Plot: The art of Robert Crumb would earn him fame, financial gain, and access to the women he had long fantasized about, but he didn’t embrace his prominence in the same ways as many artists. In Crumb, we’re taken inside Crumb’s life as he prepares to leave the United States and move to France, where he hopes to find a more refined culture and a more comfortable existence. The movie visits his friends, ex girlfriends, family, and others who were close to with the eccentric artist, to help shed some light on his life and work. Crumb himself also provides extensive interview time, putting aside his social anxieties to offer insights about himself and his art. This is about as intimate and personal as documentaries can be, providing an unvarnished look at the life and career of this controversial persona.
Entertainment Value: You can feel the passion and admiration director Terry Zwigoff possesses toward Robert Crumb, but this documentary doesn’t put the subject on a pedestal and seems to offer a candid, raw look inside the man’s life. Crumb himself comes across as a rather pretentious, judgmental sort, still angry and resentful of how he was treated as a youth, as well as bitter that the world doesn’t line up with his personal social and creative preferences. But his bitterness and resentment help show that despite his immense successes, he is still a real person and largely a product of how he saw the world as a child. The movie even presents some viewpoints that speculate on Crumb’s fetishes and world view, how those were formulated and what they say about his view on the world. I didn’t find him to be likable, but he is an interesting person and never a dull subject here. You don’t need to be familiar with his work either, as the movie shows a wealth of his creations in great detail, as well as frequent insights into his process and motivations.
The movie’s examinations of his art and the motivations behind it are interesting, but I found the segments with his family to be most insightful element of Crumb. His brother Charles, who killed himself just before Crumb was released, is featured often, as his other brother Maxon and his mother, while his two sisters each declined to be part of the documentary. The conversations with his brothers are raw and revealing, showing an obvious psychological toll that all three brothers share to one extent or another. All three have artistic talents, but took very different paths in life, despite all being eccentric and mostly isolated. Crumb’s wife and several former girlfriends and colleagues also have some interesting stories and personal observations, but to me, the scenes with Crumb and his brothers are the soul of this movie. The movie itself has a raw, gritty feel and the editing is inconsistent, but the experience really makes you feel like you’re in Crumb’s world, which is the point. If you appreciate good documentaries or have an interest in art or the creative process, Crumb is well recommended.