James Reviews Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb [Criterion Collection DVD Review]

The battle to get a film from the United States Postal Service shouldn’t be a battle at all. It should be simple and easy; a package, being sent from one individual to another individual. So when the Criterion edition of Crumb came in the mail, it looked as if a 300 pound muscle bound wrestler decided to sit on the package, totally destroying the case and ripping the wonderful Robert Crumb artwork that accompanies the cover now. It’s a shame but one that which makes one appreciate the fact that the disc was somehow unscathed. Is it because Criterion discs are more powerful? Could be.

Crumb tells the story of Robert Crumb, famed cartoonist, whose most popular character, Fritz the Cat, was made into a movie by Ralph Bakshi (a favorite here at Criterion Cast), was so loathed by Crumb himself that he killed off Fritz in an issue of the comic with an icepick. Talk about some strong feelings. And in Terry Zwigoff’s documentary, there’s plenty of strong feelings throughout the film itself.

The concept of this documentary is a simple one. It’s to show Crumb working, while interviewing friends and critics to show what relevance his art has, showcasing his family to give him a proper background and ultimately has him moving from America to his new home in France with his wife and daughter. The film follows his life so closely, we sometimes forget that this is a documentary and not some perfectly constructed fictional account of Crumb himself.

It traces Crumb‘s life from his childhood, when he was obsessed and sexually attraction to Bugs Bunny and obsession with female legs. His brother Charles was the one who got him into comic books and they drew extensively throughout their childhoods. While Robert went on to become a comic artist, Charles just kept deteriorating and believing that comics were the be all and end all of life. Crumb also believed this was the way to get girls to see his sensitive side but instead realized that girls only wanted tough guys who would always bully self confessed nerds like him. But luckily this was the channel he needed to let out any internal frustrations he was growing up with.

Criterion releases two Terry Zwigoff films into their collection and they are definitely most deserving of the treatment (The other is Louie Bluie). It comes with the usual amazing supplements we’ve come to know and love from Criterion. It’s newly restored, with supervision from Terry Zwigoff himself. This time there are two commentary tracks, one with Zwigoff and Roger Ebert from 2006 (which is from the older release) and a new 2010 version with Zwigoff himself. We also get 50 minutes of unused footage and a stills gallery. The coolest part though is the inserts, one with an essay by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and artwork by Charles, Jesse, Maxon and Robert Crumb. It’s definitely worth seeing to believe.

Crumb was and still is a cult favorite, an indie darling from the early to mid 90’s that has grown in popularity over the years as much as Crumb‘s own popularity as well. It was an intimate look to a man whose own artwork was sexually, racially and mentally out there. He broke down barriers and brought in a new generation of liberated comic artists who couldn’t get a job before. This film is a window into a family’s life, be it a very dysfunctional family, with some ups and many downs and that’s what makes for entertaining cinema.

It’s weird to know in retrospect that Crumb also hates this film, this document of his life. Zwigoff was involved in his day to day life for years, videotaping every facet. And it was the rough financial years too, who ultimately became like the phoenix and was again in popular culture. And since this movie was released in 1994 and has been seen by many, Crumb has a grander career almost like a grandfather in the arts. That creepy grandfather who will give you candy and let you watch the sex scenes in the films when your parents aren’t around.


Buy the Crumb DVD from Amazon

Buy the Crumb Blu-ray from Amazon

Crumb

Criterion Collection # 533

Terry Zwigoff’s landmark 1995 film is an intimate documentary portrait of the underground artist Robert Crumb, whose unique drawing style and sexually and racially provocative subject matter have made him a household name in popular American art. Zwigoff candidly and colorfully delves into the details of Crumb’s incredible career and life, including his family of reclusive eccentrics, some of the most remarkable people you’ll ever see on-screen. At once a profound biographical portrait, a riotous examination of a man’s controversial art, and a devastating look at a troubled family, Crumb is a genuine American original.

Disc Features

DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION

  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer, approved by director Terry Zwigoff, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Two audio commentaries, one featuring Zwigoff from 2010, and one with Zwigoff and critic Roger Ebert from 2006
  • More than fifty minutes of unused footage
  • Stills gallery
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and artwork by Charles, Jesse, Maxon, and Robert Crumb

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