The chances are pretty good that the name Tom Ungerer has slipped under your radar. It had mine. In fact, until I dove headlong into Brad Bernstein’ s biopic documentary Far Out Isn’t Far Enough, I had no knowledge that Ungerer had ever lived. Unknowingly however, Ungerer had already made his way into my life through a story I had discovered while living with a woman and her son in Emporia, Kansas. Ares, the woman’s child was in love with children’s illustration. As a result, we had decided to decorate his first real bedroom with classic children’s literature illustrations. We littered his walls with the likes of Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, The Velveteen Rabbit and Flat Stanley.
Flat Stanley, it would turn out was the most famous character created by Ungerer. In that odd six degrees of Kevin Bacon way, we were already connected, proving the reach of his nearly 55 year career. The man depicted in the film as both a world-class child illustrator and a game changing rebel would shift the industry not only for his unique style and creative take on art, but for his unethical approach to the profession. Convinced that fear serves just as vital of a place in children’s literature as hope, Ungerer kicked down doors and reshaped the dimensions and boundaries of acceptance. Often the outcast, Ungerer was shelved and shunned for his no bullshit, no fucks outlook on life. Take for example his taboo decision to dabble in erotic illustration while also balancing a career in kiddy-lit. The backlash would almost burn his life to the ground.
Bernstein’s depictions of the Ungerer story walks a fine line. At times, the story is flawlessly presented, capturing the overwhelming importance and essence of an abundantly brilliant mind. Ungerer’s paranoid demeanor is captured effectively and his creativity is presented adequately enough. However, at times, the taxation of Ungerer’s ghosts fail to be balanced with the weight of his successes. The story drags and lulls at times, lingering on subject a touch longer than needed. However, chances are this is due to Ungerer’s slow approach to storytelling and not directly the result of the filmmaker himself.
On the positive side of things, Bernstein make his film a delight to look at. In addition to displaying a museum size collection of Ungerer’s works, the director laces cartoons and illustrations into the workings of the film, helping to drive the storyline. However, at times the storyline is juxtaposed due to unnecessary edits and awkward transitions from interviews to cut scenes. The lack of cohesiveness at time however doesn’t affect the film as much as one would imagine. It is ultimately a moot point. Frankly, with a life and a storyline as big as Ungerer’s, there is enough fanfare and confetti in the timeline and history books to make up for any false movements or shotty camera angles. As a whole, the documentary is worth a spin and Ungerer’s life is worth a Google search.
Just maybe…not at work.
I give Far Out Isn’t Far Enough 4 “exotic ladies of Liberty” out of 5
by Josh Hammond