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Comic Book Confidential

What a difference a decade makes. When Comic Book Confidential came out in 1988 the documentary was a breath of fresh air. Finally, someone in cinema was taking comic books seriously. But what a difference 14 years makes! Now we can see how unsophisticated the film often is. CBC follows the history of comic books from William Gaines, Sr., to Frank Miller. The interviewees, in alphabetical order, include Lynda Barry, Charles Burns, Sue Coe, Robert Crumb, Will Eisner, Al Feldstein, Shary Flenniken, William M. Gaines, Bill Griffith, Jaime Hernandez, Jack Kirby, Harvey Kurtzman, Stan Lee, Paul Mavrides, Frank Miller, Victor Moscoso, Francoise Mouly, Dan O'Neill, Harvey Pekar, Gilbert Shelton, and Art Spiegelman. There is nothing particularly inaccurate in the film, and it does manage to include more information than documentaries of the vague, emotional school (such as anything about disabled kids that wins an Oscar for best documentary feature). The problem is that much of it is also clumsy. For transitions, Mann creates animated passages out of bits of art by the cartoonists mentioned, moments that amount to time-squandering padding. There is also a deeply embarrassing enactment of Zippy the Pinhead (when the photographs of comic strip panels would suffice). The music rarely seems well selected or appropriate to the moment (though song rights can be a problem to get). Worse, as in Grass, archival footage is included under the assumption that we can't help but find it short-sighted, ridiculous, and amusing. The notorious anti-comic campaigner Dr. Fredric Wertham is shown testifying; excepts from a TV show decrying violent comics is excerpted. Such moments are positioned to evoke knowing and derisive laughs, but trying to explain the climate in which these people made their claims, and trying to understand their viewpoint would have made for a richer film. Home Vision Entertainment has put together a nice package for this movie, which is historically important, if nothing else. The full frame image is fine, and the Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is adequate for a talky movie with periodic bursts of music. Extras include a three-minute introduction by Kevin Smith, an interview with Ron Mann, a slide-show feature in which each of the 22 artists has a representative story, trailers for Comic Book Confidential, Grass, and Twist, and a 16-page booklet with quotes from the comic book artists. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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