Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story
Film Title: Far Out Isn't Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story
Director: Brad Bernstein
Starring: Tomi Ungerer, Maurice Sendak, Jules Feiffer
Running Time: 99 min
Children’s author, illustrator, ballad collector, creator of sadomasochistic erotica: Tomi Ungerer survived the German occupation of Alsace, was discharged from the Camel Troops in Algeria and spent much of the 1950s hitchhiking around Greece, Norway, and Yugoslavia before landing, with a splash, in New York’s budding countercultural scene. A civil rights activist and anti-Vietnam protestor, Ungerer relocated – under some duress – to Nova Scotia, before settling down with his family in West Cork in 1976.
Behind the Music alumnus Brad Bernstein’s award-winning documentary portrait of Ungerer has a fascinating geographical variation and historical proximity to recommend it. But these amount to the very least of the project’s charms.
The debuting feature director presents a huge wealth of biographical details in straight lines, talking heads and occasional anarchic animations. His direct route proves a smart corrective to the sprawling world of octogenarian Ungerer, whose brilliant oeuvre stretches to some 150 books, architectural marvels, discombobulating sculptures and autoerotic blueprints.
“I simply have too many ideas,” observes Ungerer. “And with age it gets worse; it just snowballs. I’m crushed by my ideas.” Cartoonist Jules Feiffer reinforces the notion: “He’s a wonderfully brilliant, innovative madman.”
The subject-narrator’s acerbic, cheeky observations and recollections make for splendid company. But Bernstein is after more than Ungerer’s skills as a raconteur. Far Out Isn’t Far Enough doubles as a sorely needed retrospective.
In Europe, Ungerer is an Officer of the Legion d’Honneur and has been celebrated with a museum. In the Anglophone world, however, Ungerer’s adult collections damaged his standing as a children’s author. In the late 1960s, coinciding with the release of Ungerer’s daring Fornicon, popular children’s titles such as Crictor (Ungerer’s delightful tale of a loveable boa constrictor who wins over a French village) were swiftly removed from US libraries and schools.
Happily, there’s a compelling sense of rediscovery and Ungerer- inspired evangelism underpinning this lively draftsman’s tale.