Henry Darger worked all his life in menial jobs in Chicago. Living alone and in poverty, he had no friends or close family. Spending all his off hours alone, he whiled away the hours working on a 15,000 page illustrated novel called The Realms of the Unreal. A stunning amalgam of religious imagery, fantasy, and heroic drama, the work was only discovered after Darger was moved to a hospital during the last days of his life. Darger also wrote journals and an autobiography. The documentary uses interviews with Darger's neighbors and narration of passages from his works, along with his illustrations, to explore the mind and work of Henry Darger.Written by
Ken Miller <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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After Darger's death in 1973, the Lerners decided to share their discovery of his work, preserving his room and its contents.
Since then, Henry Darger's work has been exhibited and collected worldwide. His art has inspired the creation of paintings, poetry, music, and works in theatre, dance, and opera.
The room was dismantled in 2000.
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Flash Pan Hunter (Intro)
Written by Tom Waits
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An incredibly touching, disturbing, enlightening and beautiful story
Henry Darger, an unassuming, reclusive janitor, working and living in Chicago, died at the age of 81. To his landlady and neighbours, he was a simple man, who rarely conversed with them, and died in 1973 a lonely man, with no family or friends to speak of. Before he passed in a nursing home, a neighbour visited him, telling him that he had seen Darger's work, and was deeply impressed. He replied: "It's too late now." His landlady, Kiyoko Lerner, entered Darger's small flat to clear it and found, to her amazement, rows of manuscript, along with hundreds of accompanying paintings. The book, a fantasy world constructed over decades, was over 15,000 pages long, and completely unique to the unknown inner world of the man.
Darger had created a totally specific world, titled 'The Realms of the Unreal', that told the story of the Vivian girls, and their adventures during many Christian-led wars, the Glandeco-Angelinnian War, caused by the child slave rebellion. The paintings, constructed with various mediums and methods, illustrated this fantasy world, using collage, ink and paint, and he collected images, xeroxing many particular images over and over, to portray his beloved Vivian girls. With no exterior life, and a lack of social skills, Darger had lived completely within this inner world, where he kept intricate details and charts detailing the events in the "realm", and documented the wars - including names, dates of soldiers deaths, the costs of each of these wars: immensely detailed, impeccably assembled.
Whilst the actual reality of Darger's life is difficult to portray - only three photographs of him exist - he did begin a diary of his life after he retired. His life was one of desolation, separated from life, he was a devout Christian; he seemingly never had a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, but wanted deeply to have children. Many of the images he left behind hint at a man, whose asexuality, seems to be more about naivety. Often, naked little girls are portrayed in the paintings as having penises. This could point to a complete lack of knowledge of gender difference. However, without any actual input from the man, it is difficult to fully understand, and we can only speculate - it would be easy to accuse the man of unnatural desires, but I think this may be a cruel conclusion.
Jessica Yu's film is constructed of interviews with the few neighbours (I can't say they knew him, as clearly no one did), and a narration by Dakota Fanning - Larry Pine also recites passages from the Darger diary, expressing his inner desires. Visually, Yu uses Darger's paintings, animating the figures, and constructs a narrative largely connected with the stories in the book. It is an incredibly touching, disturbing, enlightening and beautiful story, but one which is tainted by many insidious conclusions and speculations. I saw this about five years ago, and it never really left my mind. The opportunity to watch it again filled me with questions as to whether it would touch me quite as much. It's hard not to be moved by this story. After all, Darger created one of the most colossal, detailed, and epic pieces of outsider art that I have ever encountered. A portrait of a damaged, complex person, who never really had the opportunity to share his body of work, until his death. Posthumously, his work is now displayed for the public. In 2001 the Henry Darger Centre was opened in The American Folk Art Museum in New York.
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