director Brad Bernstein
I didn’t grow up with Tomi Ungerer, though I could have. The children’s book author and illustrator/artist/raconteur began his remarkable children’s book career in 1957 and was tremendously successful up through the early 1970’s when he suddenly fell out of favor (when it was discovered that he also published works of erotic art). Actually, maybe that is why I didn’t grow up with Tomi Ungerer, maybe I came of age for children’s books just as he was being brushed under the cultural carpet.
I came to know Tomi Ungerer as a parent. We somehow had acquired his hilarious 1970 book, The Hat, which I grew to like and like more and more with every read until I made a point of hunting his other books in the library and online. And it was only then that I learned anything about the man behind such terrific children’s books as Crictor (1958), The Mellops Go Spelunking (1963), Zerelda’s Ogre (1967), and Tortoni Tremelo the Cursed Musician (1998). He went from totally non-existence in my life to one of my favorite children’s authors of all time. My kids liked his books too.
The documentary Far Out Isn’t Far Enough is unusual in that it’s a documentary about a particular topic that I am vastly interested in and am utterly grateful that a film has been made on the topic. I knew so little of the man, who was born and raised in Alsace in France during WWII, emigrated to the US and entered the New York commercial illustration scene with a bang, and sped off during the heyday of the cultural changes of the 1960’s, the civil rights movement, Vietnam War protests, free love, and the wonderful unleashing of cultural strictures that happened at the time.
Ungerer is now in his 80’s and lives in Ireland. He’s as sharp and witty perhaps as ever, and though his life has been far from tragic, the backlash against his work was a major crime against children because his books are so good and should be readily available everywhere. Luckily, before I’d even heard of him, the publishing community had begun to reprint his books and a major reconsideration of his work has been in place for the past couple of decades.
His books speak wonderfully for themselves. I love knowing more of the history and truth behind the books that I’ve come to love and appreciate. Outside of the film, I hadn’t seen his erotic art and had been totally unaware of his commercial art and protest posters. It’s telling that the one other children’s author interviewed in the film is Maruice Sendak, in one of his last interviews, speaking of how much Ungerer influenced him and his work. It’s a testament to how much our world has been missing out on, without Ungerer’s books in homes everywhere.