Thursday, January 16, 2014
"In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger": animation for the epic novel, interviews for the biography
The documentary “In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger” (2004, by Jessica Yu and Susan West) gives a biography of the enigmatic American writer and graphic artist (1892-1973), whose one huge book (published in pieces after his death and available in chunks from Amazon, often expensive) was in fact titled “The Story of the Vivian Girls in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Cause by the Child-Slave Rebellion”. It is a 15,000 page heavily illustrated novel, enigmatic in a way that is perhaps like James Joyce or William S. Burroughs, or even Salinger, or maybe, to look back to the 19th Century, Thomas Carlyle (“Sartor Resartus”, which has never been filmed – see Books, Dec. 1, 2013). He had indeed imagined a new kind of book. Maybe some literature professors like his work.
Darger was extremely introverted and lived as a recluse in Chicago most of his life. He was drafted during World War I but, after seeing some of it, got himself out and made a living as a janitor. As an artist, he kept to himself, talked to himself, and lived in his own world, populated by imaginary people of his own creation, perhaps based on fantasies he created of people he had met and admired.
Interviews with other people who knew him speak of his inability to relate to other people, and his substituting his own fantasies for real life.
He is said to be an artist who created only for himself. Yet, had he lived later, he might have become known on the Internet. Perhaps he would have remained obscure for years, and then suddenly gone viral.
In modern medicine, he would probably have been seen as having Asperger’s Syndrome (he would talk about specific subjects like the weather and the snow) or perhaps a “schizoid personality” (the difference between which seems elusive).
In moral terms, one can wonder, if you don’t like other people enough, what good is producing art? Can it ever be just for the self? I think a co-worker of mine in 1971, in an (unpubished) essay that he wrote called something like “The Fog: What Art Does” (no connection to the horror film; it predates it) asked the same question. Maybe I can find that online now.
The novel tells the story of seven female angels (sisters) who lead a child rebellion against slave owners.
The film uses animation of some of Darger’s drawings to communicate some of the story of the novel. Dakota Fanning and Chris Pine speak as narrators.
The film took several years to make. It was produced by Cherry Sky and Diorama, with ITVS, PBS, and seemed to have support from Fox and Universal.
Jessica Yu explains the pseudo-documentary film in a half-hour presentation. From the tone of her extensive comments, I think she would understand my work. Maybe she would also find the late Gode Davis (“American Lynching”) interesting to look at.
I got the film from Netflix on DVD, but I see a “free” version on YouTube; I don’t know how legal it is. It ought to be rentable as a video.