Crumb (1994)

I quite like this cover. It really sums up the film quite nicely.

Oh, look. TCM aired another Criterion film in the wee hours of the morning. I really am starting to suspect that there’s some unofficial agreement between these two. Either that, or they really, really like some of the seedier Criterion films, but are just unwilling to show them during the day. Or not. Who knows. At any rate, I don’t think Crumb would really be classified as seedy. Well, at least not too seedy for a documentary, anyway.

Crumb is a documentary about the life of underground artist Robert Crumb, known for his often sexually explicit and racially provocative subject matter. Some of you may be more familiar with the film based off his work, Fritz the Cat.


A movie adaptation, you quickly find out, that Crumb loathed and despised to the point where he killed off the character of Fritz in a later comic.

The movie is a bit different, in that it doesn’t start from the beginning of Crumb’s life, but instead skips around quite a bit from time period to time period, and sometimes topic to topic. It examines everything from his life from East coast to West coast, family to colleagues, and critics to Crumb, yet still manages to remain fluid and easy to follow.

The film is part bio-pic, part art dissection, and part family examination. You learn how Crumb grew up and what ultimately inspired him to become, well him.

Pictured: Him

Through imagery and interviews, with art contemporaries and ex-girlfriends alike, you’re treated to a dissection of his more controversial works, including his sexual predispositions.

Note: There are a lot of them

And finally, you meet his mother and his brothers, Charles and Maxon, and learn about their early life and the paths they took as adults. All of which is interspersed through the entire film, giving you a very personal and in-depth look at one man’s life.

Ah, siblings.

One of the interesting aspects of the film is how the movie contrasts the life of Robert with that of this two brothers. All grew up in the same environment (Abusive father, troubled school life) and all consider themselves to have been, and continue to be, generally wimpy, and all grew up equally damaged. Yet the film examines the different ways they each handled it.

Charles is the oldest and the one who forced his brothers to draw comic books at home. His solution is to hide, living with his mother and rarely leaving the house. Choosing instead to live in his world of pharmaceuticals and books.

Robert and Charles

Maxon fares little better. While he did manage to actually leave the house, Maxon lives in a beyond crappy apartment, doing sporadic works of art when he’s not begging for money on the street or getting into trouble for sexual assault.

So by the end of the film you discover that, despite being shown all of his worst sides, Robert as fared the best of the three, choosing to channel his demons into his art in an attempt to create something of value.

This is really the only “blog friendly” full comic featured in the film that I could find.

The director of the film, Terry Zwigoff, was an old friend of Crumbs and shot the film over a span of six years and spent three years editing it. Apparently, Zwigoff was in therapy for part of that time period, which may explain some of the films introspection and thoughtfulness.

Ultimately, Crumb is a full portrait of a man, one that does not gloss over any of the uncomfortable details, instead often examining them in-depth. You not only discover where Roberts art comes from, but how it’s helped him remain sane, despite his upbringing and his very dysfunctional family. It’s a fascinating little documentary that tells Crumb’s story as it should be told, through a combination of interviews, Crumb’s drawings, and Crumb himself. If you enjoy documentaries, Crumb’s work, or art in general, then this is definitely something you may want to look into.

Or not. Your call.

Crumb is currently available to stream via Amazon.

It is also available on DVD and Bluray as part of the Criterion Collection.


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