You find yourself in the awkward position sometimes of trying to convince someone to do something you know they're going to find unpleasant. If you have yet to see Terry Zwigoff's heralded 1994 documentary about underground comics legend Robert Crumb, or R. Crumb, or simply Crumb, mark my words: you'll squirm. You might even recoil, but chances are you'll also be utterly fascinated from the first frame to the last. Filmed just prior to Crumb's expatriation from the U.S. to France (where he still lives), Zwigoff's film excels not only in its portrait of the man behind the art, but also in the redeeming power of art itself . . . though the journey and the result are not always pretty.
From his early days amidst the '60s counterculture as the marquee name for legendary Zap Comix, Crumb's "revelations of some seamy side of America's subconscious" has been acclaimed and reviled in equal measure, lauded as unflinching social commentary while impugned for shades of racism and misogyny. Crumb doesn't actively seek to deny the accusations, although he does assert the content of his art is less an expression than a reflection, an outlet for the anger and frustration pent up inside him. A fairly strong argument, for while he gives new meaning to the word eccentric, when compared to the rest of his family, he seems like the most normal fellow you're ever likely to meet. Bullied by other kids and tormented by a tyrannical father and addict mother, the Crumb boys all suffered the effects in adulthood; Zwigoff also spends time with brothers Maxon, a spacey amateur mystic squatting and panhandling in San Francisco, and Charles, a stunted genius who became an agoraphobic and never left the family home in Philadelphia.
All this, mind you, barely scratches the surface—there's a whole lot more, including bizarre revelations from Crumb's ex-lovers and a strong yet occasionally distant bond with his wife and children. But it's all worth discovering for yourself, particularly if you're not R. Crumb. (Upon completion of the film, Crumb apparently confided in Zwigoff that he hated it, which is unsurprising, given how deeply it seeks to reveal a man renowned for his tendency toward reclusion.) This week's special edition includes a previously unreleased—and, one would hope, insightful—commentary with Zwigoff and Roger Ebert.
Also recommended this week: Casualties of War: Extended Edition; The Chocolate War; Guys And Dolls: Deluxe Edition; The Heroin Busters; It's Always Fair Weather; Matic; A Midnight Clear: Special Edition; The Robert Altman Collection; The Wedding Singer: Totally Awesome Edition.