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Confessions of Robert Crumb, The

Home Vision Entertainment // Unrated // February 19, 2002
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted February 25, 2002 | E-mail the Author

For those that don't know, Robert Crumb is a famous/infamous underground comic artist, whose surreal and risqué visions lead to a huge popularity in the late sixties counterculture. It was a popularity he would actually push away by revealing even darker personal content into his comics including his obsessions with women and disgust with both the counterculture and modern America. Subsequently, he would have an artistic breakdown, have a bad time dealing with Hollywood, and eventually, settle down into family life, while becoming a cemented cult figure and American artist. You could call him an acidic version of Norman Rockwell.

At first, when reviewing BBC documentary The Confessions of Robert Crumb, I thought I wouldn't even mention Terry Zwigoff's great 1994 documentary Crumb, but early on in my viewing I found it would be impossible. Aside from the two basically have the same subject and grainy 16mm look, they both take different approaches to Robert Crumbs life- The Confessions of Robert Crumb in a scaled down tv doc (but British tv so its a little riskier/in depth), and Crumb in a longer form, focusing on his family background. They both share some information, of course, including stuff like R Crumb basically recounting the same name dropping anecdote of how Janis Joplin told him to grow some long hair, get some beads, and a good shirt so he could tale advantage of the free love movement better. So, they are actually great companion pieces to each other, one being a good long form doc and the other being a Cliff Notes version of the man.

What is most interesting is that, in Zwigoff's film Crumb was a somewhat unwilling participant in the documentary process, but for the BBC, just a few years earlier, Crumb is actually a player, constructing scenes in addition to the doc interviews reflecting about his life. Considering his cautious, guarded nature with Zwigoff, it is amazing to look at Crumb as a willing participant, gamely acting in scenes, including Crumb in a doctors lab coat with a model of his ideal woman, pointing out the features he likes, staring at his wife's aerobics class like a Peeping Tom, Crumb trying to be a modern painter with an easel and beret on the side of a highway, and in the bathtub with his wife while she shaves her legs.

So, as long as Crumb is in control, he doesn't mind the camera on him. This does present a problem, because Zwigoff had to dig and pull Crumb kicking and screaming to get the man to reveal, whereas in The Confessions of Robert Crumb, Crumb is in control, so he's only going of let you know what he wants. Ultimately, this makes Zwigoff's film more revelatory because the subject isn't puppeteering the film. Still, Confessions gives great glimpses at his life, touching on things Zwigoff's doc didn't, like Crumb's 1973 breakdown and the brief time when the reclusive Crumb actually went to comic conventions in the mid-late 80's. So, for Crumb fans, its probably a must to own this doc, but it doesn't quite have the same universal dysfunctional appeal that Zwigoff's doc had.

The DVD : Home Vision Entertainment. A basic barebones presentation, with sound and picture in as good a condition as they can get, but sadly, a little pricey for a bare, hour long documentary. If it were cheaper I'd suggest everyone go buy it, but very casual Crumb fans may want to save their hard earned cash. Or maybe I'm just cheap.

Picture- Shot for television in 1987, so it is your usual Full Screen 1.33:1. It has what I call "good grain", and the colors and contrast are strong. There were no noticeable artifacts or glaring flaws in the transfer.

Sound- Dolby Digital 2.0, once again, for tv so nothing hugely dynamic, but more than adequate for this kind of doc, clear, crisp, and audible.

Extras- 8 Chapters, and a fold out poster insert of the cover of the DVD.

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