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The temptation to cave in to the pressure to play down the family angle intensified after a few work-in-progress screenings. "The Telluride Film Festival, where Louie Bluie had been a hit, said, 'It's terrible. We're not gonna show it,'" Zwigoff recalls. "They said, 'There's not a festival in the world that's gonna show it.' My own editor thought it ran too long. It violated the rule of thumb that movie bios should not go over one hour. Crumb runs two. It met with a lot of resistance. Everybody wanted me to take something out, like the part about nigger hearts [referring to a Crumb series that was condemned by some as being racist, praised by others as a caustic skewering of racist thinking]."
And what did the film's subject think of the finished product? "I think he feels it's become a burden," Zwigoff confides. "I don't think he realized at the time just how revealing it might be. He's dismayed by fame and recognition. I think his initial reaction was horror, like, 'Oh my God, what have I done?' He's seen the film three times that I know of and his reaction varied. He was just staying at my house in San Francisco. I think he likes the film now, but he's horrified he's in it.
"Robert's hard-core fans seem to like it the least," the director continues. "They get very uncomfortable with where it goes." (Ironically that's the very quality that makes Crumb's art so appealing.)
As Crumb ends with the artist's self-imposed exile to the south of France, Zwigoff provides an update on the artist's current state of mind. "He likes France," Zwigoff relates. "He felt physically threatened here [in the U.S.]. He's grown a long, gray beard. He looks Amish. He wears a modern-looking windbreaker, some polyester London Fog kind of thing he wouldn't have been caught dead in before. He likes the fact that he doesn't speak the language. He doesn't want to learn. His wife [Aline], who's very sociable, can throw dinner parties, and he doesn't have to pretend like he cares what anybody says.
"Sophie [Crumb's daughter, portrayed in the film as the only woman Crumb ever loved] is growing up. She's very bright and happy. An excellent artist in Charles's style. She made her first film six months ago." Then the artist's old friend smiles perversely. "She's starting to look like a little Lolita," he notes. "Her father's afraid she'll end up on the French Riviera with some playboy.
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