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Maurice Sendak on Tomi Ungerer, and The King’s Speech

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May 1, 2016


I just watched Far Out Is'nt Far Enough, a documentary about Tomi Ungerer, the illustrator who was essentially booted out of the New York publishing world for having produced erotica while also illustrating children’s books.


Ungerer left the United States for Nova Scotia, and then eventually made his way to Ireland, and then Strasbourg, now the home of a museum devoted to his work.  Contemporary documentaries tend to be awful, in large part because too many people with access to what is now relatively cheap technology think they need no effort and mostly just throw together a lot of talking heads with found footage.  But Far Out Is Not Far Enough takes the time and trouble to explore a complicated artist’s complex legacy.  Ungerer is the contemporary of Jules Feiffer and Maurice Sendak, and the latter has a lovely and loving tribute to his friend at the very beginning when he says:


“I am a self-taught raving maniac but not as crazy as Tomi. Or as great as Tomi. No. He had his pulse on something which was extraordinary. It was disarming and funny. And not respectable at all. It was very unusual for a children’s-book author to be doing so many different things. He just broke down doors, he broke windows. He just made enemies like crazy! But seemed oblivious—who cares? Thus, he was treated badly. He was not reviewed as often as he should have been. He was not held up as an icon, which he was for a whole generation.”


The DVD has a few interesting extras, including an edited discussion between Ungerer and Feiffer at a New York event in honour of Ungerer’s work.  But my favourite is a clip of Sendak, contemptuously pointing out the key problem with The King’s Speech, about the speech impediment of King George VI.  Here, he gets to the heart of the matter:


The King’s Speech? I laughed so hard.  I wasn’t supposed to be laughing.  He makes a speech where he says in his twisted, stuttery way that “We’re going to war with Germany.”  And everybody kisses and hugs him because he got through the speech without stuttering. What about the message he just gave?  World War!  [laughs]  …”Oh, darling, let me kiss you; you got it all right, you didn’t stutter even once.”  Like we give a shit whether he stuttered or not.  And you know, that’s just dumb. That’s just so dumb.”


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