Film Scouts Interviews

Terry Zwigoff on "Crumb"

by Leslie Rigoulot

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March 11, 1996

The most astounding thing to me is that Terry Zwigoff sounds so normal. His favorite of the 1995 Oscar nominees for best picture is "Babe". So how could this guy make a documentary about noted pervert/underground artist Robert Crumb? Well, Robert is a buddy of his. In fact they have been friends for twenty-five years and played together in a Dixieland Band, the Cheap Suit Serenaders. And Zwigoff believes that Crumb is one of the great artists of our time.

So who is this Crumb guy? Remember Mr. Natural? The "Keep On Truckin'" guy that was everywhere in the sixties is one of his best-noted creations. Then there is the cover of Big Brother and the Holding Company's album featuring Janis Joplin. And the first X-rated animation film, "Fritz the Cat", which Crumb hated. Zwigoff doesn't so much examine Crumb's comic book art in the documentary. We see how art is the only outlet the guy had after being raised in a Philadelphia household so eccentric that my family (and yours) starts to look normal. His eldest brother, Charles has never left home, spends most of his time reading and is the one who started Robert on the comic book trail. Max, his other brother lives in one of those seedy hotels and practices yoga. Zwigoff told me that he got Robert to agree to the documentary "because he knew my angle was him and Charles and Max. Charles is gone now. Weird and dysfunctional, yes, but not less of a person. And to me Charles is more interesting than say, Donald Trump. And now it is so unusual to see real people or any level of reality on the screen, that it is shocking." The sexual nature of Crumb's work is discussed at length with ex-lovers and I started to wonder if he was just a pervert with a pencil or if his art is what kept him from going over the edge.

It is that question that has landed "Crumb" on 100 Top Ten list, not just the Top Ten documentaries, mind you, but Top Ten Features. Zwigoff admits that we think of documentaries as objective when in fact they are not. "It is a matter of what we decide to take out and to leave in. What angle we take the story from," says Zwigoff. So why do documentaries, why not features? "I had a good story to tell. But features are easier because you can tell an actor what to say and how to say it. Not with real people." Zwigoff opined, veering off into future projects, "I was going to do a piece on Woody Allen but they wouldn't give me final cut. So I'm writing "Ghost World" with a friend from Berkeley and staying away from documentaries."

I found "Crumb" to be funny, but scary, revealing, but disturbing and Zwigoff was pleased. Rated R, it just isn't everyone's cup of tea.

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