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"In the Realms of the Unreal"


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#1 Charlie Seper

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Posted 17 August 2005 - 12:50 PM

Boy oh boy! Just had to leave a quick note. I had forgotten this was even being filmed after having heard an interview with the film-maker (Jessica Yu) a couple of years ago on NPR but, "In the Realms of the Unreal" (The Mystery of Henry Darger) is already out on dvd. Apparently I missed the theatrical release if there was one.

The only thing interesting about Darger from a literary standpoint is that he wrote the biggest book in the world, a few thousand pages, and illustrated it himself along the way with crude but interesting drawings on butcher paper. Sound a little odd? Darger was very nearly retarded. In fact, he spent many years in a home for retarded orphans because people thought he was retarded himself, being somewhat backward and reclusive. Eventually he got a job washing dishes with a Catholic organization where he stayed for life, going home to write and draw every night.

His never-ending story of life in a sort of alternate world is certainly childish by anyone's standards, and most of his drawings consisted of pictures he had traced out of magazines, books, etc. Darger's odd life was constantly flanked by his thoughts of God, not so much whether or not God existed, but rather, the nature of God (is God good, evil, or a little of both. etc.) When I first heard of Darger's life I thought his book might be a way in which he was working out his salvation (as St. Paul puts it), albeit in his own baffling way. He never showed the book to anyone, which is part of why I think it had to do with a conversation between himself and God. He went to mass often and said prayers daily. His whole life, as well as the book, is a crying out to God, a kicking out at God, or a questioning of God and all the "why's" in his life.

I've always thought, unlike a lot of theologians, that even the severly mentally retarded are not exempt from working out their salvation if there's a God, even if they have to do it in a dream world that we'll never get a glimpse of. In this case--we do. And it may be the only time in the history of man that we ever have or will. For that reason, Darger's life, his book, and the memories of those who knew him, are quite valuable I think.

About the only negative thing I can say about the film is that some liberties were taken with Darger's drawings. A lot of cut and paste editing was done in such a way that the drawings were brought to life in a sort of semi-animated way, where the heads, hands, feet and mouths move a little here and there as different people take up the task of narrating the characters in short sequences now and again. I'm not sure if I liked that.

PS, I just saw this DVD at Blockbuster a few days ago and the very next night it was featured on PBS' show--POV. If you watch your local PBS station during the next month there's a good chance they might run it in your area.
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#2 Steven Budden

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Posted 17 August 2005 - 02:36 PM

I saw that film in the theater here in San Francisco maybe nine months ago. It's pretty interesting.

Actually, I just finished grad school in 2005 for painting, and Henry Darger is all the rave as an "outsider" visual artist. Art critics and historians are fascinated by the fact that he worked in such seclusion... he kind of embodies the undereducated self taught artist for them, and the idea of art as catharsis. That's why I saw the film. I had no idea he wrote a book at all until I saw the film.

Anyway, they do take liberties with the drawings. It seems like a late attempt to make the film more quirky and interesting... more in line with Darger's own work. I guess it is effective to some degree in that sense. What I thought was poorly placed was that old stock footage of chicago at random points in the film, with those dated voice overs from the seventies. And twice I think they use the same footage, which was a little jarring for me.

I thought the film was good and very informative/ interesting... but I don't think it was a great documentary by any means. It sort of barely held together. Imagine how much more could've been done withe such remarkable material!

Steven
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