The tsunami of ’60s–’70s artist docs continues with this portrait of America’s first transgressive children’s-book illustrator-author. Emigrating from Alsace, France, in 1956, after a childhood spent drawing Nazi atrocities, Ungerer metamorphosed from advertising wunderkind to kid-lit sensation to saber-toothed antiwar satirist to pornographer. Along the way, he established a linear graphic style that took off from Sol Steinberg and clearly led to Ralph Steadman and beyond. (Among a thousand other iconic bits of culture, he did the original movie posters for Dr. Strangelove and Monterey Pop.)
Now in his eighties, Ungerer is certainly an irrepressible force, but beyond his surreal erotica getting him blacklisted from picture books in the early ’70s, his life isn’t very dramatic, and Bernstein’s film pads it with historical footage and precious animations. It’s difficult to parse why—Fornicon, his career-wrecking art volume of startling speculative-S&M erotica, must have stories behind it, and Ungerer’s private countercultural experiences must’ve had more juice than we’re led to believe.
But maybe not—the art’s the thing, and perhaps he just drew. Hardly the trippy icon the doc’s title suggests, the artist is now more like everyone’s slightly seedy hedonistic granduncle, happiest sketching cartoon pigs and walking the moors of County Cork.
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