Terry Zwigoff has known the artist for 25 years, thanks to a shared passion for early jazz and ragtime (which figure in this film's distinctive music track) and the length of their friendship must go a long way to explaining the startling candour of Crumb, Zwigoff's documentary portrait. It's by no means a eulogy. A critic is wheeled on to dub him the Bruegel of the late 20th century, but this assessment is not allowed to go unchallenged. Crumb's childhood fantasies sound odd but innocuous: he developed fetishistic attachments to his aunt's cowboy boots and to Bugs Bunny, of whom he kept a crumpled paper cut-out about his person. But he emerged as a virulent racist and misogynist (a typical fantasy: rough sex with a big-bottomed but headless woman); and astonishingly self-absorbed, too. The funniest / spookiest scenes show him with his two brothers, both of them equally artistically precocious but, unlike him, completely unable to cope with the world. Detached, sniggering, Crumb looks embarrassed by his eccentric siblings, and his decision to move to France at the end of the film looks like an abandonment (one brother, the brilliant, tormented Charles, later committed suicide).
Crumb is poorly-structured and a little too long. And there are some glaring omissions: it skates nippily over the influence of illegal pharmaceuticals on Crumb's art (there's a brief mention of his once having taken something similar to, but not the same as, LSD), and remains silent on the fate of his two sisters, who declined to be interviewed for the film - a rather large gap in a movie claiming to be a portrait of a dysfunctional family (perhaps they were too well-adjusted?). But this is still a provocative, fascinating film.
Emir Kusterica, from the former Yugoslavia, might not be well-known in Britain but he has had a spectacular career: a Golden Palm for his second film, When Father Was Away on Business, in 1985; the Best Director Prize at Cannes for his third, Time of the Gypsies, in 1989; and another Golden Palm last month for Underground. His fourth film, Arizona Dream, looks in some ways like the blot on his copybook. Begun in 1991, shooting was closed down when Kusterica had a breakdown and the production soared way over budget. Completed months later, it was released briefly in America in 1993. Now finally it surfaces in Britain bearing the stamp of a cult film, or a film maudit.
Johnny Depp plays another of his spacey loners, a New York fish inspector who travels to Arizona for the wedding of his uncle (Jerry Lewis), a struggling car salesman, and falls for the flaky charms of Faye Dunaway's glamorous older woman. But no plot synopsis can correctly convey the deep strangeness of this baggy, meandering, mercurial piece: so often, in movies, small- town Middle America is portrayed as cosily whimsical, but here, filtered through Kusterica's Middle-European, almost surreal, sensibility, it becomes an absurd, melancholy place of enchanted flying fish and stubborn dreams. Like Underground, this is a marathon, self-indulgent, often profoundly tedious sprawl which you go with, part of the time at least, for its sudden flashes of visionary splendour.
The opening credits of Miami Rhapsody are a give-away: no actors before the title, just the name in a sober typeface and the cast-list in non- hierarchical, alphabetical order. There is a Gershwin / Cole Porter soundtrack, there is a well-heeled but terminally anxious Jewish-American family, there is Mia Farrow. Any similarity to Woody Allen's nervous comedies is wholly intentional. The main difference is the setting: far from Manhattan in Florida's overheated, tropical glow.
All of which is not to belittle this film: Allen on form can be supremely entertaining, and so is Miami Rhapsody. Sarah Jessica Parker plays an advertising copywriter whose worries about her imminent marriage are fuelled by her relatives, as their various ill-fated extra-marital affairs unfold in a suite of flashbacks. Her mother (Farrow) is having a fling with a Cuban nurse (Antonio Banderas); her father (Paul Mazursky) is involved with a slightly unhinged travel agent; her brother has left his pregnant wife for a model (Naomi Campbell, who lets the side down somewhat, acting- wise) and so on in an endless sexual roundelay.
Smartly directed and attractively performed, in particular by Parker as a mordant, witty, neurotic Carrie Fisher / Nora Ephron type, Miami Rhapsody is an upscale Saturday date movie: not great but polished, amusing and above all competent - a quality which, these days, gives it a head start on most other comers.
Competence is certainly not much in evidence in Innocent Lies, the worst film of the week and possibly the year, in which a harassed detective (Adrian Dunbar) arrives in a fishing village in northern France on the eve of the Second World War to solve a murder. Immediately, in a scene that should be played in film schools as a masterclass in poor story exposition, a whole gaggle of possible suspects arrive on the scene all at once.
Reeling from plot overload, the viewer eventually gathers that they are: the son (Stephen Dorff), who killed his twin brother years ago in a childhood accident; his German-Jewish wife, trying desperately to hide her origins; his sister (Gabrielle Anwar), whose fiance has been murdered; and his mother (Joanna Lumley, tres camp in a series of extraordinary turbans), who is great chums with Hitler.
It is all very gloomy with a weird Eraserhead-type soundtrack of wailing wind. The dialogue sounds as if it has been badly dubbed from some other language (the writer-director is French, which can't have helped much): how about "my little hot water bottle" as a sexy term of endearment? There was much audience laughter during these scenes, but not laughter of a friendly and complicit kind.
Then Lumley is killed; Dunbar is pursued by his interpreter and in turn lusts after Anwar; we keep cutting back to the childhood tragedy; incest is on the cards; and suddenly we flash forward to two black Americans in a car driving across modern-day San Francisco. Well, actually, that was yet another blunder (a rogue film reel from Mario van Peebles' new movie about the Black Panthers had snuck into the press preview) but it seemed no more illogical than anything that had gone before. It's a disgrace that, in its present form, this script was allowed to see the light of day.
Friday is a brash Afro-American comedy starring Ice Cube, about two likeable slackers whiling away a strictly work-free day in the Hood. Ice Cube (who also co-produced and co-wrote the script) is an attractive performer but this is broad, unsophisticated, appallingly sexist stuff. Who's the Man? is a brash Afro-American comedy starring Ice T, about two likeable slackers, played by the MTV rappers Doctor Dre and Ed Lover, who are coerced into signing up for New York's finest. Directed by Ted Demme, the producer of Yo! MTV Raps, and marginally the better of these two movies (not a difficult achievement), it's a sort of black Police Academy.
n All films open tomorrow
SHEILA JOHNSTONReuse content