Far Out Isn't Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story

Far Out Isn't Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

If you have never heard of Tomi Ungerer, looked at his children's books, seen his anti-Vietnam War posters or glimpsed his erotica, this visually creative documentary, lovingly directed by Brad Bernstein, will be the perfect introduction to a seemingly fearless man, who is being arrested every night in his dreams.

Tomi Ungerer never imagined that the two worlds he was successful in would collide, to destroy one of them.

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He was the most famous children's book author in America, once upon a time, and had clear ideas on what children need. If you want to give them an identity, "children should be traumatised," he once said at a congress of psychiatrists. "Once you have fear, you have to discover courage to survive."

In this beautifully edited documentary (the co-producer/editor/graphics credit goes to Rick Cikowski), we see Ungerer speak about his childhood in the Alsace during the Second World War, and the immense work he is currently doing for Franco-German relations. His creative life in which he would "rather take corners than curves", is presented in carefully selected images from the vast oeuvre, with the artist commenting on it all in different locations, from his home in Ireland to New York, where his career took off.

One of his colleagues, Jules Feiffer, speaks on camera: "In 1964… we were at the height of the Cold War, embarking on the Vietnam years, the country was in the midst of a civil rights revolution… the way we wanted to comment was through our wit and our art."

In the spirit of classic fairy tales, before they were rendered "safe" by Disney and friends, Tomi Ungerer's stories, like Crictor, the pet snake, give children a taste for life, "even if it tastes bad".

Maurice Sendak, who admits that his Where The Wild Things Are, would not have been possible without Ungerer and that he "learned to be braver than he was from Tomi", explains, what they were, and are, up against. He says: "It really was like a conspiracy against children, which persists - the assumption that children are innocent, vacant, and mindless - why give them anything?"

"Anger and all its accessories is a source of inspiration" for Ungerer, and there is plenty to be angry about. Bernstein's film chronicles, how his beloved father, an astronomer and artist from a family steeped in the clock-making tradition, died when Tomi was four and a half years old, how a boy can learn German in a few months when French was banned and you have "a knife on your throat", how the Nazis weren't the only ones to burn books, and how the magnificent Isenheim Altarpiece in Colmar, painted by Matthias Grünewald in the early 16th century, can change lives in the 20th century into the 21st.

In 1956, Ungerer went to America, worked in advertising in New York, published his first books for children, discovered segregation ("as bad as fascism, something that so totally revolted me"), and chose the style of his anti-Vietnam War posters from Hitler's propaganda. He found all his children's stories banished when his books of erotica were discovered and left the US without hope of being published again. In 1971, he settled in Nova Scotia, Canada, to "give destiny a destination". His life in the middle of nowhere, with a recent family and farm animals, could not have been more different from New York, where he first planted his "orchard". The world before the internet, when double lives could flourish, was not ready to accept his illustrations for brave little children and sadomasochistic adults as products of the same seed.

A full life, lived by someone who is highly aware of his contradictions, his wit, charm and the sharpness of his pen, is an extraordinary triumph to watch.

Far Out Isn’t Far Enough shows a man with a most fabulous sense of humour who seems afraid of nothing: "But nothing is fantastic too. If you are faced with nothing, you can fill it up - with your mind."

Reviewed on: 06 Nov 2012
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Documentary about the award-winning illustrator.
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Director: Brad Bernstein

Writer: Brad Bernstein

Starring: Tomi Ungerer, Maurice Sendak, Jules Feiffer, Michael Patrick Hearn, Patrick Skene Catling, Steven Heller, Burton Pike, Patrick Joseph Sheehan

Year: 2012

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: US


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