This week the first two films of cult director Terry Zwigoff get the Criterion treatment. Zwigoff's debut film, the documentary Louie Bluie (1985) tells the story of Howard Armstrong, a fiddle and mandolin virtuoso who ages ago recorded one of Zwigoff's favorite records, "State Street Rag." The documentary finds him still spry in his mid-70s, and he lived another 18 years after the film was released. The movie contains some terrific quasi-blues music, though Zwigoff insists that "it's only 10 percent of what he can really do."
Louie Bluie gets a regular DVD release, while Zwigoff's much more celebrated second film, Crumb, is now available on both DVD and Blu-Ray. Simply put, Crumb is my choice for the greatest documentary ever made, mainly because it invites new viewings and new interpretations with each passing year. After a time, many documentaries are good mostly for insulation, but Crumb is ageless. For those that haven't seen it, it tells the story of the noted San Francisco underground comic book artist R. Crumb and his brothers. Crumb is perhaps best known for creating "Fritz the Cat," for designing the cover of Big Brother and the Holding Company's Cheap Thrills LP, and for drawing the famous 1970s bumper sticker "Keep on Truckin'." (He also drew the covers for both DVDs.)
The new Crumb disc comes with the old 2006 commentary track recorded by Roger Ebert and Zwigoff, as well as a new commentary track by Zwigoff, around 50 minutes of unused footage, stills, a great liner notes booklet, and more goodies. Zwigoff put in a lot of work on the discs, and to celebrate their release, he sent us his newly updated list of his ten favorite films, plus some runner-ups he found too painful to omit (many of them Criterion titles). Here it is, a Cinematical exclusive:
1) Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock)
2) Sunset Blvd (1950, Billy Wilder)
3) It's a Gift (1934, Norman Z. McLeod) [W.C. Fields]
4) Dr. Strangelove (1964, Stanley Kubrick)
5) City Lights (1931, Charles Chaplin)
6) Army of Shadows (1969, Jean-Pierre Melville)
7) Sons of the Desert (1933, William A. Seiter) [Laurel & Hardy]
8) Strangers on a Train (1951, Alfred Hitchcock)
9) Barry Lyndon (1975, Stanley Kubrick)
10) The King of Comedy (1983, Martin Scorsese)
Runner-ups, in no particular order: Murder My Sweet (1944, Edward Dmytryk), Scarlet Street (1945, Fritz Lang), Touchez pas au grisbi (1954, Jacques Becker), Quai des Orfevres (1947, Henri-Georges Clouzot), Goodfellas (1990, Martin Scorsese), Raging Bull (1980, Martin Scorsese), Le Trou (1960, Jacques Becker), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989, Woody Allen), The Asphalt Jungle (1950, John Huston), The Killing (1956, Stanley Kubrick), Koko: A Talking Gorilla (1978, Barbet Schroeder), Viridiana (1961, Luis Bunuel).
I have seen them all except the "talking gorilla," and to me there's not a clunker in the bunch. What do you think, readers?