My Rating: 3 stars
Now, here’s a bizarre one. But, I guess anyone who knows anything about comic book artist R. Crumb would already know that. But in case you didn’t already know anything about him, it’s all there in the tagline for this film, “An intimate portrait of the controversial cartoonist and his traumatized family.” How’s that for a teaser? It definitely made me a little curious. I mean, I already knew what kind of comics Crumb is famous for drawing—a lot of real pervy stuff. But, I was very interested in hearing what his family members had to say about it.
This is a documentary following the creative, romantic, and familial aspects of Robert Crumb’s life. And, there are several reasons for why his family is so traumatized. First of all, he’s pretty weird. This is a guy with almost no social skills at all. He barely knows how to interact with other people appropriately. So, given that he doesn’t really see women as human beings—more like terrifying, exotic, creatures to be feared and worshiped—there’s no way he’s going to have a normal interaction with them. Second, his family is really weird too. Both of his brothers seem to be severely mentally impaired, and emotionally unstable. But, his parents are so detached (and disappointed?) that they never bothered to seek any kind of help for their sons. It’s like they thought the problem would just go away if they ignored it long enough. And finally, there’s all the grotesque, explicit, sexual content of Crumb’s comics. No family member wants to get an intimate glimpse into the erotic predilections of their brother/son/husband. I know that his artwork isn’t supposed to be an actual reflection of his actual beliefs. Sometimes artists just need to purge disturbing images from their mind, and get them out on paper. But his art is still pretty unsettling (for a family member, at least). I’m not quite sure how this guy managed to lure in women for romantic liaisons with all that lurid artwork out there, but the guy is married. So, I guess there’s someone for everybody.
I don’t think that R. Crumb is an artist that everyone needs to know about. He’s not for grandmas, grandpas, little sisters, etc. And, he’s not for anyone with delicate sensibilities in general. This is an artist for people who aren’t too easily shocked, and for people who have a good understanding of who they are. (You’d be surprised how few people like that there are out in the world). So, I’m not going to recommend this documentary very widely. Of course, R. Crumb is a very influential comic artist in certain circles. And, I know I always benefit from broadening my own horizons. So, I guess I’m saying that you should use your own discretion on this one.