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The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Documentaries you MUST watch — a Guide

Written by: Ron Bricker


Image A lot of people just don’t get how amazing documentaries are. They see them as an intellectual pursuit, stuffy, all effort for the viewer, no fun whatsoever.  But hell, you want to escape, to be entertained, right? To forget your troubles?  Maybe learn something, too? Or, how ‘bout just sitting there in open-mouthed amazement as unpredictably dramatic events unfold? You like all this? Then jump in!

Documentaries are the BALLS, ultimately more compelling and interesting than anything Hollywood can trot out. I’ll be discussing noteworthy ones, in the coming weeks, and if you just watch them, you’ll understand. Then get back to me.

If you’re just getting started, you can’t go wrong with Crumb, Terry Zwigoff’s masterpiece about Robert Crumb, the cartoonist/satirist. Certainly one of the great all-time docs, the complexity and layers of what you see has enough juice for ten Hollywood movies. Robert Crumb started out as a young man doing Hallmark greeting cards but quickly became the darling of the 60s comic underground, unleashing “Fritz the Cat,” the “Keep-on-Truckin’” guy, and other assorted oddballs and misfits. His importance in creating these “adult” comics cannot be overstated. Before him, comics were mostly superheroes and dull-as-dishwater teenagers. Crumb helped change that, God bless  him.

So watch as Zwigoff (who went on to make “Ghost World,” “Bad Santa,” and other more mainstream films) follows his buddy Crumb around as the cartoonist draws, complains, toils, strives. Sure, there’s enough here to keep you hooked – artist-at-work kinda stuff, STRANGE artist-at-work kinda stuff, delving into the genius and so on – but watch out, here comes Crumb’s family! You think you’ve got problems? Check these guys out. We have Charles, older brother, big-time artistic talent, but a man who still lives with his mother, completely unadjusted to the world. Mom herself is spaced, possibly on pills. Younger brother Max has made it out on his own, another artist, but also sleeps on a bed of nails and swallows string. We see Crumb visiting his brothers, his mom, and suddenly he is the together one, certainly within the framework of his family. Scary stuff.

Yeah, it’s the story of Robert Crumb, his rise to fame, his odd hang-ups, his marriage, his fatherhood, his creativity. But it’s also the story of an American Family, the flipside of Norman Rockwell. And it’s spellbinding. A good documentary hits you so much harder than a fictional film because it’s so REAL. So VIVID. It’s right in front of you. Crumb is funny, enlightening, mesmerizing. You’ll laugh, and, as they say, you’ll cry. It’ll change your world. When was the last time a regular film did that?

Stay tuned. A whole new world awaits. You can thank me later.

Author: Ron Bricker

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