Tomi Ungerer Story Goes Far Out
Using a historical palette of 20th century events to paint an artist’s epic yet controversial life story, the film offers a retrospective of Ungerer’s life and art, and ponders the complexities and contradictions of a man who, armed with an acerbic wit, an accusing finger and a razor sharp pencil, gave visual representation to the revolutionary voices during one of the most tantalizing and dramatic periods in American history.
Coming of age under the German occupation of France in World War II, Tomi Ungerer produced some of the most iconic imagery of the 1960s and ‘70s. From his striking visual commentaries protesting American involvement in Vietnam to the many beloved characters of his children’s books, he is admired worldwide for the influence his work has had on a variety of art forms, and for his contribution to children’s literature. “No one, I dare say, no one was as original,” Maurice Sendak says in the film. “Tomi influenced everybody.” Yet the same factors that vaulted him to meteoric success – fearless creativity, absolute outspokenness, fierce independence – also made him a lightning rod for controversy and the object of intense malice.
In Far Out, we meet an artist who creates boundary-exploring erotica and provocative political art, while penning best-selling children’s literature with mischievous wit and childlike innocence. He arrives on American shores eager for economic opportunities and new creative freedom, and he leaves having offended even the tolerant and open-minded as he pushes past the limits of propriety. He becomes a broadly appealing artist and Madison Avenue success story, a singular artist steeped in piquant ideas and thoughts, yet even his most recognized books are now out of print. While Ungerer is by no means a victim, he is an early casualty of the so-called cultural wars—a man who didn’t fit neatly into the left or the right, and who managed to offend and fascinate people of all political and cultural persuasions. Once the most famous children’s book author in America, Tomi Ungerer became persona non grata in this country, exiled to the professional abyss, never to be heard from again.
The film also explores Ungerer’s life post-America, when he retreated to Nova Scotia in the hopes of finding himself. We see an artist “dropping out” and reinventing himself by adopting an agrarian lifestyle. Ultimately, his search leads him to Ireland, where he discovers this island’s natural beauty and its resilient people, and through both finds a degree of inner peace, not to mention renewed critical and commercial success late in life.
Ungerer’s artwork, drawn from an archive of thousands of original images, is the beating heart of the film’s visual style. What makes Far Out innovative is how the archive is used as a narrative tool. Through a number of techniques, from stop motion to 3D animation, the filmmaking team animated hundreds of images from this trove to help tell the story, bringing his childhood sketches, advertising campaigns, anti-War posters, cartoons, works of erotica and children’s books into motion. In addition, archival footage and photographs are selectively interspersed throughout the film, providing historical context but never dominating Ungerer’s original imagery.