Say what you want about Robert Crumb, and his controversial cartoon funnies, but at least he’s found a healthy way of expressing not-so-healthy ideas – more than what can be said for his brothers, Maxon and Charles. Sony’s classic documentary Crumb (directed by Terry Zwigoff) demonstrates this in a beautifully ugly piece of filmmaking, now available in a new special edition to celebrate (albeit, a bit late) the film’s tenth anniversary. Maxon is the “molester” of the Crumb kids, and I say that hoping it’s an e…aggeration, but knowing somehow, deep-down, he’s probably been on his share of sex offender lists. Charles, if not for his appearance in this documentary (and role in Robert’s life), might as well not exist. He sits at home and bathes sporadically (but never often enough – you can almost smell the guy as he sits there with a pompous grin and green teeth), and he never leaves the house to get a job, seek out a slice of personal happiness, or add any value to society. The brothers of Robert Crumb are, indeed, losers, and the only things preventing Robert from sharing their fate is his talent for drawing, and for using said talent to carve out a better niche in life. Still, he, too, is guilty of hypocrisy, not necessarily in his work, but in his personal thoughts and opinions. He bemoans the commercial aspects of our society. He makes rushes to judgment about large groups of people, based solely on the kind of clothes they wear, yet his own views do little else besides espousing hostility towards women and presenting other races in unflattering lights (even if that isn’t his intended purpose). He can lay claim to all the liberal social ideas he wants, but if an African-American read his strip “Angelfood,” and had immediate access to Crumb’s throat, he or she would be ringing it emphatically (and would be just in so doing).
I am unsure of Zwigoff’s intentions in his presentation of Crumb – is this guy supposed to be a visionary artistic hero, or a mealy-mouthed little pervert with better ways of expressing it than Max? What I managed to draw from Crumb is that the case can be made for both. Make no mistake – I did not like this man. I’m more inclined to believe the pervert aspect of him than the hero. Still, I find his artistic style pleasing to the eye, and I enjoyed this examination of his work very much. He may not be a model citizen, and his move to France, which takes center stage in the final act, can only mean good things for our country, but he’s an interesting chap, and he makes for interesting viewing during the solid two-hour running time. I also found the extensive discussions among the three brothers very fitting to the film’s overall purpose – to dissect a legendary artist and his work. See, the brothers play such a huge part in shaping what this central figure becomes that, without them, there is no film – and subsequently, no Robert Crumb. Overall, this is a great piece of documentary filmmaking, which represents the difference between those that dream, and those that make their dreams come true. But the more obvious message – at least, to me – through the dichotomy of the Crumb siblings’ personalities, is how a degenerate doesn’t have to be a human slug, too. And that’s how Robert differs from his brothers.
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, Crumb is a no-frills picture, complete with light traces of grain, and a hazy aged look over otherwise strong, authentic colors. This means the contrast suffers, but there’s very little need for it, and despite the picture’s frailties, Crumb’s drawings – as well as the Treasure Island homemade comics of his brother Charles – look fantastic, and really do bring out the talents of both men. I don’t think the presentation can be criticized too much, as this is obviously budget filmmaking, and fitting to the man himself. It looks like a seventies documentary, and that’s really the decade in which Crumb belongs.
The 2.0 track strikes a nice balance between dialogue and the often whimsical background musical selection. Even though the picture brings to mind seventies’ filmmaking, the audio does just fine with no faults to speak of – only a lack of unnecessary dynamics, which, as such, is perfectly suited to the needs of the film. And speaking of music, selections often accompany pieces from Crumb’s archives, and complement his works in such a way to create entirely new pieces of art through the filmmaking process.
The only true special feature provided is a good one – a brand new audio commentary featuring Roger Ebert and Terry Zwigoff. Ebert doesn’t sound like himself here – perhaps suffering from a cold? In spite of that, his knowledge and love for the film bring out the best in Zwigoff. The only thing missing is Robert Crumb, but Zwigoff at least gives us updates on the artist to quell our desire – overall, a special enough commentary to trump the first release of this film to DVD.
I’m glad there is a Robert Crumb, if for nothing more than we get a sturdy piece of filmmaking in his honor. While I’m not a fan of his thoughts and opinions, his work is eye-catching, and frequently humorous, though somewhat offensive. The A/V may not be a stunning improvement over the first release of Crumb, but it’s solidly suited to the film itself, and the audio commentary is worth checking out for any fan of the artist, or Zwigoff’s dissection of him.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary by Film Critic Roger Ebert and Director Terry Zwigoff
- Sneak Peek at Zwigoff’s upcoming “Art School Confidential”