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The Confessions of Robert Crumb

A 55-minute quasi-documentary made for the BBC's arts program Arena and aired in 1987, The Confessions of Robert Crumb makes a fine companion piece to Terry Zwigoff's 1994 documentary Crumb, heretofore much more available to the viewing public. Confessions appeared on VHS recently, and now Home Vision Entertainment's DVD release gives the film new life. Crumbologists will not learn anything new from The Confessions of Robert Crumb. For one thing, Crumb is a confessional artist to begin with, and all the "confessions" have already been vented in his work. However, it is fun to see Crumb enact certain of his sexual fantasies and revisit places from his past. After "shocking" the viewer with a brief précis of Crumb's sexual preferences, Confessions settles into a chronological account of the artist's life up through the mid-'80s — his early family life, with rare home-movie footage of his parents and siblings, his first marriage, his move to San Francisco, and his rising fame (which induced resentment and unhappiness that darkened his work at the time), and his subsequent nervous breakdown, brought on by lawyers and agents and the movie version of Fritz the Cat. "If you do exceptionally good work," he says in the narration, "you'll be hounded to death. The media and people with ideas, they'll kill you, they'll destroy your concentration forever. They won't let you breathe. You're either on or you're off. You're in the limelight, blinded by the glare, or in the gutter being stepped on." The film also takes detours into Crumb's view of modern life, his interest in music, and his reaction to fans and fandom. It ends on a rather happy note, with Crumb discovering a renewed interest in drawing that took his work in unusual and unpredictable directions from the early '80s on. Crumb is of course the masterpiece, while Confessions, which bears the imprimatur of Crumb himself by virtue of his writing the script, is more for fans of the artist than for students of the documentary form. Still, the short movie has its charms, and in a way you get to know Crumb much better. Home Vision Entertainment's DVD offers a flawless transfer of the full-frame TV documentary (1.33:1). The audio is a more-than-adequate Dolby 2.0 mono. There are no extras, though enclosed in the box is a folded mini-poster for the film drawn by Crumb, copyrighted 1991. Keep-case.
—D. K. Holm

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