Crumb (1994)

Robert Crumb: ‘I was born weird'

"He’s obsessed with ‘spectacular rear ends’ and he calls his fans scum. Yet comic artist Robert Crumb is at risk of becoming respectable."


The documentary chronicles the life and times of R. Crumb. 
Robert Crumb is the cartoonist/artist, the author of  Keep On Truckin', Fritz the Cat, who played a major pioneering role in the genesis of underground comix. 
"Crumb" is a meeting between two eccentrics in sympathy with each other. The artist R. Crumb created such bizarre images in his underground comic books that the art critic Robert Hughes named him "the Brueghel of the last half of the 20th century." 

The director Terry Zwigoff knew him before he had any notion of making this documentary. They shared a love for obscure musicians on 78 rpm records from the 1920s and 1930s, and they once played in the same band. Long before he knew the inhabitants of Crumb's childhood home would be the keys to this film, Zwigoff had slept the night there and met Crumb's brother Charles, who is perhaps the key to the whole Crumb story.

Zwigoff said he "called in every favor he owed me" to persuade Crumb to be in his film: He spent nine years on the documentary "while averaging an income of about $200 a month and living with back pain so intense that I spent three years with a loaded gun on the pillow next to my bed, trying to get up the nerve to kill myself."

Among documentaries about artists, "Crumb" (1994) is unusual in having access to the key players and biographical artifacts of Crumb's entire life. Crumb himself is entirely forthcoming on camera, uninhibited, honest. We meet both of his wives, who talk cheerfully about the way their images and secrets were incorporated, sometimes directly, into Crumb's work. We see the high school yearbook portraits of classmates immortalized into grotesques and sadists, sometimes under their own names. Most crucially, we enter Crumb's boyhood home in New Jersey, still occupied by his mother and his brother Charles, and in San Francisco we visit his brother Max. His two sisters refuse to participate.

We leave the film convinced there are no secrets still concealed in this family. We know that Robert's central sexual fantasy was to ride bareback on women with overdeveloped rumps; that Charles remained a virgin and recluse, rarely leaving his bedroom, his erotic imagination forever fixed on Bobby Driscoll in the 1960 film "Treasure Island"; that Max lived in monkish isolation, slept on a bed of nails and regularly passed a 30-foot cloth ribbon through his body; that their alcoholic father broke Robert's collarbone when he was a boy, and that the parents fought between themselves so fiercely that their faces were often covered with scratches and bruises. 

Art may have saved Crumb from madness, turning private neurosis into public validation. Zwigoff is unsparing in showing Crumb's more transgressive work; the camera follows panel by panel through comic books as Crumb narrates stories of incest, necrophilia, scatology, assault, mayhem and sexual couplings as unlikely as they are alarming. To call some of his images sexist, racist and depraved is putting it mildly.

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