The Confessions Of Robert Crumb (DVD)
Following the release of the painfully intimate 1996 documentary masterpiece Crumb, underground comics legend Robert Crumb and Ghost World director Terry Zwigoff had a public falling-out over what Crumb perceived as the invasive and exploitative nature of Zwigoff's film. Originally filmed for the BBC in 1987, the infinitely more Crumb-friendly The Confessions Of Robert Crumb unwittingly illustrates just how right Zwigoff was in refusing to sugarcoat or sentimentalize any aspect of Crumb's often bleak and disturbing life. Essentially a 55-minute puff piece created with the assistance of its subject, Confessions offers viewers a Cliffs Notes version of Crumb's life and work, in which all the major plot points remain, but any hint of subtlety, nuance, and depth has been removed for the sake of brevity. Opening with a strident British narrator summarizing Crumb's cultural significance, Confessions charts the familiar chronology of its subject's life, from his unhappy childhood through his first marriage and his subsequent ascent to countercultural stardom. Interspersed throughout are awkward staged bits, the most excruciating of which features a stiff, uncomfortable-looking Crumb demonstrating his conception of the perfect woman with the help of an even-more-uncomfortable-looking, spandex-clad model. Perhaps out of respect for its subject, or perhaps because of its subject's participation, Confessions keeps Crumb at arm's length, never delving too deeply into his neuroses or the madness that lies behind so much of his art. His similarly blessed and cursed brothers, who formed the core of Crumb, are mentioned only in passing, and while Confessions dutifully addresses the fetishism, misogyny, drugs, and misanthropy in its subject's life, nothing in the film resonates for very long. Confessions even offers a preposterous happy ending for Crumb and his family, suggesting that the artist's demons and anxieties are somehow far behind them. The film provides a handy primer on the life and times of an American original, but unlike Zwigoff's Crumb, it never reveals much about the man or the artist.