Through his extensive work from the late 60's to today, R. Crumb single-handedly defined the underground comic genre. Although Puritan parents of the era dealt out spankings for finding any comic stash, an unearthed copy of Zap Comix could mean a trip to boarding school, or perhaps even a mental institution. If you've ever truly wanted to try and get inside the head of the twisted man behind Fritz the Cat and Mr Natural, Terry Zwigoff's 1994 documentary "Crumb" is about as close as you can possibly get.
Throughout his career, R Crumb's genius has been hotly debated, mostly because of the intense perversion that's prevalent in his work. In "Crumb," Zwigoff manages to capture both sides of the argument quite well, even if it's never explicitly stated. What begins as a biography slowly morphs into a psychological profile built through interviews with family, friends, colleagues, and lovers alike as well as in depth looks at his expansive body of work. The segment of the film where Crumb himself runs through an entire Devil Girl strip is equal parts disturbing and fascinating, as he describes graphic depictions of decapitation and rape with shocking indifference and self-deprecating humor.
As a film, "Crumb" is a bit of a lovable mess. Aesthetically, it has a wonderful roughness that can only be achieved through shooting and hand-editing film. Structurally, it's not the best paced documentary, but it's so hard to peel yourself away from the subject that it hardly matters. The complaints that I've read from uninitiated viewers have more to do with R. Crumb as a person than the film itself. He truly is a very unlikeable guy; a pervert, egomaniac, and cripplingly immature. Yet, as the film unfolds, his wit and knowledge of the world at large starts to outweigh his glaringly obvious character flaws. You also begin to understand a bit of his various psychoses as you learn of the abuse that he and his brothers suffered as children. It doesn't explain the piggy back fetish or his proclivity for women with shelf-butt, but it does help paint a fuller picture of his existence.
Be forewarned: "Crumb" is not a feel good experience. It's not a film to watch with friends or even loved ones. It demands your full attention and will leave you feeling dirty and downtrodden when it's over. The push and pull between R. Crumb the artist and R. Crumb the person is endlessly fascinating, if only for all of the wrong reasons. As a film, "Crumb" is an absolute must see, just don't let your mom catch you watching it, ok?