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Robert Crumb in CRUMB (Photo: Criterion Collection}

CRUMB (1995)
Directed by
Terry Zwigoff
Produced by
Lynn O'Donnell & Zwigoff
USA. 120 min. Not Rated
Special Features:
Newly restored high-definition digital transfer. Audio commentary with Zwigoff (2010). Commentary with Zwigoff & critic Roger Ebert (2006). Outtakes & deleted scenes. Stills gallery. A booklet with an essay by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum

LOUIE BLUIE (1985)
Produced & Directed by Terry Zwigoff
USA.60 min. Not Rated
Special Features: Newly restored high-definition digital transfer. Audio commentary featuring Zwigoff. Outtakes & deleted scenes. Illustrations by Howard Armstrong. Stills gallery. A booklet with an essay by film critic Michael Sragow
Both released by Criterion Collection

 

Terry Zwigoff is a filmmaker very much in tune with his subjects on a sort of visceral level of extremes. The comic book adaptation Ghost World is cynical (or skeptical), but it has a heart, and Bad Santa is as dark as a Christmas comedy can get. In Crumb, he achieves one of the most candid documentaries from the Ď90ís, which he centered on his friend, illustrator Robert Crumb. The film may mean more to those familiar with Crumb when he was in his prime as an artist. Heís still a legend in the underground comic book/art scene, but he hasnít quite broken into the mainstream. I, for one, was often mesmerized by his work.

Crumbís illustrations are morbid, satirical, drug-inspired, occasionally racist (for satiric purposes), ultra-sexual (the adaptation of his Fritz the Cat comic was the first X-rated animated feature), and funny. You may scratch your head in confusion, or maybe have to put his work down in disgust, but if you have the stomach for it, itís rewarding. If nothing else, his use of ink and of colors is often miraculous.

Then there are the filmís interviews. Without any shame or shyness about his work, Crumb is always in a fairly good mood and very personable around those he loves and admires, including the women who have inspired, terrified, and amazed him over the years. And when it comes to his family, they too are almost as candid. Itís a little depressing, to be sure, to see the state of his brothers (Charles, in particular), and to hear the tales of his abusive father, but some of this explains something about the Crumb mentality. But Bob Crumb lets it all hang out in his comics. For someone whose work is so personal, itís hard to see any kind of demographic appealóitís not for the typical DC/Marvel comic-book crowd. Itís appropriate, therefore, that filmmaker David Lynch presented the film when it was first released; the similarities are striking how they both reflect their own desires and revulsions within the idealized Americana of the Ď50ís. Crumbís an unsettling film, but for all the right reasons.

Both the Crumb and Louie Bluie DVDs feature audio commentary tracks from Zwigoff. At the start of Louie Bluie, he mentions that he usually doesnít like to do commentaries, but admits that since itís for the Criterion Collection, he made an exception. He then goes into how he found his subject, fiddler Howard Armstrong, who was just an obscure musician to him (despite both being from Chicago). Zwigoff originally tracked down Armstrong for an article, but with some help from friends, his brother, and a National Endowment grant, Zwigoff made his movie over the course of a few years. Most fascinating is hearing how Zwigoff actually staged scenes that look so completely natural, like those set where Armstrong lived (Zwigoff had no permission to shoot in the actual apartment).

Even more involving, and kind of a double treat, is on the Crumb DVD. Along with a new commentary track, there is the banter from 2006 between Zwigoff and Roger Ebert (immediately prior to his cancer surgery, which removed his voice). Itís hard to say if there is a better track. What I ended up doing was alternating between one and the other, or doubling back to listen to the other track for a few scenes in case I missed something. I might prefer the Ebert/Zwigoff exchange overall, if only because itís more constructed like a conversation than a typical audio commentary. Zwigoff solo is more lackadaisical, and, ultimately, certain parts become redundant when hearing both back to back. But overall you get a full experience of the filmís history; how Zwigoff met Crumb (originally Zwigoff wanted Crumb to create a comic-book based on a documentary film his friends had made); why Crumbís sisters didnít participate; and how little David Lynch actually had to do with the film and how much Academy Award-winning editor Walter Murch did. Itís informative, fun, and one gets the full sense of the artistry of the subject and the director. The DVD also features several deleted scenes, though nothing too big is left out of the film (though the section on Crumbís first marriage is illuminating). Jack Gattanella
August 14, 2010

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