Jennifer's Review of In the Realms of the Unreal
The first of a string of films about art that I've watched, this time involving what is known as "outsider art." Apparently this type of art is created without exposure and/or any type of intent response to the already established art modes of the day - essentially, art purely as a form of self-expression. Henry Darger, the subject of this film, is a man who largely spent his time alone in his little room on Webster Avenue. From 1930 to his death in 1973, he had created a world called "The Realms of the Unreal" in which all sorts of fantastic things took place.
Of course, you may be thinking that, well, any idiot can go and create a fantasy land. The thing is, these Realms of the Unreal covered 15,145 pages and reams of scroll paper in intricately designed images of children clipped out of newspapers, books, etc.
Strangely enough, I was reminded of The Wizard of Oz when I saw the stylistic drawings that he had compiled and arranged. The fantastic, colorful kingdoms as well as the battles between them, the flying creatures and the armies of children - much of it reminded me of L. Frank Baum's childlike creations. Now, I doubt that Darger gave a flying monkey's butt about Oz since he was busy doing his own thing for the most part... I'm just saying. The pictures he used he painstakingly cut out of newspapers, books, anything he could get his hands on. I am willing to bet he used an Oz book here and there for that purpose.
The fact that Henry Darger never shared this with anyone, didn't want anyone to know about his private imaginative life was to be expected. Part of me thinks that he created it all to spite the bullshit outside world. It was, after all, pretty rude to him with the infantile methods of the day to deal with "problem children." To know that he was so successfully creative, and that his work became known enough in the end that I could watch this movie, makes me happy. I now have my concrete evidence that even the most boring and overlooked people in life can still blow us all away, and that really, any one of us could harbor an epic tale of struggle and beauty tucked in our brains ready to be generated onto paper. That's the way I see it.
Although this documentary does not send me in such a way that I would hail it as an award winner, it is a great watch for anyone interested in art, children's literature, even psychology. Many people on various message boards have speculated as to whether or not Darger was autistic, seeing as he talked to himself, made random noises in class that he didn't seem to want to stop, etc etc. It certainly would explain his capacity to write such a lengthy tale so thoroughly. It doesn't really matter now, as he appeared by all accounts someone who could take care of himself. Funny how some people use the idea of children as a symbol for all that is good and right and innocent in the world (when at times they can be just as vicious as any adult). I believe that he did what he needed to do in this life. The rest of us just need to look closer.