Crumb (1995) is an unusually candid and intimate portrait of an underground adult comic book artist from the 60s, who loves to draw strong shapely women in perverse satirical situations.
Robert Crumb is much less known than his popular surreal comic artwork and was reluctantly exposed as a major talent to mainstream audiences following the success of this now classic and shocking landmark documentary that goes deep into Crumb’s personal life and explores the dark psychological side of the creative process.
The experience of watching this playful but scathing documentary about the unhappy life of three traumatized siblings who develop their creative ability in order to deal with the dysfunctional relationship between them and their parents is both disturbing and heartbreaking. Many artists who struggled with abuse, pain or sadness, either in their childhoods or during adult life, manage to somehow deal with their misery and desires by channeling it through their creative impulse.
Not without darkly comic moments, this film is also very insightful as director Terry Zwigoff, also known for directing Ghost World (2001) and Bad Santa (2003), takes us into the sad private life of a deeply introverted, insecure and sensitive individual who may not have survived his childhood if not for his talent for drawing and bringing his demons out onto the page. This personal look into the life of a reclusive eccentric artist would never have been possible if not for the friendship that exits between director Terry Zwigoff and his subject.
What strikes you about Crumb is his frank honesty and loner detachment from people and society. Having been teased and tormented by his peers during childhood, he has withdrawn completely into an alternative world that he created and where he can be totally honest with himself and deal with his fears and fantasies.
Women, the source of much of his anxiety, make up a huge part of his art and psychic make-up. It’s by far his favorite subject and the film focuses much of the time on his shapely female fetish. Throughout the film there are playful and uncomfortable interviews with the many women in his past and present life, both those that hate him and love him, including his present wife who is also an artist.
At the start of the film we find out who Crumb is and that he is fed up with corporate America and resigned to the fact that he must leave the country to live a more genuine life in the south of France, where artists are appreciated and treated with respect and people still value a simple life free of consumerism. Drawing much of his inspiration from Bluegrass music, which makes up much of the film’s soundtrack, he is often seen listening to his extensive collection of old vinyl records in a small corner of his house and lamenting the disappearance of a bygone era in American history.
Crumb’s unique and provocative artwork can be very controversial and polarizing; both repulsive and attractive, people will either love him or hate him but this documentary treats him with respect and sympathy by including commentary by a variety of art critics, making it a must see for any artist or lover of comic book art.