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During childhood, Crumb and his brothers Charles and Maxon found solace from their tyrannical father in comic books and drawing cartoons. Crumb escaped the mental illness that ended both his brother's careers as artists (Charles was equally as talented), but otherwise had a perfectly miserable childhood and adolescence. Socially awkward, bullied at school and rejected by women, he decided in 1962 (at age 17) to take revenge upon society `by becoming a famous artist'.
In 1966, his chemically inspired `revelations of some seamy side of America's subconscious' caught the eye of a Haight Street publisher in San Francisco and Zap Comix was born. Zap was an outlet for his creative energy, which was rooted in his social difficulties. He was uninterested in money and once turned down a $100,000 contract a huge sum of money in those days. Although identified with the hippie crowd, he could not relate to their culture: `My main motivation [for drawing] was to get some of that free love action'.
After a few years of fame, he retired from Zap to express the darker side of his nature. His later work frequently contained sadistic and violent themes and was sometimes labeled as pornography by friends and critics alike. Even Crumb isn't sure of his intent: `Maybe I should be locked up and my pencils taken away from me'.
Critic Robert Hughes says that in Crumb's world there are no heroes and `even the victims are comic' ideas that don't jive with traditional American culture. But Crumb has always considered himself to be an outsider and enjoys the feeling of `being very removed or extremely separated from the rest of humanity and the world in general'. `Words fail me, pictures aren't much better' to describe his disgust with American consumerism. He now lives in France because its culture is `slightly less evil than the United States'.
The film is embarrassingly candid about unhappy details of Crumb's life, such as his brothers' mental illness, experiments with drugs and ambivalent attitudes towards women. Yet it is apparent that there is no misery or violence in this man it's all on paper. (Rating: A)
Everyone seems to come away from the movie with an idea that Robert is spared the obvious insanity of his two brothers because of his art. But I see it differently(hence the title of this comment). Even Robert admits that his brother, Charles, was a better cartoonist. Another way to view Robert's "success" and his brothers' descent into "crazy" is fame. Crumb was an involuntary icon of the 60's. Where would Robert be today if he wasn't recognized and rewarded in the 60's? If Zap comix had turned him away for his misogynist and racist comics, would he have had the subsequent female relationships that seemed to normalize his existence? What would his fantasizing over a high school yearbook and habitual masturbation meant if he was an unknown sharing a room with his brother at Mom's house?
When I watch this movie, I am always mindful that Robert's obvious genius would be lost were it not for his luck at being discovered. I suppose that is an obvious statement but, in Crumb's case, fame has managed to gloss over many unacceptable characteristics. And, maybe, that's not such a bad thing.
The film lightly touches on Crumb's relationship with his son and daughter. For some reason, Crumb's bumbling attempts at affection with his children were a bit disturbing. Or maybe its just that Crumb's fixation with wrestling and piggyback riding lingers in your mind when he hugs his daughter.
On a lighter note, I've noticed that no one has mentioned the soundtrack of this movie. Designed to be in keeping with Robert's love of old American music, the music helps to define the subject. I wonder why Zwigoff made no mention of Crumb's Cheap Suit Serenaders band.
Crumb comments against the crass commercialism of America. And, yet, I first saw this movie at a theater in Baltimore where the lobby was chock full of Crumb comic picture cards, mugs, etc.
Crumb, the movie, is a crazy world of contradictions and well worth the ride.
As typical for a documentary like this, there are several artists/critics interviewed about Crumb's work. Invariably, there is some sort of analysis given. Crumb's compared to Brueghel, to Daumier, he's spoken of as a great political satirist.
The fact is the first thing discussed in the film is what motivates Crumb's art, what is he trying to express. After a slightly amused, slightly annoyed "Jesus! I dunno..." he speaks that he doesn't think of his work in conscious terms until _after_ he's drawn it; then he figures out what it's about.
This film very subtly points out Crumb is not really anything he's been accused or praised for being. His work "is the purest form of his id," his wife, Aline, comments.
The film is really his triumph to be himself through a number of horrendous hurdles: a brutal father and drug addicted brother; being rejected by women; being tempted to sell out; and legal problems over cartoons. While his two brothers, Charles and Max, both show in differing degrees how their youths were permanently scarred then, Robert Crumb emerges whole, even admirable, in spite of the uncompromising nature of his art. He is unique, his work not easily separable into allegorical meanings or expression of political beliefs.
Crumb is a great artist, and he cannot be understood from a few interviews and his art can't reduced into something understandable in clichéd artistic terms. Zwigoff's film shows Crumb in every way available and tries to express his art similarly. At the end, all we can do is be astonished that the man not only survived but flourished, and marvel at the wide range of what he's produced.
Zwigoff's style is so seamless, it doesn't feel like his film, but Crumb's. Of course, it is not Crumb's, but that impression is an indication of Zwigoff's mastery of the form. If his own personality intrudes in the fabric of the film by what he shows and how he orders it, he complements rather than obscures Crumb's genius.
The result is unforgettable, not just for its exposition of Crumb, artist and human being, but for the experience of letting Zwigoff's work flow over the film and us.
To many, this documentary may be depressing, offensive to women, or just too damn ugly to sit through, but it made me as happy as anything I've ever seen on screen. Art's ability to reveal truth and promote survival is evident in every frame. I admire R. Crumb's courage to speak unpopular truths, to draw what gets him off, and to ferret out the art he loves at considerable expense and trouble (he's a blues maven; one of my favorite scenes, where's he's sitting on his floor absorbed by aching music, is echoed in Ghost World, when Enid takes home Seymour's record and gets lost in her favorite song). And like Ghost World, ratty, real American culture is railed at hilariously: another favorite scene involves R. on a park bench, disgustedly commenting on the ugliness of everything around him: logo-emblazoned clothes, graceless music, ugly plastic everything.
By the end of it all, I respected and liked him Crumb enormously. I'd take his scary-woman worship over the banal musings of a dime-store philosopher any day. And Terry Zwigoff deserves much praise for being able to pull it off (especially as a first-time filmmaker who had very little idea what he was doing). From high art and family pathos to a lovely animal appreciation of big round female asses, this is far more a "roller-coaster, I laughed/I cried" film than most others so touted.
It's utterly irrelevant whether you've heard of Crumb or not, or like/dislike his artwork/comics, or if you even care about comic-books or the visual arts. He is a fascinating and intelligent character, only to be potentially "upstaged" by his brother Charles, who committed suicide a year(?) after this movie was made. Charles is tragedy personified, a shy luckless misfit who could have had as much artistic success as his brother.
There's plenty here to amuse, shock and entertain, a constant barrage of interesting little details about the life of Crumb, his family members, his friends, and the underground scene he was/is a part of. Some of the music Crumb loves is occasionally used as a soundtrack, and this gives the film a distinctive feel. Geeshie Wiley's "Last Kind Word Blues", which is played early on, is a terrific example of what true blues sounds like. (Forget Eric Clapton...)
Robert Crumb often comes off as totally un-PC, yet sometimes his views may be seen as Leftist (i.e. decidedly PC), but essentially he is a mankind-loathing, intelligent semi-misfit who through his enormous talent and persistence (and a little luck - you always need that) managed to forge a unique career, and avoid ending up perhaps like his brother Charles.
**possible spoilers below** One comment accused the film of being voyeuristic and going against what Crumb's art is about-which is ludicrous, in the film he sits in a few lounges and draws portraits of people in his sketchpad that are more than voyeuristic- everything about his art lends itself to this kind of look into his life. Hell, he has autobiographical comics that are just as voyeuristic as the film. It's Crumb in his own words closing a chapter of his life.
The things that are revealed are astonishing. The levels to which these people present themselves is nothing short of amazing. I've often wondered if I've ever made myself this vulnerable to anyone ever, and yet Crumb and his brothers do it for the whole, entire world.
It's a shame that Terry Zwigoff hasn't done yet another documentary, because he obviously has a knack for the genre. While I have liked his other movies, they haven't been nearly as good as Crumb. He seemed to really understand just how close and yet how far back he needed to be at the same time.
Crumb is a movie that won't let you go for a long time. If you haven't seen it yet, prepare yourself for something both vulgar and heartwarming, charming and repulsive.
I have been a fan of Crumb ever since I advanced beyond Donald Duck and Marvel Comics about 20 years ago (this is not to say that I don't love Donald or Marvel anymore, because I do). Crumb is probably the most talented comic book artist of the latter half of the 20t Century. Quite simply, I don't think anyone can draw as well as he does. He is not much of a storyteller, but like I pointed out above, that is more than made up by the fact that he is always totally candid about his life, sometimes painfully and embarrassingly so.
"Crumb" is an excellent portrait of an exceptionally talented artist who also happens to be a total pervert. However, as this film makes abundantly clear, Robert Crumb is practically the ideal model of a stable, well-adjusted person when compared to his mother or his brothers Charles and Maxon. We see once again that great suffering makes a great artist.
The film rolls on. Being someone who can't even draw dog poo if I was give a brown crayon and a piece of paper I was immediately envious of the ease he seemed to draw with. The talent didn't stop with Robert, I was equally amazed with his brothers exploits with the pen.
Fast forward to the end. I told my friends I saw this amazing documentary. They asked me what it was about. I said a guy drawing cartoons. -blank looks- "oh" Didn't quite give the doco justice. The premise of this doco is about a guy drawing cartoons, but where this doco excels is the exploration of the depths of the human psyche with such brutal honesty. This film explored the stuff that is as far back in the human consciousness that you don't even want to know is there. It was absolutely fascinating the quirky and humorous interplay between the brothers and how they had evolved/de-evolved from their childhood interactions to adult life. All brothers sat on the line of the full circle of sanity that meets around with insanity. One of the most interesting things i've seen.
Although he is the center of the movie, Robert is hardly the only compelling character in the film. His family, his friends, his admirers, his former girlfriends, his critics, all come through in very sharp focus. This film could easily have been nothing more than an homage to R. Crumb's 'seminal' works, but instead offers nuanced interpretation from some intelligent people. Even the master himself takes a dim view of his creation at times.
Yet one comes to understand, through R. Crumb's contrasting interactions with his family, what a curious combination of inner strength and minute perception it is that makes his comic art so accessible to others. Simple yet mindblowing things, like how he approaches sketches of photographs from a 19th century sanitarium, or his sourcebook with pages of photos of suburban streetlights and electrical substations, give insight into the mechanisms of his genius.
Highly recommended, 9/10
Aside from Crumb's apparent weirdness, right down to his off-the-wall physical appearance and sartorial habits, his comments on American culture - its materialism and its aesthetic barbarism - are dead on. One notes with interest the photography collection Crumb show us of power lines, telephone poles, traffic signals, and the other arcana of the ugly technological "background view" of our culture - to which we have become inured - which he uses as a reference for his work, because who could imagine such stuff?
Robert Crumb - or at least the impression one takes of him from this movie - is an ambiguously enigmatic character, driven by darkly bizarre inner sexual demons, yet with a weird sort of innocence and compelling aesthetic vision that isolates him from American culture. We are not surprised, at the end, when he decamps himself and his family off to a village in southern France. We are also not surprised to learn that George committed suicide shortly after the completion of the project.
The movie itself is coldly dispassionate, making no commentary or judgement on these people, but letting everything and everyone speak for himself. The result is a disturbing yet compelling portrait of a troubled artist and the personal and family history that shaped him.
did you like the movie "harold and maude" for being sexually deviant and dark?
or remember when george carlin said the dreaded "n-word," apparently in protest of the rule that blacks and whites are supposed to use separate vocabularies? were you impressed by that kind of honesty? i was and i liked crumb for that and many other reasons.
crumb is impressively human and real. he's totally candid about the abuse he's recieved and possibly metted out. robert crumb is part geek and part lover, part racist and part woman-hater. yet these and other "bad" and "good" elements of his personality were not labeled, but accepted. nor were they censored from his comics or from this movie. in fact, the only things crumb doesn't offer are apologies. eminem, eat your heart out.
The documentary style presentation keeps the film grounded in reality (it could otherwise easily be construed as fiction, so strange is the story). Much to his credit, Terry Zwigoff conveys well that brand of train-wreck fascination we feel when seeing something profoundly disturbing. As distressing as parts of Crumb may be, it's nearly impossible to look away.
Robert Crumb himself is as unique as they come--he exudes a bizarre sort of aw-shucks perversity that inspires a strange mixture of pity and awe. His psyche is laid bare on page after page, panel after panel of his work. One has to wonder what might have become of Robert if he had not directed his energy towards art. What immediately comes to mind are the unsettling images of his brothers Charles, completely unbalanced, and Maxon, coping in self-imposed solitude, and the distant, grating voice of his neurotic mother.
Keep drawing Robert, please.
(A small note of caution to those viewing Crumb on a large screen, some of the moving shots are done with a hand held camera and can cause a little vertigo.)
And, at the same time, he's barely able to function in society. He just blends into the crowd and doesn't really understand the world around him. A lot of Crumb's observations on the changing world are used by Terry Zwigoff, who directed this film, in his next movie, "Ghost World." That movie is also an adaptation of a comic book so maybe it was there that Crumb's influence was made. Either way, he's the comic book version of John Waters - ahead of his time in grossness, incredibly influential, and not yet surpassed.
As for Crumb's family life, the amazing part is that he's the most normal member of his family. His brothers are also great artists but are even worse at functioning in the world. Maybe it's genetics. Maybe it's the torment of being an artist. Seeing Crumb's family humanizes him. Then we see his comics. And we can decide for ourselves if we can separate the artist from the art but, more importantly, we have to decide if we can separate ourselves from the art. Can we laugh at sexism and racism and not be sexists or racists? Does the fact that we find it so offensive mean that we hate sexism and racism or that we are afraid to face our own beliefs (or the beliefs of those close to us)? Bringing out these questions is the greatness of this movie.
So why do I claim that it is so great? Well, I particularly think that documentaries are much more important than fiction films if they are done well. The purpose of t] art is to study and try to educate us about human nature. Documentaries, since they are fact and not fiction, logically can tell us more about human nature than fiction films, which can tell us about human nature, but they necessarily teach it through the eyes of the artists who created the work. For instance, _Hoop Dreams_, which has been accepted by many already to be a masterpiece, s by far the best sports film ever made. No fiction film could have had more insight into the appeal of sports. Also, it is one of the most important films ever made to deal with racial issues for the same reason.
Crumb is the most important film ever made on the subject of the artist. Never has a film had more insight into an artist's work than Crumb does into R. Crumb. Each time I watch it, his artwork becomes more deep and complex. Each drawing becomes extremely multi-layered. R. Crumb was hardly inhibited while Zwigoff was filming him, nor were the other people who were interviewed. Crumb spares none of his personal life. Because of this, we learn more about him than we have ever learned about a single fictional character in film history. Not Charles Foster Kane, not Jake LaMotta, not Travis Bickle. No one.
R. Crumb is also extremely anti-capitolistic. I love this! He has inspired me with his thoughts. He never existed as an artist to make money. He has enough to exist happily, but he does not live in a mansion, nor does he own a sports team. He does not own a fleet of vehicles. In fact, he can't even drive!