
With the aid of editor Victor Livingston, Zwigoff captures some rare home footage, picture, and a collection of Crumb’s work in comics and art as it showcases the diversity of what he does. Along with the sound work of Scott Breindel, with additional re-recording mixing by Walter Murch, to capture the atmosphere of the locations and parties plus scenes of Crumb playing music on a piano or through his massive record collection filled with a lot of ragtime, jazz, and traditional music. The film’s music by David Boeddinghaus is mainly an adaptation of some of those pieces along with some original music that was created in that style as it plays into Crumb’s own love for that music.
Crumb is a remarkable film from Terry Zwigoff about the famed artist. It’s a film that isn’t just a fascinating documentary that explores the life of an artist in his work and in his personal life. It’s also a film that is unflinching in its honesty as it showcases someone who isn’t going to conform to any style nor is he willing to play by the rules and please everyone. In the end, Crumb is a spectacular film from Terry Zwigoff.
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