"Crumb" Documentary on Robert Crumb the cartoonist

Essay by sophie999University, Bachelor's February 2004

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CRUMB is a documentary about the famous underground cartoonist named Robert Crumb. He is the one who did the Keep On Truck'n illustration, the X-rated Fritz the Cat cartoon character, and the Mr. Natural cartoon series among others.

CRUMB tells Robert's story as well as that of his highly dysfunctional family. He and his two brothers, Charles and Max, cling to the edge of the sane world. Robert has his success as a cartoonist to vent his pent up anger and rage. His brothers are fellow cartoonists, but without Robert's success, so they are unable to cope with society. You may have heard about CRUMB from Gene Siskel who pronounced in late winter "I do not expect to see a better movie this year than CRUMB". When a major critic commits himself to his top pick that early in the year, you know the movie has to be something special.

Director and producer Terry Zwigoff uses a very traditional documentary style narrative. He follows Robert around and lets him talk about his childhood, his cartoons, and his sexual proclivities. Zwigoff introduces most of the other characters (brothers, wives, and girlfriends) by having them talk to Robert. Only other cartoonists, gallery owners, and critics talk directly to the camera without Robert there. This straightforward documentary technique works quite well although it means the credit for the show belongs much more to Robert, I think, than Zwigoff whose main contribution was simply letting the cameras roll and getting Robert to agree to talk. Robert is a recluse who constantly turns down large sums of money and who refuses to sign autographs so getting him to agree to be filmed was no mean feat.

The three brothers, as well as the two sisters who declined to be interviewed, suffered a repressive...