What About Bob?

If you've ever walked around the shopping center at Mockingbird and McMillan -- the one with the Pocket Sandwich Theatre, Whole Earth Provision Co., Premiere Video -- you've no doubt run into Robert Thomas Crawford, or Bob, to the people who know him, and there are many. Among his friends are Lisa Johnson and Sebastian Lee, who are making a documentary about Bob called His Name is Bob. Because, as they write, "Bob is a cast-off, but he has found his way, living a life of contented happiness, love and acceptance, peace and compassion. The experiences he's had say he should live in fear. But he doesn't. Some people say Bob is God."

I talked to Lee today, and he says he and Johnson have "60 to 70 hours of material" they've gathered over the last four years; they're also planning on shooting with Crawford in Sedona, Arizona, this very weekend -- "part of the spiritual climax of the film," Lee says. They also maintain a very substantial Web site devoted to Crawford, post semi-regularly to a blog about the film itself, and this week they've begun posting to YouTube clips from their work-in-progress.

"We were looking for some of the more interesting, funny, offbeat things we're not using in the movie," Lee says. "We'll have 10 'chapters,' six of which we've already got rough edits of. We're hoping to have a rough edit of the entire film done in a month."

One of the more curious clips among the posts is one in which they goad Crawford into dumpster-diving. I told Lee that to a stranger cruising the site, it sends a very mixed signal: You love the guy, but you're demanding that he dig through trash? Repeatedly? So you can film it? In fact, it was that clip that got me to make the call in the first place -- I wondered what it was doing there and what it meant.

Lee says he can understand how a newcomer to Crawford's story could take the thing out context. So he takes the time to explain just where it comes from.

"Bob provokes strong reactions from people who meet him -- both positive and very negative," Lee says. "Either people love him or they can't stand him. In the last four years he's become a lot cleaner. When we first met him he was living in public housing off Munger. He couldn't take a bath in the bathtub they had, so he was never cleaning himself. He was pretty disgusting... And people would go, 'Why is he like that? Does he sleep in a dumpster?' So we wanted to see what kind of reaction we'd get from him. The reaction to us is funny because we knew the story. The way he looks, it looks like he goes dumpster-diving for a living."

In other words, they begged him to go dumpster-diving to prove he's repulsed by the idea. Lee says he's horrified by the idea people would think he and Johnson are being mean to the guy; after all, they've spent four years with him, trying to make a movie about this nowhere man people either like or loathe as soon as they pass him in the strip mall.

"At first we thought it'd be a little project, and we thought he was an interesting sujbect to make a documentary about," Lee says."But slowly but surely he talked about his uncle being put in prison for killing his aunt and how he's due this really large inheritance and all this stuff, and as we investigated his story, we came to the conclusion that a lot of his story was true. And, look, Bob is kind of a charismatic guy. He's a charming guy." --Robert Wilonsky

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