Director: Terry Zwigoff

Institute History

  • 1995 Sundance Film Festival


Terry Zwigoff’s sensational film, Crumb, is such an intimate portrait of “R. Crumb” that its like looking in the cartoonist’s medicine cabinet. Best known for his “Keep on Truckin’” pop artwork, the Janis Joplin “Cheap Thrills” album cover, and the predatory Fritz the Cat cartoon, Robert Crumb, the fifty-one-year-old politically incorrect artist, is himself a fascinating portrait of American gothic.

Zwigoff, a longtime friend of Crumb’s, captures amazingly candid interviews with his family, especially his older brother, Charles, who introduced Robert to cartooning. One of the most interesting screen presences to come around in a while, Charles is full of bitter wit and antidepressants, living with his mother in Philadelphia and unable to leave the house. Cinematographer Maryse Alberti (H-2 Worker, Poison, Golden Boat) shoots these interior spaces a la Caravaggio. In San Francisco, their ascetic younger brother, Max, also a recluse, meditates on a bed of nails to suppress his unnatural desires. Crumb’s own success—admittedly his revenge against his strict Catholic upbringing and his even stricter Marine father—is bookended by these juxtapositions; Crumb refers just as much to the dysfunctional family as it does to the artist.

To place Crumb in an artistic context, Zwigoff interviews Bill Griffith,the creator of Zippy the Pinhead; Diedre English, the former editor of Mother Jones; Don Donahue, the former Zap Cornix publisher; and Time magazine art critic Robert Hughes, who calls Crumb the Breughel of the twentieth century. We see the prolific draftsman, who is akin to Daumier, constantly at work, and the audience is treated to nothing short of a flip-book history of America. Zwigoff does not shrink from the controversy about misogyny that surrounds Crumb. The filmmaker candidly interviews his ex-wife, his present wife, and ex-girlfriends, one of whom reveals his penchant for piggyback rides.

Discussing one of Crumb’s drawings, Zwigoff has observed, “He points out all the junk you never see.” This unguarded look at the high school pariah who became the strangest kind of cult hero manages to reveal as much about America and its psyche as it does about the cartoonist who is its subject.

— Genevieve Villaflor

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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