Terry Zwigoff Movies
Singular filmmaker Terry Zwigoff showed his talent for giving both real life and fictional outsiders their cinematic due in his as yet small but distinguished oeuvre.
A San Francisco resident, Zwigoff held numerous jobs, including musician, shipping clerk, printer, and welfare office worker, before he made his first foray into film in the 1980s with his documentary short Louie Bluie (1985). A portrait of an obscure blues artist, Louie Bluie revealed Zwigoff to be an able documentarian and presaged his personal passion for blues and jazz music that would give his feature Ghost World (2001) its extraordinary soundtrack. Zwigoff subsequently co-wrote two screenplays with his long time friend, underground cartoonist Robert Crumb, in the late '80s but neither got made.
Instead, Zwigoff made Crumb himself the subject of his first feature-length documentary. A Sundance Film Festival sensation and art house hit, Crumb (1994) proved to be a devastating examination of a family utterly divorced from mainstream "normalcy" as well as a portrait of a uniquely twisted artist. Crumb's emotionally disturbed brother Maxon was a particularly poignant reminder of the suffering dysfunctional families can inflict. Winner of several critics' awards as well as one of the best-reviewed films of the 1990s, Crumb was partly responsible for the Academy's drastic reassessment of its nomination process when it failed to receive an Oscar nod for Best Documentary. Though Zwigoff's unflinching film caused a riff with his subject, he and Crumb were reconciled several years later.
Refusing to go Hollywood and compromise his long-standing aversion to corporate commercialism, Zwigoff turned down numerous projects, including The Virgin Suicides (2000), and struggled for five years to get an adaptation of cartoonist Daniel Clowes's graphic novel Ghost World made. Co-scripted with Clowes and starring the inimitably deadpan Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson as two alienated teens stuck in a generic suburban city, Ghost World was far wiser, funnier, and more moving than the usual teen film. Suffering from more than just an average case of adolescent anomie, Birch's Enid's journey toward an alternative life is aided by Illeana Douglas's hilariously earnest art teacher and Steve Buscemi's gently eccentric collector Seymour; all of the players exude veritable humanity rather than Hollywood gloss. Directed with an assured low-key style that suited both its subject and its comic book source, Ghost World showed that Zwigoff could handle a fictional narrative as well as documentaries and became a summer 2001 art house hit. Seymour's onscreen record collection of jazz and blues 78s belongs to Zwigoff himself. ~ Lucia Bozzola, Rovi
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Filmmaker Terry Zwigoff and comic artist and screenwriter Daniel Clowes, who collaborated for the acclaimed 2001 comedy-drama Ghost World, team up once again for this offbeat satire. Jerome (Max Minghella) is an aspiring artist who arrives at a prestigious East Coast art institute to study. While Jerome enjoys daydreams of becoming the best-respected painter on Earth and winning the hearts of his female classmates, he soon learns the sad truth -- his "cool artist" act is old hat in the big city, and as he's surrounded by every art school cliché on Earth, practically nothing about him stands out. Determined to be recognized whatever the consequences, Jerome maps out a bizarre plan to become famous that has some unexpected consequences. Loosely adapted from a story in Clowes' comic book Eightball, Art School Confidential also stars John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent, Anjelica Huston, and Sophia Myles. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
- Max Minghella, Sophia Myles, (more)
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The Christmas season just got a lot less joyous in this very dark comedy. Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton) is a con man and a thief who teams up with his friend Marcus (Tony Cox), a midget, for a very special scam each year during the holiday season. Willie gets a job as Santa Claus at a shopping mall, his pal tags along as an elf, and they use their employee status to crack mall security and rob stores blind just before Christmas. However, there's one flaw to this plan -- Willie is a bitter, foul-mouthed and perpetually grouchy alcoholic who doesn't care for kids, and it's all he can do to keep himself from getting fired while on the job. The mall's manager (John Ritter, in his last film appearance) is certain something's wrong with the Santa he's hired, so he asks the mall's chief of security (Bernie Mac) to do some research on Willie. Meanwhile, one of the kids Willie is forced to talk to becomes a regular customer; overweight, awkward, and the frequent target of bullies, the boy manages to arouse something like sympathy from Willie, who tries to give him some advice and develops something vaguely resembling Christmas sprit along the way. Bad Santa was directed by Terry Zwigoff, who enjoyed previous success with Crumb and Ghost World. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
- Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, (more)
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Filmmaker Terry Zwigoff, who enjoyed breakthrough success with his 1994 documentary Crumb, shifts gears as he examines the lives of two young women on the verge of leaving their adolescence behind in his first dramatic feature. Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) are two close friends who've just graduated from high school, and are trying to decide what to do with their lives. Enid is a dark-haired arch cynic who is tired of living at home with her ineffectual dad (Bob Balaban) and his annoyingly perky girlfriend Maxine (Teri Garr), while Rebecca is prettier and a bit cheerier, but no more certain about her future. While the two girls have vague plans of getting an apartment together, they seem content to while away their summer hanging out and indulging in their shared infatuation with Josh (Brad Renfro), a friend from school who works at a convenience store and doesn't seem to be especially attracted to either of them. Enid discovers that in order to get her diploma, she'll have to take an additional class over the summer, where she winds up studying art with Roberta (Illeana Douglas), who is determined to encourage Enid's creative impulses, whether Enid likes it or not. More significantly, Enid meets Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a geeky record collector more than twice her age, and while they would seem to have little in common (and Rebecca thinks he's a creep), Enid discovers a kindred spirit in fellow misfit Seymour, who shares her disgust with the world around them, and a relationship begins to develop between the two. Ghost World is based on the award-winning graphic novel by comic artist Daniel Clowes, who also wrote the film's screenplay. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
- Thora Birch, Steve Buscemi, (more)
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So well-regarded was the documentary Crumb (1994) that the failure of it and of the same year's equally acclaimed Hoop Dreams (1994) to result in Oscar nominations caused a media furor which forced the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to revamp its documentary nomination process. Robert Crumb is a respected but controversial underground comic book artist and writer whose creations include the popular "Keep on Truckin'" and Fritz the Cat (1972). Crumb's adult subject matter includes weird sexual obsessions, social criticism, and personal, confessional observations about abnormal human psychology. The genesis and meaning of Crumb's work is explained through a series of interviews with his colleagues, former lovers, and especially family members, which reveal a horrific upbringing that has crippled both Crumb and his siblings -- but has also fueled the artist's groundbreaking work. A long-time friend of the film's subject, director Terry Zwigoff followed Crumb (1994) with another comic book-related project, Ghost World (2000), a drama based on a story from the anthology series "Eightball" by Daniel Clowes. ~ Karl Williams, Rovi
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String band leader Howard Armstrong (Louie Bluie) is the joyful, emotive, strutting subject of this tribute by fellow musician and cellist Terry Zwigoff. Filmed at the 1985 Friscofest, Louie's unique Afro-American string band shares the stage with Cab Calloway and with Les Blank and Alan Governar in an entertaining number about the ups and downs of nicotine in Cigarette Blues. Enjoyable for all audiences, Louie Bluie is 60 minutes of happy musical catharsis. ~ Eleanor Mannikka, Rovi