Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story
Directed by Brad Bernstein. Starring Tomi Ungerer, Maurice Sendak, Jules Feiffer, Steven Heller, Michael Patrick Hearn, Aria Ungerer, Patrick Skene Catling. Light House Cinema, 6.15pm ****
The most obvious comparison point for this delightful, occasionally gently shocking documentary on a key illustrator of the post-war era is Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb.
Both Tomi Ungerer and Robert Crumb were heroes of the counterculture. Both are amiably eccentric. Ungerer did, however, have a firmer grip on the mainstream.
Born in Strasbourg in the 1930s, he moved to the US in the 1950s and went on to have great success with children’s books such as Flat Stanley, Moon Man and The Three Robbers. As the turbulent 1960s drew on, he became caught up in the counterculture and began focusing on anti-war pieces and ultimately a class of dynamic erotica. Not surprisingly, the shift caused some consternation among early enthusiasts.
Brad Bernstein (who cut his teeth on, of all things, the notoriously undemanding VH1 series Behind the Music) combines artful animation with fascinating interviews to tell the story of a truly magnificent eccentric. The late Maurice Sendak is among those who turn up to prostrate themselves at Tomi’s feet.
The man himself turns out to be a first-class talker. “When I draw it’s a real need,” he says. “It’s a kind of need like you have to go to the toilet. It has to get out.” It’s not a particularly attractive simile. But it gets at the artist’s physical connection with his work.
This is the sort of emphatic film that fires up fans and makes fans of those hitherto untouched by the work. It’s far out, but still close enough to grasp.