Documentaries can often be more fiction than fact depending on the intent of the director and/or editor. The author of the piece usually has a theme already in mind before even shooting the film, but there are exceptions. Directors often start with a story they may have in mind, but as they pursue it they find themselves wrapped in a completely different tale.
Terry Zwigoff's 'Crumb' is unlike most films you've ever seen. Following the life of famous comic book artist R. Crumb, Zwigoff finds himself shooting the refreshingly candid and controversial artist. For those of you unfamiliar, R. Crumb was popular throughout the sixties and seventies in the underground comic movement creating characters you've probably heard of or seen. Fritz the Cat, Mr Natural, and the 'keep on truckin' walking guy are all trademarks of his, but that's just a small slice of his work. He's been called many things such as revolutionary, sexist, racist, and morally perverse, yet few in the field can deny his influence.
His art is still controversial even by our standards as being sadistic towards women. It seems the jury is still out on whether his drawings and stories should be celebrated or not considering it's graphic nature and even racist undertones. He seems to make no apologies for any offense that might be taken by his audience as Crumb explains that most of his work was under the influence of hallucinogens and he clearly states that his hatred toward the fairer sex is a fair subject matter to tackle.
The film starts with Crumb visiting his older brother Charles, a complete outcast and manic depressive who's refused to even leave the house for long periods of time. Living with his mother, Charles is heavily medicated and speaks in a tone that suggests a serious mental illness.
The film's strengths lie in where we see R. Crumb's family, from the disturbed Charles to his younger sibling, a sex offender named Max. In it they relate stories of a tyrannical father of the WWII generation who was often disgusted with the idea of having outcasts as children. Blaming the comforts of the fifties for their inability to maintain a relatively normal social status their father would often abuse them while their prescription drug addict mother would sit idly by wallowing in her substance abuse.
R. Crumb seemed to be the only one who escaped the torment of childhood, from his aggressive father to horrid memories of being ridiculed by his peers. Still to describe the man as well adjusted would be delusional. While he admits his hatred of women, and some would say this is well shown in his comics, he also lacks an ability to express love even when pressed. His sexuality is all over the map as he relates stories of masturbating to pictures of Bugs Bunny and various other cartoon characters, often multiple times a day. His fascination with dominating is told through his drawings as he depicts ample bodied amazonian female bodies with sometimes bird like heads.
His naive nature can be endearing though and R. Crumb seems a figure of empathy rather than disdain. After watching this film recently for the fourth time I find it more of a triumph of how art can help you escape the hell some people call reality.
It should be noted that Crumb himself hated this film and it's portrayal of him and his family and produced another documentary which was far less appealing. Even though I'm not a fan of comics I found this movie fascinating and would highly recommend it as one of the best documentaries I've ever seen.
Thanks to Ryon for submitting this. Wanna see a film reviewed by Wiwille? Drop me an email or comment and you'll see it soon on Erik's Ramblings. Rules are posted here.
"Yet as I left the film, I felt that if anyone had earned the right to express his own vision, it was Crumb, since his art is so clearly a coping mechanism that has allowed him to survive, and deal with his pain. "Crumb" is a film that gives new meaning to the notion of art as therapy." - Roger Ebert