Far Out Isn’t Far Enough recalls how Tomi Ungerer (b. 1931) could go from acclaimed children’s book illustrator to a creator of erotica. Documentary film director Brad Bernstein gets to the heart of how the man could balance these polarities. Having been only a boy when the Nazis came to occupy his native region of France, he was compelled to speak only German by Fascist decree or else suffer the consequences. His grim graphic illustrations from that time, which are shown in the film, clearly reflect his state of mind.
When the Nazis were eventually defeated, the French burned the books of classic German writers of centuries past, long before Hitler, like Goethe, from Ungerer’s local library. Ironically, as Ungerer points out, the Nazis were notorious for their own book burning. Further irony: Ungerer was ostracized socially by fellow French citizens for speaking with a German accent. Of course, having lived in Nazi-occupied France, the accent was inevitable if you, and in some cases, your own family, wanted to stay alive.
When his illustration career began in New York, Ungerer’s dark aesthetic revolutionized children’s publishing. It had been unthinkable to have a snake as a main and likable character but his ‘Crictor’ was just that. It was a sensation. Sections with the late illustrator, Maurice Sendak, a passionate defender of Ungerer, show Ungerer’s influence on his work. How wonderful Bernstein got to interview Sendak before his death last year.
Ungerer also used his gifts to brutally satirize the Vietnam War and racial segregation. His expansion into the erotic is reminiscent of the splendid homoerotic images by Tom of Finland, though for Ungerer, erotic from a straight perspective. For some, Far Out Isn’t Far Enough may be discomforting but its insights into ostracism, censorship, and society’s reflexive reactions against images against the sexual and the violent, are of great value. (Full disclosure, I’m a passionate critic of much violence in art and still am, but Bernstein’s coverage is thought-provoking in a healthy way. Even though I loved Django Unchained, I will still use the expression ‘Too Much Tarantino’ when an artist, especially in film, gets bloodily excessive.) And the Ungererian images throughout Bernstein’s film are beguiling and even nightmarish, and nightmarish in service of understanding the subject.
Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story
Starts Friday, July 19
Edina Cinema, 3911 W. 50th St., Edina