Tuesday, March 25, 2008

In the Realms of the Unreal

I just watched this awesome documentary on Henry Darger, recommended by Renee (again!). It tells the true story of this poor and solitary janitor in Chicago who did a 15,000 page novel named The Realms of the Unreal together with 300 paintings in his life. All his works were only discovered by his landlady after his death.

The film presents to us two pictures of Henry Darger: his social picture which is very limited and almost invisible; his inner picture, his private art world, which is in contrast so overwhelming and rich. His isolated way of living left the world little evidence of his physical existence, except three photos of himself, one friend and a few acquaintances. Instead of trying to create an objective biography, the film rather explores Henry’s mysterious inner world by blending in a large amount of his paintings, writings and autobiography with limited source of interviews and photographs. Through his works, we see his constant inner struggle with God, his eccentric vision of kids, his expression for peace and freedom… The strangely beautiful art world Henry created is the ultimate world he lived in.

From a presentation perspective, the animation of Henry’s original paintings is quite appealing and innovative. The juxtaposition of the blooming time images of Chicago with Henry’s fantasy characters makes sharp contrast between two different time and atmosphere which paradoxically coexisted. These imaginative techniques employed in the film simply accord with the incredible imagination inside Henry.

Worth mentioning, director Jessica Yu spent five years in making this film including extensive research on Henry’s works. I appreciate her efforts to show us the work and life of such a hidden genius.

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