Anyone who’s seen Crumb, Terry Zwigoff‘s 1994 documentary about underground comics legend, R. Crumb, may consider themselves fairly conversant in both the art and the offbeat existence of the vintage-record-revering sexual adventurer and self-proclaimed wimp.
But does a traveler pass up the opportunity to visit Paris simply because he’s been there once before?
Unless you’re a virgin to the subject, The Confessions of Robert Crumb, a BBC doc whose release predated that of Zwigoff’s definitive portrait by seven years, will contain no major revelations. It’s still a lot of fun though, perhaps more so for having been scripted by its main attraction.
Crumb and his wife, fellow cartoonist, Aline Kominsky Crumb, were uneasy with Zwigoff’s portrayal, a reaction they documented in Head for the Hills!, a jointly authored, two-page comic in the New Yorker. Their objections ultimately lay with the notoriety the film would confer on them. Fame for Crumb is a monster-making drain on creativity. (“And I guarantee we won’t earn an extra dollar as a result of this wonderful exposure,” Aline adds in a word bubble, an observation the Crumb blog gives the lie to, nearly twenty years out.)
But in terms of what he was willing to own up to on camera, Crumb the screenwriter is far from a shrinking violet. The talking heads are minimized and the extended family kept to the shadows, but he’s frank about the erotic preoccupations that figure prominently in his work and have raised more than a few feminist hackles over the years. One might even say he plays it up in goofy staged bits, such as the one where he dons a lab coat to examine the powerful rear and kidney bean-shaped pelvic tilt of an impassive model clad in 80s-style Jane Fonda Workout wear. As social maladroits go, he’s not afraid to wear a lampshade on his head.
He also reveals himself as a lifelong learner, avidly researching his non-flesh-related passions. His interests are infectious. One hour with Crumb and you may find yourself spending the next two or three on esoteric topics ranging from James Gillray to Harry Roy and his Bat Club Boys.
Ayun Halliday is a feminist and a long term Robert Crumb fan.