An easy contender for the best documentary ever made, Terry Zwigoff's Crumb (1995) tells the story of Robert Crumb, the legendary underground comic artist known for "Fritz the Cat," the "Keep on Truckin'" bumper stickers, and the cover for the Janis Joplin album Cheap Thrills. Given incredible access, Zwigoff's courage, wisdom, and luck allow him to truly explore Crumb's innermost psyche, getting to the root of where his fearlessly personal art comes from. Ingeniously, the movie also spends time with Robert's brothers, the younger Maxon, a nearly homeless artist, and the older Charles, a disturbed recluse whom Robert idolized (and whose own bizarre, obsessive artwork is also quite revealing).
Through these comparisons, Zwigoff suggests that success may have saved Robert's life, giving him a shot at normalcy. Oddly, due to poor test-audience scores, studio executives pressured Zwigoff to remove Charles's scenes, but he refused, knowing that they were the key to the entire film. Above all, Zwigoff had the patience to film the Crumbs' artwork closely and slowly, so that audiences actually had a chance to read and study it. The film won numerous awards, but was unforgivably snubbed by the Oscars.
Man with the Movie Camera (Fandor)
Though the Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov is today known for only one film, Man with the Movie Camera (1929), he was a pioneer of cinema, developing the concept of cinéma-vérité (realism) as well as modernism and the essay film. But that makes him sound like not much fun, and Man with the Movie Camera is certainly one of the most amazing, complex, dazzling, and beautiful films ever made. In 2012, it was selected as one of the 10 best films ever made in a Sight & Sound magazine poll.
Running only 68 minutes, silent, and without a plot or intertitles, it's simply a man wandering around and filming things, but taking great joy in the art of filming, inventing new ways of looking at things. The processing and editing is crucial, occasionally crossing and swirling images together, making something that, even 85 years later, feels entirely fresh. The version offered by Fandor includes a recent Michael Nyman score. As with Cinema Paradiso, this is essential viewing for anyone in love with film.
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