From the Chicago Reader (June 2, 1995). This piece is quite separate from the essay I contributed to Criterion’s DVD of this film 15 years later, which will be reposted shortly. — J.R,
Rating **** Masterpiece
Directed by Terry Zwigoff
Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb in many ways looks like conventional filmmaking, yet it conveys a remarkable fluidity and density of thought. It may resemble a biographical documentary — unobtrusively shot by Maryse Alberti, gracefully edited by Victor Livingston — but it unfurls like a passionate personal essay. The subject is Robert Crumb, America’s greatest underground comic book artist — little known to most people born much before or after 1943, the year of his birth, because he’s shunned the mainstream as a money-grubbing swamp. Zwigoff, an old friend, shot the movie over six years and edited it over three, and the sheer mass of this two-hour film seems partly a function of the amount of time he’s had to mull it over.
A member of Crumb’s former band, the Cheap Suit Serenaders, and a fellow collector of rare 20s and 30s blues and jazz records, Zwigoff has previously made documentaries only on musical subjects — blues artist Howard Armstrong in Louie Bluie, a history of Hawaiian music in A Family Named Moe.… Read more »
Though I haven’t yet seen the Miramaxed version of this feature by the country’s most gifted black filmmaker, Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep, To Sleep With Anger), it’s reportedly more upbeat and somewhat less angry than the original and contains some additional rap music on the sound track. But this heartfelt and persuasive look at the racism and corruption of the Los Angeles police force, based on a true story, is surely well worth seeing regardless of what Burnett was forced to do to it to get it released. I saw the original version a year ago in Cannes and then again in Toronto, and its power and feeling have stayed with me. The story is about the adjustments and accommodations made by a sincere black rookie cop (Michael Boatman) who joins an all-white precinct and wants to be accepted by his fellow officers; his only real ally turns out to be the one woman in the precinct (Lori Petty), a Jew who gets plenty of flak herself. When a murder case arises involving a black suspect (Ice Cube), the hero’s decision to work for justice within the system gets severely tested. (It must be a bitter irony for Burnett–who’s never been much of a self-promoter–that his own effort to work within the system has led to problems comparable to his hero’s.) The plot may get a little top-heavy in spots, but Burnett’s writing, direction, and visual design remain as purposeful as ever, and what emerges is the first film of any seriousness to give us a plausible and comprehensive context for the Rodney King incident.… Read more »