American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
People who have been damaged by life can make the most amazing adjustments in order to survive and find peace. Sometimes it is a toss-up whether to call them mad, or courageous. Consider the case of R. Crumb. He was the most famous comics artist of the 1960s, whose images like "Keep on Truckin' " and "Fritz the Cat" and his cover for the '60s album "Cheap Thrills" helped to fix the visual look of the decade. He was also a person hanging onto sanity by his fingernails, and it is apparently true that his art saved his life.
"Crumb," which is one of the most remarkable and haunting documentaries ever made, tells the story of Robert Crumb, his brothers Max and Charles, and an American childhood that looks normal in old family photographs but conceals deep wounds and secrets. It is the kind of film that you watch in disbelief, as layer after layer is peeled away, and you begin to understand the strategies that have kept Crumb alive and made him successful while one of his brothers became a recluse in an upstairs bedroom and the other passes his time literally sitting on a bed of nails.
Movies like this do not usually get made because the people who have lives like this usually are not willing to reveal them. "Crumb" was directed by Terry Zwigoff, who had two advantages: He had known Crumb well for years, and Zwigoff was himself so unhappy and suicidal during the making of the film that in a sense Crumb let him do it as a favor.
Of Crumb's importance and reputation, there is not much doubt.