‘Crumb’ (1994) by Terry Zwigoff

Director: Terry Zwigoff

Cinematography: Maryse Alberti

Editor: Viktor Livingston

Rating: 92

  • The documentary ‘Crumb’ documents Robert Crumb, the famous underground cartoonist, and the entire Crumb family, minus his two sisters. It’s a literal visual realization of personal experience and personality translated into wonderfully bizarre cartoons and abstract art
  • Outside of Crumb’s family, who are just as fascinating to get to know as Robert, the editing of this film stands out. The personal stories in the film are directly translated to the screen through editing, and we get a sense of why he created certain pieces of work and the mindset behind it. It all worked because the Crumb family, although introverted and isolated, are extremely honest about their lives and it allowed the film to give a direct reason as to why he made that specific piece of art.

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Authenticity

  • The best aspect of this film is simply the curiosity of the Crumb family. These three brothers are shown in the film clearly didn’t have a normal upbringing, and to see what angst and underdevelopment leftover, whether it be sexually or socially, and seeing a direct result of how they channeled that lack of love early on in their lives.

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  • For Robert, it was his art. As the film shows, his past life experience directly related to his comic strips. As in, making comics that made fun of his high school bullies, or how his problems with women would often lead to violence are featuring women. Even more interesting is how Robert subconsciously wrote his family members in and later realized that he was just projecting his wants and desires onto the page. The one example that stood out, was Robert coming to the realization during filming that this one strict, militarized character related to his overbearing father.
  • But, the most fascinating aspect of his art is how he got sent on this path. His older brother, Charles Crumb, and the treasure island company that was brought on by Charles obsession with comics, not Robert. In all honesty, Charles Crumb was even more interesting than Robert. Between the three Crumb brothers, Robert seemed to be the middle of the least radical of the three. For Charles, he grew up as a manic depressive, and clearly showed serious signs of mental disability, but it was his personality that made him so unique. I’ve never seen someone so willing to talk about their life, openly without hiding anything. It was so revealing as Charles would often talk about masturbation like it was nothing, or how he has no sexual desires of the flesh. And believe it or not, he was a very lovable figure. The end of his life, as shown in the film, was heartbreaking, but ultimately unsurprising based on Charles own testimony where he tried to kill himself four times.
  • But back to how Charles directly impacted Robert’s art, and the family company that helped get the Crumb name out there. Robert learned a sick, obsessive dedication to drawing and selling his work. Even the other brother, Maxon Crumb, who had no real interest in comics played a part in the company. The reality of their isolation from the rest of the world allowed the Crumb family to ignore the pressure of the outside world letting Robert focus all his attention on his art career.

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  • Watch for the honesty. The Crumb family in many ways lived tragic lives, growing up with a mother whose mind was warped from pills, dealing with traumatic experiences bled over into their adult lives. The Crumb siblings, despite Robert’s misogyny or violence in his work, are a very sympathetic family and this documentary is able to show this in its entirety.

Editing

  • Terry Zwigoff is compelled towards the isolated, bizarre personality traits. Robert Crump was a perfect subject for his narrative style. Controversial in his art, complex in his life, and overall intrigue in his character it was fascinating to learn about his life.
  • And as for the editing, it was long extended mini-montages of his incredible artwork, followed by personal testimonies that directly correspond with the comic. It was cross-cutting between full conversations and back to the music blasting mini-montages

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  • Zwigoff, in a few different places, spends an elongated amount of time showing off entire comic strips. Robert Crumb himself explains “Mr. Natural,” one of his more controversial pieces of art in detail.
  • The editing also allows to hear from outside perspectives, a la women, were affected by his work or how damaging it’s actually been. All of the outsider’s interview was blunt and completely honest, making for interesting back-and-forth between Robert Crumb, his detractors, his most devoted fans, and his family. It covered everything.

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Verdict

The Crumb family will be offputting to some, being a family of a recluse and depressed individuals, but it’s such a unique personality, human experience. Following Crumb’s rise to fame is not only inspiring to see but learning about his psyche the reason behind the art is the reason to watch this film.


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