CRUMB is a documentary about the famous underground cartoonist
named Robert Crumb. He is the one who did the Keep On Truck'n
illustration, the X-rated Fritz the Cat cartoon character, and the Mr.
Natural cartoon series among others.
CRUMB tells Robert's story as well as that of his highly
dysfunctional family. He and his two brothers, Charles and Max, cling
to the edge of the sane world. Robert has his success as a cartoonist
to vent his pent up anger and rage. His brothers are fellow
cartoonists, but without Robert's success, so they are unable to cope
with society. You may have heard about CRUMB from Gene Siskel who
pronounced in late winter that "I do not expect to see a better movie
this year than CRUMB". When a major critic commits himself to his top
pick that early in the year, you know the movie has to be something
Director and producer Terry Zwigoff uses a very traditional
documentary style narrative. He follows Robert around and lets him
talk about his childhood, his cartoons, and his sexual proclivities.
Zwigoff introduces most of the other characters (brothers, wives, and
girlfriends) by having them talk to Robert. Only other cartoonists,
gallery owners, and critics talk directly to the camera without Robert
there. This straightforward documentary technique works quite well
although it means the credit for the show belongs much more to Robert,
I think, than Zwigoff whose main contribution was simply letting the
cameras roll and getting Robert to agree to talk. Robert is a recluse
who constantly turns down large sums of money and who refuses to sign
autographs so getting him to agree to be filmed was no mean feat.
The three brothers, as well as the two sisters who declined to be
interviewed, suffered a repressive childhood. Their mother disciplined
them by forcing enemas on them if they were bad. All the boys were all
obsessed with sex from a very early age. Robert talks about being
attracted to boots from the age of five. His girlfriend relates that
his interest in sex focuses on shoes, boots, and piggyback rides. His
underground cartoons were famous in the 60s and were full of images
deemed by some of his fellow cartoonists, especially some of the female
ones, to be pornographic and racist. He lived in Haight Ashbury, but
never fit in that scene. Robert was always in another world. As a
grad student in Berkeley in the late 60s, I remember seeing and not
caring for his bizarre images. Too grotesque for me.
Charles was a talented cartoonist but was so ostracized in high
school that he did decided to spent the rest of his life at home with
his mother. He never goes out of the house. He is a self-conscious
individual who takes pride in only taking baths every six weeks. He
suffers deep depression and has homicidal tendencies.
Even stranger is Max. He gave up on his excellent cartoonist
skills and became a painter in the style of a Picasso but with highly
repulsive images. He always sits yoga style and sometimes on a bed of
real nails. He is a convicted molester, but prides himself in not
being a rapist. Among his more eccentric habits is that of swallowing
a six foot long thin, wet cloth so that passing through his intestines
it cleanses his body. Right. You even get to find out how long this
process takes. You will have to see the movie to find out the answer.
The points above have barely scratch the surface in the intimate
details that this documentary reveals about the whole Crumb family. If
there is a theme to the show, it must be salvation through cartooning.
CRUMB runs 1:59 which was somewhat too long for my taste. I got
tired of hearing about Robert's sexual habits after a while, and I saw
more distasteful cartoons that I wanted. Nevertheless, for taking me
into a world, repugnant and sad as it was at times, that I have never
traveled before and for showing me some tragic characters, I recommend
this enlightening movie to you. It is incorrectly rated R. We are
shown one X rated cartoon after another so I can not see how in good
conscious they gave it anything less than a NC-17. It is not for
teenagers. It is *** movie in my book.
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes