For Reel

Crumb (1994)
April 20, 2012, 1:30 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Terry Zwigoff

“How perfectly goddamn delightful it all is, to be sure”, quotes Robert Crumb, reflecting on a favorite quote of his disturbed brother, Charles. The sarcasm that veils the pain in that simple line is beautifully emblematic of Crumb itself, Terry Zwigoff’s harrowing documentary about the underground comic artist behind Fritz the Cat. At one point in the picture, Charles admits to his brother that he often had to fight the urge to bash his skull in while they were growing up. They both share a laugh. As much as Crumb is a great documentary about art criticism – and, indeed, it takes a step back at several moments to allow a critical discourse to occur between scholars of Robert’s work – it is, more significantly, a film about family, and neuroses, and terrible repression. Ofttimes one has to wonder whether they’re getting too close to the characters – Charles and Maxon seem particularly unbalanced, and the film almost provokes the audience to fancy themselves as amateur psychiatrists as they observe the two – but such is the dilemma within all great personal documentaries. Moreover, as much as the film dwells in their despair, it is also important to note the beautiful humanity that is captured in other scenes, such as Robert helping his son develop his artistic talents. The empathy with which Zwigoff treats his characters is noble, and as such Crumb never feels condescending, but instead remains an incomparably tragic portrait of an unusually gifted family.