Once again Criterion brings an important film to market. This time they've brought Terry Zwigoff's important documentary Crumb to Blu-ray with an excellent transfer and a wonderful set of bonus features. The movie profiles seminal underground comic creator Robert Crumb but more than a chronology of what the artist has accomplished, the film examines the man's tortured childhood and shows how the act of drawing has kept the influential artist sane.
Robert Crumb was propelled to fame in the mid-60's with his groundbreaking comic Zap as well as a few high profile pieces such as the cover for Cheap Thrills by Big Brother and the Holding Company (for which he received $600 and never had his original artwork returned) and the at one time ubiquitous "Keep on Truckin'". An animated movie was made of his character Fritz the Cat, which only added to his fame even though Crumb hated the film so much that he killed the character in a subsequent comic. With fame come money and respect though Crumb never really wanted any of that.
Told through extensive interviews with Crumb, his two brothers and his mother, a bleak picture of Crumb's early life unfolds. Growing up in an incredibly dysfunctional family, Robert learned to escape at an early age into drawing. His father, described by brother Charles Crumb Jr. as a tyrannical bastard, was controlling and domineering. At one point Charles Sr. decided that Robert should make money with his art, so he ordered the young teen to wander neighborhoods drawing houses and then ringing the doorbell and trying to sell the sketch. Glowering in all the family photos, it's clear that the family patriarch had issues himself. Robert's mother escaped into amphetamines, his older brother Charles became a recluse on anti-depressants (he committed suicide before the movie was released) and his other brother Maxon, is a monk who panhandles for money to live on. (His two sisters refused to be interviewed for the movie.)
Crumb has always marched to the beat of a different drummer, and that's still true today. He routinely turns down incredible amounts of money for the film rights of his characters and feels only distain for most of modern American society. The man comes across as an intelligent, but complex, character that still has a hard time relating to most people.
There's a lot to like about this film. It's not a fawning movie that only seeks to elevate its subject. Director Terry Zwigoff interviews art critics, magazine editors, and other underground comic artists who give frank, and often contradictory, opinions on Crumb's art. The film doesn't shy away from the misogynist and (some would claim) racist aspect of his work. It's on full view, as well as the strong sexual content that permeates a lot of his art. The thing that comes through strongest is that Crumb is no mere funny book illustrator. He's a talented artist.
The most engrossing aspect of the movie is just watching Robert draw. He'll sit in a street café with his sketchbook and draw the people he sees sitting around him. His drawings are detailed and really capture something about each person he sketches. He's fast too, creating a rudimentary image with only a few quickly scrawled lines. And that's the key to this film. It merges the artist's personality with his work and creates an amazing look at a unique individual.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The full frame 1080p AVC encoded disc looks just marvelous. Criterion has done their usual excellent job in bringing this impressive documentary to HD. The image is very strong with solid lines and realistic colors especially the flesh tones. The level of detail was fine, though not outstanding, and there were no digital defects to complain about. The film still exhibits some grain, but it's a natural amount and Criterion made the right decision not to remove it. All in all a very nice looking movie.
The disc includes the original mono audio track, and it sounds just fine. Digitally remastered, the folks at Criterion manually removed all of the pops and cracks and the result is a very fine sounding film. There isn't any distortion or background noise and the dialog is clean and crisp.
When Criterion sets out to add extras to a disc, they go all out and this Blu-ray is no exception. There isn't one but two commentary tracks included with this release. The first one (recorded this year) has director Terry Zwigoff alone discussing his creation, his relationship with Crumb and some of the trails that he had to overcome to get the project finished. In the second commentary, recorded in 2006, Zwigoff is joined by critic Roger Ebert and this track deals more with the film itself. I've always enjoyed Ebert's commentary tracks (his one to
There are also several deleted scenes, running a little less than an hour all together, that are well worth watching. I especially enjoyed seeing some of the magazines that Robert collects. They are pretty interesting. The disc-based extras are wrapped up with a still gallery.
Included with the disc are two great inserts. The first is a 28-page booklet that has an essay by Jonathon Rosenbaum as well as pictures of the Crumb family and several pages of the artist's work. Separate from that is the art test that the late Charles Crumb filled out for the
This is a wonderful documentary that really manages to say something about its subject. Robert Crumb is an interesting individual and an immensely talented artist. Even if you've never heard of the man, this movie will entrance you. Highly Recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.