"Crumb" Criterion Collection DVD, Blu-ray Review

8/14/2010 Posted by Admin

"Crumb" Criterion Collection

DVD, Blu-ray Review

Directed by Terry Zwigoff, 119 Minutes, Rated R

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

"Crumb" is a portrait of comic book legend Robert Crumb, but, coming from the dark, twisted mind of "Ghost World" and "Bad Santa" director Terry Zwigoff, the documentary becomes less a portrait of the man as an artist and more as a man in general, especially when Zwigoff involves Crumb's reclusive family. Altogether, it's one of the most fascinating cinematic looks at an American family that has ever been produced.

Robert Crumb is known predominately for his work in, his own words, "underground comic nonsense." His work is abrasive, highly stylized and is often incredibly frank in its sexuality and social satire. Having grown up in the 1950s under a domineering father, Crumb and his brothers, Charles and Maxon, were sexually repressed and obsessed, and the three let out their frustrations in their art. Only Robert managed to make a career out of it, to the clear envy of Charles, who helped him get into the hobby in the first place.

He and his family really are perfect subjects--deeply and occasionally uncomfortably intimate, he and his brothers (and in one scene, his mother) discuss the nature of their lives, the struggles they've undergone due to their early isolation from society. They're an eccentric bunch, but their brutal honesty and sense of humor about such serious and personal matters really ends up being more endearing than anything else. Robert is pretty likable from the start, despite his clear bitterness toward anything remotely mainstream or overproduced, and his style (the glasses that comically magnify his eyes, his oversized clothing) that could easily turn him into a caricature for Zwigoff to exploit only assists in maintaining his distinctive personality.

Really, it feels like there should be something sad about the whole thing--in fact, the moments with his brothers do become quite sad on occasion--but overall, Robert seems to take so much in stride that it's hard to get too down on his lifestyle or opinions. He certainly does make those opinions known, and frequently--he sees the entire American landscape as one of excess and destruction, refusing to even be a part of any kind of mainstream publications or Hollywood ("There hasn't been a decent animated film made in this country since about 1940."). And where his brothers are occasionally cynical and bitter about their reclusiveness and lack of personal relationships, Robert actually seems happy about it. He removes himself from every facet of society, even remaining emotionally distant from his wife and kids that he claims to care so deeply for, and he shows no real remorse for this disconnection.

All the while, Zwigoff views Crumb and his family from a purely objective point of view--so many documentaries, even some of the best, have a blatant opinion or bias, but Zwigoff allows Crumb's story to tell itself in such a clear and simple way that it's nothing but purely genuine, which is likely what allows it to be so touching. Zwigoff also finds time throughout the main story to make some very solid points on art in general, particularly underground art and how context is crucial in understanding the work of Crumb and others like him.

There really is no documentary more truthful and effective as this one, and Zwigoff has yet to top it.

Grade: A

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