By Noah Lopez
Arizona Daily Wildcat
For his excellent documentary Crumb, Terry Zwigoff spent over six years filming famed cartoonist Robert Crumb. The end result is a bizarre portrait Ÿ of not only the artist, but of the surroundings that helped shape the artist and his vision Ÿ that leaves the viewer spellbound and eager for even more of those six years to be spilled upon the screen.
The film primarily chronicles the period of time leading up to Crumb's emigration to France a couple of years ago. Zwigoff, a friend of Crumb's for the past 25 years, portrays Crumb as a wise cynic, a hugely talented artist whose personal life borders on the verge of misanthropy. The camera takes a backseat as Crumb walks through the streets of San Francisco, mumbling and commenting on the ills of modern day American society Ÿ everybody's a walking advertisement, "they've all got 49er's hats on or whatever" Ÿ or the superficialities of the various groups that have spurned him (from the women of his youth to his father) as well as those that have embraced him (largely the '60s psychedelic underground, and those that have gained their knowledge of his art through his most popular works such as "Fritz the Cat" or the "Keep on Truckin'" craze of the '70s).
Crumb's social commentaries are fascinating, and only strengthen the strong sense of social criticism that is rampant in his work. To bolster Crumb's historical importance, Zwigoff includes brief commentary on the artist by both his critics and fans. "Time" magazine art critic calls Crumb the "Bruegel of the 20th century," heralding Crumb as both a multi-talented folk artist and as a shrewd cartoonist/philosopher, while Dian Hanson of the adult magazine "Leg Show" and the former editor of "Mother Jones" Deirdre English take opposite stances on Crumb's often controversial portrayals of women. Rather than take sides on the issue, Zwigoff lets Crumb's art speak for itself.
There are no real lines drawn in "Crumb," and the documentary doesn't seek to offer any answers to charges of Crumb's misogynism or racism. Instead, Zwigoff portrays Crumb as a man born into a strangely dysfunctional family, whose initial contacts with society and women (and, one would think, his mother) have pushed him into a corner, lashing out with the only weapon he has to protect himself ... his wit.
The true magic of this peculiar documentary, however, is Crumb's family, in particular his reclusive brother Charles. Charles comes across as a truly tragic figure, a highly intelligent charismatic individual who life has left behind. Charles has lived with his mother all his life, spurning the outside world and his former interests Ÿ drawing and reading. The reverence Robert exudes towards his brother is enthralling, and their conversations together, laden with sarcasm and bittersweet memories, nearly take over the film at times.
"Crumb" is the type of film that begs for a sequel Ÿ one can sit mystified by Crumb's presence and conversation for hours Ÿ and should not leave town unnoticed.
"Crumb" opens Friday at the Loft Cinemas, 795-7777.
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