Wednesday, September 29, 2010

In The Realms Of The Unreal (2004)

Henry Darger was a man few people knew when he was alive. Indeed even the people who knew him can't agree on how to say his last name. He was a solitary man who spent most of his time living in a world of his own creation, which he put into a 15,000 page novel, several hundred paintings, journals, and autobiographies, all of which were discovered when he was dying. Darger is now hailed as a great artist of the outsider school, and this is his near as anyone can tell.

Using Darger's art and mostly his words from his novel, journal, and autobiography, this film takes you into Darger's mind. It's a strange world shaped by poverty, cruelty and a stay in a mental hospital when he was young. The movie plots the parallel courses (or single course?) of his life and the novel which he began in 1909 and continued working on for almost 70 years. It's a strange tale of little girls battling an evil empire in the name of Christianity. It's a wild dream-like story.

The film itself is dream-like. There are no talking heads pontificating about Darger's work, there is simply Darger's word and occasionally the remembrance of someone who knew him. This is a portrait of the artist as a man, since no one knew the artist as the artist until after he had died. After about twenty minutes of being lost in the paintings and words one begins to feel unrooted and starts to drift off, as if in a dream. It's a strange experience, similar to being trapped in the mind of someone else. It's amazing.

Actually this is an amazing film that is probably as close to being inside the artist as you can get. Even more so when you consider the work he left behind is obviously so incredibly personal, and relates to the trials and tribulations of his own life. Who need drugs to go on a trip?

If there is a flaw it is that the film is a bit too long. It's a brief 79 or 80 minutes and could use some trims, though I don't know where. The seemingly excessive length is a problem solely in that it is too long in someone else's head and it becomes a bit disconcerting.

See this movie. I'm certain it will show up on PBS, and it's on DVD. If you want to see something that will get you out of your head for a while, or if you want to see something that will teach you about someone new, see this film. Turn off the lights, take the phone off the hook and surf in someone else's mind for a while.