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1994 - R - 119 Mins.
Director: Terry Zwigoff
Producer: Terry Zwigoff, David Lynch, Lynn O'Donnell
Starring: Robert Crumb, Charles Crumb, Maxxon Crumb, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Robert Hughes
Review by: JK Radtke

See, I told you I had game!
CRUMB is the disturbing in-depth look into the life and eccentricities of controversial cult artist, Robert Crumb. A hero of the underground, his cartoons and comic books have often been referred to as racist, sexist, misogynistic, horrendous, original, brilliant, classic, and inspiring.

In this documentary, Director Terry Zwigoff (GHOST WORLD, BAD SANTA) leads us down the spiral staircase of dementia that is Crumb’s life. From his mentally unstable brothers and mother, to his contempt for everything commercial, and the varied opinions of his peers towards his work, the most fascinating aspect of the entire film is Crumb himself.

Born into a working class family, Robert was raised by a hardworking father who wanted masculine sons, but got wimps. Instead of tossing the old baseball around, he was left alone while his sons focused on more important matters, like drawing funny books. This later lead to teasing (some say bullying) on the father’s part, which only helped to push his three sons further into their own self-contained worlds.

Early on we’re shown the immense love and competition that existed between Robert, and his older brother Charles (who was also an artist). These bonds were so thick, that they could only be understood by each other and no one else. Yet, while Robert grew with his ability, fine-tuning his talent towards the style we recognize today as his trademark, Charles was more inward with his imagination. Instead of adapting to the world, drawing what both pleased him, and others, he only drew for himself. Instead of growing into a functional member of society, he immersed himself into his own world so deep, he eventually crossed the point of no return.

It was at that point that we were first introduced to Charles, and his fragile psyche. In one of the last reunions Robert had with his brother, we got to see the final stages of self-imposed mental illness. It is both interesting and depressing all at the same time.

As the film goes on, we’re treated to some of Crumb’s most controversial comics touching on some of the rawest content ever conceived. It is here that we truly recognize Robert Crumb’s importance as not only an artist, but as a voice. It is here that Terry shows us that even in the underground of America’s counterculture--where monetary gain is supposed to be the least important--there are rules that most must abide by, harboring the secret desire for the shot at selling out to the corporate world.

And yet, Robert Crumb stays true.

Later, we’re introduced to Robert’s other brother, the younger Maxon. He too is disturbed, suffering from episodes of extreme sexual misbehavior that borders on the schizophrenic. We see that he too is an artist, as well as a spiritual junkie (not that it helps) often cleansing his body of impurities through the age-old remedy of sending a really really long string through your system. Hardly hygienic, but then, I don’t think he cares.

It is near the end of the film that we see how even the strangest of lives can still manage to come full circle, as we meet Robert’s son, Jesse, the product of his first marriage. It is a relationship (as depicted in the film) that appears to be one of relative detachment, but is on the mend with an older and wiser Robert slowly coming to grips with his own troubled past.

CRUMB is a masterpiece of a character study, involving one of pop culture’s most prolific artists. While a lot of the content is of a questionable nature (see: sexual images, language, and unrelenting psychosis) I can’t help but recommend this above all other documentaries! It’s a film that doesn’t just show you the life of one man and his family; it invites you in.

Terry Zwigoff, thank you for this movie! Robert Crumb, thank you for being…well, you.

Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

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