Starring: Robert Crumb, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Charles Crumb
Director: Terry Zwigoff
Imdb describes this film as “an intimate portrait of controversial cartoonist Robert Crumb and his traumatised family.” Which I think is a really good summation, so I’m borrowing it. Robert Crumb is a cartoonist who became very popular in comic book circles in the 60’s through psychadelic magazines and other mediums. He seemed to resonate with a new generation, with his weird imaged and dark, sometimes satirical humour. You may know him as the creator of Fritz The Cat or the Keep On Truckin’ comic strip.
The film is called Crumb because while Zwigoff set out to meet and make a documentary about Robert, the film also explores his two brothers lives too. So, it’s about more than one Crumb, I guess. It’s almost hard to separate them, because none of the three seem to have truly left home in a meaningful way, and seem enmeshed with a competition that started in childhood and bonds them now. It has been noted that the world knew R Crumb and thought he was a bit strange, but was surprised to learn that he was the most well balanced of hos brothers. One struggles with depression and mental illness, the other has dropped out and begs and meditates on the streets, unable to hold down a job. But all three have a talent for drawing.
The film is sometimes touted as the greatest documentary ever made, and the fact that it was passed over for the Documentary Oscar that year was quite controversial at the time, though it did win quite a few awards from film festivals.
I really felt two ways about this film. It’s like a train wreck. I was partly fascinated by this odd family and wanted to know more, and yet I also didn’t really like Robert at all, and felt like he was kind of grotesque and shallow, in some ways. I don’t like his style and ideas all that much, but I do think he has talent. He’s just too dark, negative and didactic for me. But he also seems so miserable, disconnected, lost, unwanted…. and maybe doesn’t realise how he comes across to others. There are conversations he has with his brothers where they talk about molesting women, about homicidal fantasies and are really open about their thoughts about sex and sexuality, women. It’s very strange. It’s like all these things are acceptable within the family, but are really kind of worrying in the real world. But the way Zwigoff explores this and allows all these people to speak, it makes for a really interesting film.
We live in a quite PC age now, and Crumb perhaps embodies the opposite of that, a rebellion against that. I think watching this film now is a different experience than watching it in the 90’s. I found Crumb really sinister, watching this film, but none the less interesting. While the film is fascinating and really very good, the people in it are very cynical. It’s quite a funny film to watch, in a dark way. So if you’re thinking of watching it, perhaps be aware pf that, and also that Crumb’s drawings and focus are often around women and sex, so some might be off put by the whole thing.
See It If: you thought you and your siblings were dysfunctional. It’s a great film for documentary lovers or those who like underground comics or are interested in Crumb.