Loading...

Crumb 

Wednesday, Sep 27 2006
Comments

If you know director Terry Zwigoff only from his narrative films — Ghost World, Bad Santa, Art School Confidential — you’ve undoubtedly noticed his penchant for idolizing misanthropes. But where his features have often paraded a snotty outsider attitude — bad behavior for the sake of rude laughs — the film that put him on the map didn’t just flaunt that attitude but also analyzed it, exploring its root causes while dissecting its limitations. That film (the highlight of this weekend’s retrospective of the director’s work) is the magnificent Crumb, Zwigoff’s 1994 documentary about his close friend, underground-comics artist Robert Crumb. With a structure that pointed the way for every “talented genius/questionable human being” documentary of the past 12 years, Crumb establishes its subject’s creative legacy early on so that Zwigoff can devote most of the movie’s running time to unmasking the extenuating circumstances that provoked a ’50s Catholic kid from Philadelphia to come up with such groundbreaking, occasionally offensive cartoon creations as Mr. Natural. And while the answer to that riddle is, predictably, a poisonous family environment, Crumb’s kin (sexually stilted brothers Charles and Max, whacked-out mother Beatrice) are grippingly bizarre, no less so because Zwigoff’s cameras treat these sad souls humanely, never cuing the audience to laugh or gawk at their peculiarities.

But Zwigoff wants more than a lurid back story or a simplistically uplifting fable about how a geek overcame his nightmarish upbringing — to be sure, his film forces us to confront Crumb’s misogynistic leanings and sometimes-antagonistic drawings, tying these personal shortcomings into the man’s unhappy past without ever condoning or romanticizing them. What slowly emerges from Crumb, then, is an affectionate, albeit brutally candid, look at a successful misanthrope whose outcast ethic briefly brought him into the mainstream but ultimately couldn’t soften his unresolved childhood hostilities. Zwigoff’s later films have contained their fair share of misfits, but if these characters often come across as merely obnoxious, it’s because they’ve been denied the empathy (and therefore the compassion and the complexity) that the director so lovingly showed to Crumb. American Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre; Sun., Oct. 1; www.americancinematheque.com.

—Tim Grierson

Related Stories

  • Mindshare Creates L.A.'s First Junto, a Dinner Where Strangers Trade Ideas

    It’s Thursday night at a downtown Arts District loft. Heavy yellow-gold curtains block the remaining sunlight and red and blue lanterns suspended from the ceiling light the space. Kate Tonge, who has just started serving lunches out of her nearby apartment, is cooking in the kitchen. Karen Silva, who just...
  • Steven Pressman

    @ Vroman's
  • Online Reviewing

    A new study out of Stanford university has some interesting things to say about the psychological make-up of online reviewers. After analyzing the language in 900,000 Yelp reviews, some distinct patterns emerged. The basics are this: We think fancy restaurants are sexy, we think delicious cheap food is like drugs,...
  • Henry Rollins: Find Your Summer

    For the last several days, I have been in and out of Philadelphia, working on the show that never ends, 10 Things You Don’t Know About. We started about 80 days ago and are over 40 shooting days in, with a  ong way to go. I get off easy compared with...
  • Taxpayer Party 7

    The Jay Z-curated Made In America festival in Grand Park and on downtown city streets Aug. 30 and 31 would pay local taxpayers a relatively small amount for police, street closures and other public services. See also: Jay Z's Downtown L.A. Fest Could Gouge Taxpayers A motion introduced by City Council...
Reach the writer at grierson@hotmail.com

Related Content

Now Showing

  1. Wed 20
  2. Thu 21
  3. Fri 22
  4. Sat 23
  5. Sun 24
  6. Mon 25
  7. Tue 26

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office Report

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!

Slideshows

  • 20 Neo-Noir Films You Have to See
    The Voice's J. Hoberman was more mixed than most on Sin City when he reviewed it in 2005, but his description of the film as "hyper-noir" helps explain why this week's release of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For has us thinking back on the neo-noir genre. Broadly speaking, neo-noir encompasses those films made outside of film noir's classic period -- the 1940s and '50s -- that nevertheless engage with the standard trappings of the genre. As with most generic labels, there isn't some universal yardstick that measures what constitutes a neo-noir film: Where the genre might begin in the '60s with films like Le Samourai and Point Blank for one person, another might argue that the genre didn't find its roots until 1974's Chinatown. Our list falls closer to the latter stance, mainly featuring works from the '80s, '90s, and 2000s. Though a number of the films mentioned here will no doubt be familiar to readers, it's our hope that we've also highlighted several titles that have been under-represented on lists of this nature. --Danny King

    See also:
    35 Music Documentaries Worth Seeing

    15 Documentaries That Help You Understand the World Right Now
  • Emmy-Nominated Costumes on Display
    On Saturday, the Television Academy and FIDM Museum and Galleries kicked off the Eighth Annual exhibition of "The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design" with an exclusive preview and reception party. 100 costumes are featured from over 20 shows representing the nominees of the 66th Emmy Awards. The free to the public exhibition is located downtown at FIDM and runs from today through Saturday, September 20th. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Cowabunga! 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    The COWABUNGA! - 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tribute show opened Friday night at Iam8bit. Guests donned their beloved turtle graphic tees, onesies and a couple April O'Neils were there to report on all the mean, green, fighting machine action. Artist included Jude Buffum, Tony Mora, Nan Lawson, leesasaur, Jim Rucc, Mitch Ansara, Guin Thompson, Stratman, Gabe Swarr, Joseph Harmon, Alex Solis, Allison Hoffman, Jose Emroca Flores, Jack Teagle and more. All photos by Shannon Cottrell.

Now Trending