The movie itself was not particularly enjoyable, but very good. Although I felt it was scattered and somewhat amateurish, it managed to get to the heart of an important artist and teach me a number of important lessons in its 117 minute runtime. Bravo.
The film definitely teaches about art. It does this not through academic or even particularly intellectual discourse, but by allowing Crumb to just talk about his process and go over a couple of his comics with both honesty and detached bemusement. He demystifies the process through his frank discussions of some of the arbitrary and chemically enhanced choices he makes in his art. It's possible he's playing his cards close to his vest but that's not the impression I got. He draws, sometimes brilliantly, but he's not a god or a genius. He's a man with a pen and a twisted vision inspired by a twisted childhood.
The other thing that Zwigoff does that's so important is he shows you the brothers. I think it's very telling that the film is called Crumb, and not Robert Crumb. It's not just about him. Both of the other brothers are artistic, extremely so. In fact it was Charles who imposed the comic book style on Robert. They're both also deeply disturbed. One commits suicide after the end of the film and the other is an epileptic beggar with a bed of nails. The younger brother paints an oil of Van Gogh shooting himself. They talk briefly of the way their father used to beat them without mercy, and then of how their mother used to scratch their father so badly that the ex-marine man's man had to wear makeup to work to hide the abuse. All three brothers grew up with a twisted world vision and Robert happened to be the one who could turn it into something called art. It wasn't because he was fundementally better in some way, just a little more functional and a little more talented. The image of Van Gogh shooting himself is so central to the film. Van Gogh is idolized now as a genius, but he was also a lunatic who cut off his own ear and did all sorts of wacky shit. He was not a well man. Art, then, is often a function of disfunction. We all know this but I think we sublimate it, especially since so many of the great artists either lock themselves away or present a normalized persona to our modern world with its cameras and relentless reporters. Mel Gibson is a religious fanatic, isn't that just another form of mental dysfunction? A more normalized one to be sure, but one just as intense as Robert Crumb's desire to ride around piggyback on women and draw them as headless screwtoys whose vaginas have more value than anything between their ears. I also find Crumb's open hostility towards women to be refreshing. Hostility towards women isn't necessarily a good thing, but it's a lot more common than we think it is and at least he doesn't hide it. He has reason to be hostile too. Women denied him during his youth, prefering the arrogant jokes that all sensative boys regard with a curious blend of jealousy and loathing. This is something women tend to do. Then Crumb got famous and some women became accessible and he remained resentful.
I don't really want to dig deeper into the movie with people who haven't seen it, since it is worth seeing and there are things you need to see in it to be able to understand. I do, however, want to talk about myself in relation to the film.
I think I share a lot in common with the Crumb brothers. Not their flair for drawing, but some of their twisted vision and perversion. I saw a lot of myself in Charles, who shut himself in after graduating high school and stayed at home until he died, reading old books and accutely aware of his own self-involvement but unable to break free of it. I was on the verge of becoming like that after high school, and but for some lucky breaks and good support I might still be that way today. I'm not, at least not totally, but that's not because of any moral superiority, just a few relatively minor differences.
Charles was extremely bright.
The thing is that I still have those reclusive fantasies. I've taken up walking in an attempt to help free myself from the prison of my corpulent body, and I spontaneously named these snippets of exercise "personal walks." That was meant to signify the fact that I am taking them for my own benefit and of my own accord, but they are personal in another way as well. I do a lot of thinking on these walks, a lot of fantasizing. I can remember vividly what I was thinking about on my way to see Chronicles of Riddick. I was anticipating what the movie would be like and creating my own ripoff in my mind. I'm not going to put the whole thing down here because it's a lot of fractured imagery and beautiful vistas that I can't recreate outside my head but there are details that I'll lay out, uselessly. There were giant trees with bark so strong it could be used as the hull of a space ship. There were huge beasts, about five times the size of an elephant, with headcrests so strong that a rocket launcher would only put a crack in it. Then there was a society of people where, in order to pass into adulthood, the young men had to hunt one of these beasts and bring back the razor sharp teeth from deep within its mouth. It's a process that generally takes between 1 and 3 years, years of living alone in the wilderness stalking and eventually killing. The hide of one of these creatures is so tough that no bow or knife can pierce it. Instead there's this berry that contains an enzyme that can slowly soften the hide if it is ingested by the beast, so the way they are hunted is that a young man has to gather these berries and then feed them to animals that the giant beasts prey upon. Then he releases the animals and drives them to the beast, who consumes them and thus the enzyme from the berry as well. Over a period of months this softens the skin. Then the young man must provoke the beast and have it follow him on a 3 day long journey, among the ironwood trees. He must sleep in the hollows of the tree while the beast bashes its headcrest against it, weakning itself further but unable to penetrate that bark. If one of the men encounters another in the woods during his journey, they must choose whether to fight to the death or pass each-other by. Often they will fight, for access to the berries and even to take over the stalking of one of the beasts.
There were other details, such as the great desert where most of the big herds wander, and a bunch of other stuff. The thing is, all this was the BACKSTORY of a character in a ripoff of a film I was going to see that exists only in my head. Other people don't do this. I'm sure they don't. It's not normal.
Of course that is a relatively benign fantasy, it's just a harmless little myth. I also have sexual fantasies, of course. They are just as perverted as Crumb's, but in a different way. I'd like to talk about one in particular, to clarify.
Perhaps my most recurring fantasy is about a character, who is kind of me but also kind of not, and rules over dozens of planets that exist only to support his sexual pleasure. Sometimes it's just one big planet 100 times the size of earth. The number of planets alone is perverse. There's on way that one man can use up a single planet full of women, but for this guy one would just not be enough. Anyway, the guy's backstory is silly. He won the lottery, bought some very expensive, well educated, slave women, and had himself suspended in cryosleep while they built him a financial empire, and purchased a real empire stocked with beautiful women. This took 400 years. Why didn't they rebel during this time? Well it's a complicated set of outside regulators and internal incentives. His preservation took only a small portion of the funds, and they were able to pay themselves handsomely while constructing the rest of his empire. They were slaves, true, but they lived lives of relative luxury.
Anyway, so the guy has this vast empire, and it's all set up to satisfy his desires. There are entire planets which consist of societies populated by the most beautiful women from the other, feeder, planets, who go around living their lives in fairly normal situations, except for the societies consisting solely of females between the ages of 15 and around 35. He then visits these various societies and shakes them up according to his desires. He might start having sex with an executive in the middle of her presentation to a board room, or act as the coach of an all-female football team and slap their asses after the game, following them into the locker room. I don't necessarily want to get into the individual sexual acts, many of them are reasonably perverse, and they aren't really the crux of what I'm trying to say. You see, there's even more to the fantasy. For example, we don't want the women to be miserable, do we? Therefore they are brought up in societies that make him the prototype of atractiveness and praise those who are selected to serve on the pleasure worlds (where they have normal, productive, lives and are EXTREMELY unlikely to ever have a sexual encounter with him, since there are billions of women on these worlds and they only stay there for 20 years.) Then there's the worry that if you take the cream of the crop out of the feeder worlds you will limit the attractiveness of future generations. This could be solved by egg-harvesting, but that would be complicated and invasive. Instead this is the reason they are released at 35. They go back to their worlds with high compensation for their time, and are able to start families at that point, even though their fertility is signifcantly reduced at that age. Not all of them do, but that's hardly essential, as many of them have their genes returned to the pools. Birth control is mandatory on the pleasure worlds, to avoid incest and the guy having slave children. As for the men on the feeder worlds (there are none on the pleasure worlds) they do fine because they are in a minority. There is technology that makes sure that female births outnumber male births significantly. Plus there is room for them in the empire's military, defending its boarders from attack. There's no revolution because the empire is so vast and the worlds are self-governing and basically democratic. Most of the people are happy.
Isn't this sick? Let's leave aside the specific sexual fantasies, but why would any person need anything NEAR this complex to get off? I could write a lot more about the customs and situations of this fantasy society that exists only to provide masturbatory material, but I think you get the point. It's demented.
So why am I writing about it? Well I think that I need to come to terms with my own sexuality if I want to be an artist of any sort. It's not just the sexuality, but I'm too knotted up inside. I have laughed at least 5 times today at a line in a script I'm writing. The punchline is "John Glennamoto." I am writing again, and I feel good about that, but I need to be more open. I may eventually work my way up to talking about specific sexual fantasies here, so consider yourself forewarned. I'm not there yet.
Crumb helped me though. I'm opening again creatively. These long entries are symptomatic. I'm writing my comedic script. I was reading about apples from Thoreau.
I'm starting to snap out of the funk.