Customer Review

145 of 155 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly Goddamn Delightful, August 13, 2001
This review is from: Crumb [VHS] (VHS Tape)
I have to believe that if you are off-put by Crumb's art (the headless women with monstrous thighs; the caricatures of blacks as wild jungle-dwellers), or find his frank admissions of "perverse" sexual attractions uncomfortable, or find yourself with a wardrobe full of San Francisco 49er memorabilia, then you will be put off by Crumb's character as well.
I'm not. He's fascinating.
Director Terry Zwigoff gets a lot of mileage out of Crumb's reactions to situations. Whether it's the confused and perplexed look he gets from watching the parade of shallow consumers he sees on the streets, or his half-sincere/half-uncomfortable bursts of laughter following bizarre tales from his youth, Crumb's expressive face says more than his mouth ever could. This, combined with his wonderfully laid-back voice (at once sarcastic and self-deprecating and tinged with regret) makes me wonder why it's taken so long for this man to get some camera time. Self-imposed exile, I suppose. He's definitely a star.
The opening sequence over the credits is the lone contrived moment in an otherwise truthful film. It begins by showing a series of porcelain sculptures modeled on Crumb's most recognizable characters, followed by a shadowy shot of Robert, sitting in a near-fetal position, listening to one of his many old time blues records. It is the only moment in the film that feels fake, and threatens to ruin the film's credibility right from the starting gate. Thankfully, director Zwigoff has a perfect game the rest of the way.
And there is only one moment that puts objectivity aside and allows for a bit of commentary on the part of the filmmakers. It concerns an interview with Deirdre English, a former editor of the magazine 'Mother Jones'. She gives her opinion (along with shown examples) of Crumb's supposed racism. Zwigoff precedes this with footage of Crumb complaining that the only people who found these comics offensive were white liberals, e.g. Ms. English herself. Otherwise, Zwigoff uses an even hand in his portrayals.
Other than the legacy Crumb will leave with his innovative work, the film focuses heavily on his family life (or lives).
What the heck was in the water at the Crumb house? Besides Robert and his well-known proclivities, his lesser known siblings have serious problems of their own. Older brother Charles, still living at home with his overbearing mother at the time the film was shot, admits to a severe reliance on tranquilizers, and baths biannually. Younger brother Maxon (whose role in the Crumb boys' childhood comics company was "supply boy"), lives alone in a dive hotel and spends his days cleansing his colon with a long strip of cloth while sitting on a bed of nails (two sisters declined to be interviewed). Upon seeing the devastating dysfunction of the apples that fell from the Crumb family tree, one begins to wonder not how odd Robert turned out, but rather how normal. It's the film's most startling revelation.
Some of the most touching moments are those of Crumb with his own kids. Young daughter Sophie, the only woman Crumb's ever loved, receives her fathers gentle affection willingly. Son Jesse sports the costume of the hippies that Crumb so despised (long hair and dirty beard), but his artistic talent more than makes up for this transgression in his father's eyes. One moment has the two men competing in a contest to best reproduce a photo of an ugly insane woman. Contrast the unsettling subject matter of the photo, with Robert's sincere artistic advice to his son on how to draw out its interesting elements, and you get a wonderful scene of iconoclastic domesticity.
"Crumb", the film, like Crumb, the artist, manages to combine humour and tragic sadness in a cohesive whole. It is at once repellent and mesmerizing, encompassing nearly every aspect of humanity. From the perverse to the pleasant, it all seems somewhat, well, Natural. A truly astonishing feat from a truly astonishing documentary film.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 10, 2008 4:34:22 AM PST
Avocadess says:
Pretty good review! Just want to clarify on a couple points that were a bit fictionalized in the review. One thing is, Robert's older brother Charles said he bathes once every six weeks (a little more often than twice a year) and his younger brother Maxon has more going on than just the long strip of cloth, which is once every week or two if I remember correctly, and the bed of nails which is one or two hours a day. He also at the time would go out daily with a begging bowl and sit on the concete, as if it were his duty, and is quite a talented painter of modernistic abstract designs that might be considered more in the genre of Picasso than of R. Crumb -- but with even more disturbing art, in my opinion, than either his brother or Picasso. (Since this film I believe there is a book out of Maxon's paintings and he still lives in the dilapidated room in San Francisco last I heard.)

Crumb's two sisters are barely mentioned in the film. I often wondered why. I found out one reason why recently in a couple interviews I read -- one with R. Crumb and the other with Terry Zwigoff. R. Crumb's younger sister Sandra, (a rare photo of which can be seen in one of Crumb's comic collections called something like "Crumb's Crazy Family" but a different title than that, that's just the best I can remember right now), grew up to become a man-hating lesbian of whom it was said hated men so much that she never allowed men to enter her home, with the one exception of one little boy (because the little boy was her son). She reviled Crumb for what she considered his hatred toward women and sued him for restitution. I believe she was demanding $400 a month from him. She passed away. (I believe it was liver disease, which interestingly is considered by Chinese medicine to be the organ in which anger causes a lot of problems.) I have not learned much of Crumb's older sister Carol except that she seems to have chosen the most conservative and normal-seeming lifestyle. (Though I suspect she is not at all normal and a portrait of her life would be as fascinating as her other siblings but just in another way.) Sadly, R. Crumb's older brother Charles committed suicide before this film was released.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 11, 2010 8:15:01 AM PDT
CursedShadow says:
Thank you for what I assume is accurate information about Crumb's two sisters. Information about the two was really the only thing lacking in the film, which I found fascinating.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 26, 2011 2:18:53 PM PDT
Actually it would be interesting to know more about the two sisters, and Robert's seemingly loving son. What a family the Crumb family is! It would make an awesome Hollywood story!

Posted on Oct 15, 2011 1:20:29 AM PDT
soveery says:
Thank you, Mike Stone, for your wonderful and thoughtful review. Your comments are as respectful and understanding as the film itself.

I saw it in a theater when it first came out, and have never forgotten it. Very much looking forward to seeing it again.
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