DVD review: 'In the Realms of the Unreal'
Henry Darger lived most of his adult life in poverty, silence and anonymity as a janitor at a downtown Chicago Catholic hospital. But when he died in 1973 at age 81, he left behind in his cluttered, one-room apartment a treasure trove of primitive art and literature that belied the man’s drab outward existence and revealed an inner life marked by rich imaginative quests, raw artistic vision and somewhat disturbing psychological colorations.
In director Jessica Yu’s unsettling but fascinating documentary “In the Realms of the Unreal,” Darger’s artistic output – a 5,000-page autobiography, as well as some 300 paintings and a lavishly illustrated, 15,000-page fantasy novel – reveals an amazingly rich and eventful imagination in a man of whom one neighbor said, “There just wasn’t that much to him.”
Now held up as a poster boy for the “outsider art” movement, Darger has enjoyed decades-long posthumous fame as his works have toured museums and anchored scholarly discussions of folk art. But during his life, he lived a sad monastic existence that showed a man scarred by early trauma (he grew up in a series of institutions for “feeble minded” children).
His masterwork tells the epic story of the Vivian Girls, seven virginal sisters who lead a rebellion against child-enslaving males. Begun in 1909 and steeped in Roman Catholic doctrine, sexual naïveté and works by authors such as L. Frank Baum (of “Wizard of Oz” fame), it’s a twisted, savage and bizarre work illustrated with an amazing array of watercolors and pasty collage artwork (mostly depicting naked little girls painted as hermaphrodites).
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