The Film That Almost Killed Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb: The BBC’s “The Confessions of Robert Crumb”

With the recent Blu-ray release of Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb last week (my review will be up soon), I thought it might be interesting to look at this 1987 BBC documentary (via The Uranium Cafe) that almost killed Zwigoff’s documentary altogether. The Confessions of Robert Crumb was apparently commissioned as part of a series of films highlighting important contemporary artists, and the Crumbs (Robert and his wife Aileen) had no qualms about agreeing to the project even though their good friend Terry was in the middle of shooting his own film on their lives. Zwigoff actually talks about this on the commentary track for the new DVD, saying that he felt somewhat betrayed by this decision. He felt that there wasn’t really room for two Crumb documentaries in the world, so, defeated, he closed up shop. Luckily, after the hour long TV film was released, he realized the final product was quite different from the film he’d been working on and decided to continue shooting.

While the BBC version offers additional insight into the life of Robert Crumb, it certainly takes a much more conventional approach to the material. There’s a sense of intimacy in Zwigoff’s film, whereas the BBC doc feels somewhat distant thanks to some oddly staged and scripted moments (the film was actually written by Crumb). Either way, it’s still worth a look if you’re a fan of Zwigoff’s doc and Crumb’s work.

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