A Gooden Worsted Double Feature

Don't Look Back
Starring Bob Dylan. Directed by Albert Grossman
My Rating:

A look at a seminal poet of our time.

Bitable Bytes:
"Harmonica Sounds!"
"Shows the Best Side of This Angry Young Man!"
"Intelligent and Uncompromising!"

The Confessions of Robert Crumb
By Robert Crumb and Aline Kminsky-Crumb.
My Rating:

An even more intimate look at the cartoonist/weirdo than 1995's Crumb.

Bitable Bytes:
"Weird and Cool!"
"Crumb in Action!"

Don't Look Back

What to do while watching: Think, "He sure has aged! And not so gracefully, either."

What to eat while watching: Chocolate-covered malt balls.

Bob Dylan has been up for me lately. First, my friend, poet Ed Aust, wrote a moving-but-not-sentimental piece about the great folk-rock poet. Soon after that, I was listening to the 80's U.S. punk band Minutemen and heard D. Boon say, "This is Bob Dylan to me. / My story could be his songs. / I'm his soldier child." Third, in opening up some boxes of memorabilia, I found my old Walkman, and when I turned it on, the cassette therein gave out the familiar refrain, "All I really wanna do is, baby, be friends with you [harmonica sounds here]."

The man is really a great figure in poetry and music. I have always appreciated his politics and the integrity of his artistic comments on the U.S. and the world. And he may even have done some good, for example, in helping to free Reuben "Hurricane" Carter from prison. Last I saw him was on television at the Academy Awards, singing a rather toned-down, easy-to-swallow ballad. He looked, as The Onion's Jackie Harvey pointed out, like Vincent Price.

Seeing Don't Look Back, Dylan's parallel to The Beatles' Hard Day's Night, showed the best side of the angry young man. I gained a fresh respect for him. Being interviewed by reporters, he calls them on the phoniness of Time, Newsweek, and their ilk. Meeting Donovan, the two hit it off in spite of a competitive edge. His stage show consists of his playing the guitar and harmonica and singing. There is little banter or extra goofing, but here and there he is able to throw witty improvisations to his British audience. There are some scenes with Joan Baez singing while Dylan pecks away at a typewriter, coming up with new songs.

In all, he is portrayed as an intelligent, talented, and uncompromising artist, both as tough as any punk rocker that will come along in a decade and as inwardly tender as any idealistic young man. Because I like his music-and, yes, I even appreciate his singing voice-I enjoyed the many songs performed in full within this film. I especially like how Dylan argues that he sings better than Caruso. I almost fell for it.

Don't believe the box when it says that the film delves deeply into Dylan's private life. No denying that there are intimate moments, but by today's standards, it's nothing shocking. And for we turn-of-the-millennium film watchers, the pacing of this documentary is snail slow; so prepare yourself for long periods without cuts, and you'll avoid the subliminal sense of impatience that sometimes comes while watching older movies.

The Confessions of Robert Crumb

What to do while watching: Pet the pussy cat.

What to eat while watching: Crumb cakes.

There's a fine line between being weird and being cool. Though his craft is certainly no less fine and skilled than Bob Dylan's, cultural icon, cartoonist Robert Crumb, is widely regarded as a gosh-darned weirdo. He casts himself in the role, to be sure, and even if you groove on his sequential art, you're still likely to be put off somewhat by these images of the man acting exactly as he does in his comics.

He cultivates a geeky appearance. He seethes with rage against mainstream culture. His attitude toward women vacillates between adoration and a violent urge. He has an annoying nervous chuckle that punctuates his every utterance. And the stories he tells! If you've any empathy at all, I'm sure you can imagine the egotistical bitterness of a maladroit suddenly becoming an underground hero. It's worse that Elvis Presley's excesses in a way. Here, the neuvo-popular hipster roils in anger over prior ostracism perpetrated by the very people who now pursue him. Crumb compounds his womanizing with LSD, longstanding repression, and Catholic Guilt. (He was sent to Catholic schools not because his family was Catholic, but because his father thought the discipline was good for him).

And yet, this film does a great job of emphasizing the intelligence and many talents of the cartoonist. He is, it turns out, a fantastic musician to boot, playing banjo, guitar, harmonica, and mandolin. He also does lead vocals on the three mid-70's albums released by his band, The Cheapsuit Serenaders. Robert Armstrong, on guitar and accordion, appears in this video. Absent is Ghost World and Crumb director Terry Zwigoff, who plays cello on the albums and has long been a member of Crumb's posse. (I grooved on seeing the Cheapsuit's second vinyl pop up in Ghost World amid Steve Buscemi's record collection.)

As for the drawings, we are given many sequential close-ups that highlight the main Crumb messages: alienation from the "normal" bourgeois patterns; disgust with rampant consumerism; and abiding respect for visionary artists, blues music, and women with big butts. His line art is truly great work, painstakingly done. You've got to give him credit for his integrity. This video does a nice job of showing Crumb in action at the drawing board, intricately crosshatching backgrounds.

I like that this video is unblinking. Crumb does a good job of portraying himself in every aspect. His natural bias would be to make himself look good, but between his discomforting confessions and seeing his bony self in the tub with the sumptuous Aline Kaminsky-Crumb--his wife and fellow underground comic artist--there is no whitewashing of the aspects of his life that have made him controversial.

Appearances by the 6-year-old Sophie Crumb (who, grown up, drew the sketchbooks in Ghost World) round out the tender side of this portrayal. In all, I think this video gives Crumb a good forum in which to demonstrate that his lifestyle is not nearly as destructive as those early feminists who disliked him might claim. Of course, he's matured since the 60's.

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For your collection:

Bob Dylan - Don't Look Back (VHS), Bob Dylan - Don't Look Back (DVD), Don't Look Back: The Story of Leroy "Satchel" Paige, Confessions of Robert Crumb (1987, VHS), Crumb, Directed by Terry Zwigoff (1995, VHS)

Gooden's Listening to:

R. Crumb and his Cheapsuit Serenaders' Singin' in the Bathtub
Minutemen Double Nickels on the Dime

 Big Empire  Post-it Theater  Las Vegas  The Gift Electroniqué  Big Empire Buddies


©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.