Flick Pick: Watching Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story

In his children’s books, Tomi Ungerer practiced his belief that books “should give children a taste for life, even if it tastes bad.” Bad taste is relative, as Ungerer discovered when sidelines in erotica and political commentary clashed with his reputation as a beloved children’s illustrator.Watching Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story, it’s clear that no one ever told Ungerer’s story bigger, longer, and with better sound bites than Ungerer himself.

Ungerer is shown in storytelling mode — often with a glass of wine in hand or standing close by — across a series of interviews that director Brad Bernstein combines with the testimonials of the illustrator’s contemporaries in the art and publishing worlds and a dazzling animated survey of his striking, often darkly satirical illustrations. That the film’s title is drawn from the stream of epigrams Maurice Sendak called “Tomi-isms” needn’t suggest that Bernstein succumbed entirely to the Strasbourg native’s spell. Nor would it be a disaster for the project if he had. But the film’s delighted affinity with Ungerer’s well-turned perspective does lend a somewhat advertorial slickness to what might have been a more challenging study of a fascinating and famously elusive subject.

Ungerer’s remarkable protest images (many deal with the civil-rights movement and the Vietnam war; he de-signed the Dr. Strangelove poster) caused him less trouble than a book like Fornicon, a collection of pornographic drawings that depict women having rather creative sex with machine-like contraptions. Ungerer claims the project responded to the feminist proposal that machines replace men as sex partners, one of several moments when, to put it mildly, I would have liked to hear a little more.
July 12-18, 2013

 
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