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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Art, Isolation, and the Unreal World Within.
"In the Realms of the Unreal" explores the life and work of Henry Darger, a reclusive Chicago janitor who died in 1973, leaving behind 30,000 pages of writings and hundreds of pieces of artwork which no one knew existed while he lived. Director Jessica Yu approaches Darger's story from three points of view: that of Henry, himself, which he recorded in an autobiography;...
Published on June 23, 2005 by mirasreviews

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Henry Darger, Life found
His work is amazing. What a prolific artist. If only I could be so productive with my work. Henry Darger lived in his world though. He was creating an alternative world in which he could control what happens. It sometimes felt like therapy, company or maddness. His genious is evident in his story telling and artwork. You never know who may be living next door to you. He...
Published on April 7, 2008 by Julie Deery


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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Art, Isolation, and the Unreal World Within., June 23, 2005
This review is from: In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger (DVD)
"In the Realms of the Unreal" explores the life and work of Henry Darger, a reclusive Chicago janitor who died in 1973, leaving behind 30,000 pages of writings and hundreds of pieces of artwork which no one knew existed while he lived. Director Jessica Yu approaches Darger's story from three points of view: that of Henry, himself, which he recorded in an autobiography; how those who knew him saw Henry; and the story told in Henry's magnum opus, a 15,000-page novel, laboriously entitled "The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion".

Larry Pine provides Henry's voice, as he narrates his Dickensonian childhood and youth, thorough an adulthood of self-imposed isolation and struggles with faith, to this reluctant retirement. Luckily, his autobiography is frank, because Henry avoided interaction with people and spent every spare moment in his room creating the universe of his novel. Interviews with neighbors, landlords, and acquaintances allow us to see Henry as others did. As Henry's life unfolds, his novel, which he began in 1909 at the age of 17, progresses. The book is about a war between the Christian nation of Abbieannia and the land of Glandelinia, where children are enslaved. The heroes are the 7 cheeky, brave, and saint-like Vivian girl princesses, who lead the child slave rebellion. The novel is narrated by Dakota Fanning. And animators have brought Darger's fascinating illustrations to life in stunning visuals.

Jessica Yu is to be commended for encouraging viewers to come to their own conclusions about Henry Darger. The vibrancy, overwhelming innocence, and creativity of Darger's artwork has made it valuable today. But the artist chose to exist primarily within a fantasy of his own making, writing and painting only for himself. To me, the most fascinating aspect of Henry Darger's work is that it seems like a complete account of someone's fantasy life -which is a rare thing to find. Artists may wonder at the implications of Henry's creating art for "an audience of one". "In the Realms of the Unreal" is an intriguing, beautiful look at art, isolation, and the world within.

The DVD (Wellspring 2005): Bonus features include an interview with director Jessica Yu, some black and white storyboards, a "Photo Gallery" of 6 pieces of Darger's artwork, and a "Director's Filmography". In the "Filmmaker Interview" (30 minutes), Jessica Yu talks about Darger's art, his imaginary world, her approach to telling his story, and making the film. The interview is interesting but much too long.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yu's Amazing Trip Into Henry Darger, May 22, 2005
By 
Mona Pierpaoli (Outside the wall.) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger (DVD)
Within Yu's invigorating movie we take an extremely intense and magical trip into the litte-known art of Henry Darger. In The Realms of The Unreal introduces us to the brooding and often horrific mind of Henry Darger which is brought to life by amazing voice actors such as Dakota Fanning and Larry Pine.

Yu's treatment of Henry's art is just as sensitive (and engrossing) as her treatment of his art. The surreal dream-like landscapes that Henry Darger created in his huge novel are animated perfectly by Yu. Birds streak across technicolor skies while the children of Albeannia fight the evil Glandelinians in startling motion.

Never before has Darger's life and art been so sensitively told, and I highly suggest this movie to anyone interested in art of any kind. Darger's work is now imitated by thousands of artists across the world and his subversive and disturbing imagery is entirely unqiue and very exciting to see. Not only does Yu truly do justice to this art (she shows at least half of Darger's work) but she uses it to tell the heartbreaking story of a man who only wanted a person to love.

Yu has created a truly great movie and it is, most definitely, a must buy.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A moving, powerful exploration of one man's remarkable inner world, May 3, 2008
This review is from: In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger (DVD)
I realized while watching this film that I first heard of Henry Darger only a few blocks from where he lived and worshipped. I had taken my daughter to guitar lessons at the former location of the Old Town School of Folk Music, about three blocks south from the address listed as Darger's address on the letter in the film he wrote expressing sorrow over his friend's death. The church at which he worshipped is only a few blocks west of that address. I write this only a few blocks from St. Joseph's Hospital, where Darger worked as a janitor for many years. All of this brings his story home to me in a particularly poignant way. My neighborhood was also his.

Darger is, of course, one of the best known and most celebrated outsider artists, the author of a staggeringly large illustrated novel IN THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL, about a war between Christian and anti-Christian forces in a make believe land. The most compelling part of Darger's story is that he was completely untrained as an artist and writer and that except for a single friend was a lifelong recluse. His neighbors and the few who knew him elsewhere had no idea that he was the author of a 15,000 page illustrated novel.

The filmmaker made several interesting decisions in making the documentary, all of which I think were done successfully. No critics or experts or outside commentators were employed. All interviews were with people who knew Darger, including the landlady who helped preserve Darger's room after realizing what he had achieved there. There are actors who portray Darger and who read passages from Darger's work, but no art critics. The narration is by the then very young Dakota Fanning, appropriate given Darger's fascination with young girls. More controversially, the director decided to animate many of his images, of which more below.

Anyone viewing this film will get a good sense of what Darger's work is about. There are sadly no books in print summarizing his work or giving good examples of it. The books that have been produced are all out of print. By any measure Darger's story is an amazing one and it deserves to be even more widely known than it is. The film also brings out both Darger's virtues as an artist and his quirks. One of the best examples of the latter is that he may not have had a very good understanding of female anatomy, always drawing nude female figures (as an expression of innocence) with decidedly male genitalia.

Finally, to the reviewers who are outraged that the filmmaker manipulated Darger's paintings to create animated images I can only ask: precisely what is the problem? One reviewer says that this manipulation violates a sacred rule. Where, precisely is that rule articulated? And what could possibly make it sacrosanct? I actually think that the animation of his paintings made them more visually interesting for the medium in which they were being presented. Would I want this in a book of his work? Of course not. But whatever imaginary sins were committed were obscure to me. The manipulation of Darger's images were always deeply respectful and loving. The critics here are acting as if the filmmaker was sinning against Darger instead of affectionately trying to tell his story. They may not like the decision that was made, but there is absolutely nothing inherently wrong in it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Most Men Live Lives of Quiet Desperation, March 1, 2008
This review is from: In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger (DVD)
"In the Realms of the Unreal" is the story of Henry Darger, a janitor who lived a quiet but troubled existence in Chicago. Suffering over the death of his parents, the adoption of his sister, and years in homes for unwanted children, Henry spends his adult life sequestered in a make-believe one room world trying to work out the pain of his childhood through art.

After Henry is moved to a nursing home in the 1970's, his neighbors find his art work and are amazed at Henry's rich imaginary life. His room, drawings and novels are preserved in their original state until 2000. The film tells the story of Henry Darger's life from three points of view-his neighbors, his own words as found in his novel, and the voice of a child who narrates from a omnipresent point of view.

Henry's novels and art are obsessed with themes of justice-particularly for children, theology, and family. Wars are fought to end child slavery. "General" Henry Darger is his own hero, enlisted for the cause because he is a "known defender of children". In real life, Henry prayed, often going to mass several times a day, begging God for an adopted child. The Catholic Charities turn down Henry's application for adoption. His rage and pain are turned to the page where Henry enlists the "General" to the other side to defeat the Christian armies. Eventually the "General" becomes afraid of hell and becomes a defender of the Christian faith again. Henry resigns himself to a life of quiet desperation and poverty in his old age. He even denies himself the dog he so desperately wants because sadly, he does not think he can afford the five dollars a month upkeep. In Henry's life, the paint and pencil and scrap paper found in dumpsters are the only refuge of fairness.

This is a good film, but sadly some of the issues which are so glaringly present are never addressed. For example, it seems obvious to me that Henry was sexually abused as a child and was almost obsessively guilty over it, but the topic never comes up by the film maker. In the end, you'll have more questions about Henry Darger than you'll have answers. But this may be the way Henry would have wanted his life presented. He did, afterall, tell his landlord that "life had many questions, and not very many answers".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Discovering New Artists & Unsung Creativity!, July 6, 2006
This review is from: In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger (DVD)
Every time I learn about a new artist, a writer or an otherwise creative genius, I wonder where the heck I've been! This same sense of wonderment, alternating with a tad bit of embarrassment, always makes me want to find out more about a creative force who had been in our midst all along!

Scholars can argue the deep religious overtones while others try to dissect and ferret out hidden meanings. It would take years of studying the pictures & the text, and even then, we ultimately would never know what REALLY was in Henry Darger's mind all the years he was spinning the tales of the Glandelinians and the Vivian Girls.

Sit back, watch & try to grasp the sheer volumes of work that Henry poured out over the course of his life! Was he crazy-mad? Who wouldn't be with the type of real-world existence he lived. Perhaps, escaping into his fantasy world kept him from going over the edge. Who will ever know? I, myself, was MESMERIZED by this unknown but gifted man who used everyday things around him to fashion an intriguing legacy of wild imagination!

After first seeing this on PBS, I rushed to the computer to research and find out MORE about this reclusive man. I HAD to buy the DVD & intend to share it with those around me who hold the same type of fascination with learning about new talents.

Too bad that Henry Darger didn't live long enough to be interviewed for this documentary. I wonder what he would think about being declared a new American Folk Artist? We can only guess. Simply enjoy the voluminous works that he so graciously left behind for generations to enjoy.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Still at a Distance, April 11, 2006
This review is from: In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger (DVD)
Henry Darger was a janitor. He lived in one room. He cleaned a Catholic hospital for fifty years, and then died with a 15,000 page manuscript and yards and yards of artwork, unknown and unpublished, in his room. You can find out more about Henry Darger and his life work, chronicling the adventures of "The Vivian Girls" at the Henry Darger entry on Wikipedia.

"In the Realms of the Unreal" is a documentary about his life. The narrative comes through a few different sources: There are interviews with those who knew of Darger in his last days, including the landlords who discovered his work. There is an old man's voice reading Darger's autobiography. There are pieces of Darger's novel. Then there is a narrator who is about 5 years old, providing a little summary and connectivity now and then. The visuals behind the readings are sometimes photos of relevant locations, like the state farm where Darger spent his late childhood, or the hospital where he worked most of his life. Sometimes they are stills or animations of Darger's artwork.

The life of Henry Darger is fascinating. It's especially intriguing to think that there are people around us who are silently, secretly living these incredibly rich and complicated internal lives. It's sad that Darger was never "discovered," but even that sadness is complicated. I'm not sure what the world would have done with him, had we known what he was about. His was not the type of art that's comfortable to package and sell. Hard to contemplate a lonely old man drawing pictures of naked children, unless you put it in the context of his whole life. Not easy to reduce to a few key words.

The movie was kind of distancing. I came away knowing more about Darger but I felt unsatisfied somehow, like some primary source had been held back, like everything had been too filtered, too disjointed. Maybe it just goes with the subject matter -- Darger was a recluse, not open to interpretation or summary. The most meaningful parts to me were the pieces read from his autobiography. It was surprisingly kind, chatty, a bit apologetic, and patient. No bitterness. No angst. Isn't that strange.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Remarkably strange!, August 2, 2005
By 
Eurisko Lontano "SJH" (Bethlehem, PA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger (DVD)
The story of Henry Darger is one of those unique wonders of the human mind out of sync with the world around it. Jessica Yu has done a very good job of telling the story of a man so few people knew, through the unfolding of his profound writings and paintings. There are still many questions left unanswered, and short of pure speculation cannot be answered, about this strange man with an emense imagination that worked overtime throughout his entire life. While it would seem Darger was a very lonely soul, his imaginary world was filled with more people and events than the greatest men of history could ever know.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, But Still Mystery, May 23, 2008
By 
Tsuyoshi (Kyoto, Japan) - See all my reviews
This review is from: In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger (DVD)
Maybe I should confess first that I didn't know the name of Henry Darger before watching this documentary. They say there are many artists inspired by his extraordinary works - a manuscript with more than 15,000 pages, for instance - but sorry, I didn't know his seven "Vivian Girls" fighting the evil, or the illustrations he created for the fantasy story.

But the story of Henry Darger himself is intriguing enough, partly because it is, or seems, so uneventful except his early days. He had lived in a small apartment room in Chicago for 40 years before he died in 1973 and very few people knew him - they are not still sure how to pronounce his surname - and no one knew what he was doing in his room until the landlords stepped in after his death to find the manuscript and hundreds of drawings. The life of Henry Darger himself is a mystery. Not a mystery of which answer everyone wants to know, yes, I know, but still interesting for me as a portrait of a lonely man. Or was he?

Unfortunately, the documentary directed by Jessica Yu doesn't answer the question as to what kind of person Henry Darger was. The people around him are interviewed, but what they reveal is not particularly amazing or illuminating. It was a long time ago after all and any details of episodes, if any, have been irrevocably lost (there are only three known photos of Henry Darger).

Probably this is why the director decided to use an unconventional method to introduce the world of the elusive artist's imagination. Henry Darger's pictures are made into Terry Gilliam-style animation with the voice of Dakota Fanning. While some would say it is a brilliant way to introduce the creativity of the artist, or even the personalities of him, others may disagree saying we should not meddle with the artist's works and life which should be left alone.

I liked the animation part, but if you ask me if "In the Realms of the Unreal" is a success as an attempt on directors' side to re-evaluate the unique works reclusive Henry Darger left behind, I am not sure. Is he a modern-day William Blake? Frankly I don't know. Like any outsider artists it is hard to judge and it takes more time for us to know.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Realms of the Unreal, August 2, 2005
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This review is from: In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger (DVD)
This DVD sensitively portrays Henry Darger as an author and artist devoted to satisfying himself, not the world. Darger's amazing novel of thousands of pages and his accompanying works of art in various forms, sometimes cartoonish in nature or collaged from pictures in magazines, was put into motion on the screen while being true to the artists portrayal of the heroine little girls. While Darger made a living in jobs such as janitor, he never sought fame nor monetary rewards. The output of his obsessive behavior was totally unknown to others, and not discovered until after his death. Luckily these works were appreciated when found by his landlord, who recognized the creative effort for what it was. This is a celebration of what one reclusive man has created on his own, without training, education, or monetary incentive.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Henry Darger, Life found, April 7, 2008
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This review is from: In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger (DVD)
His work is amazing. What a prolific artist. If only I could be so productive with my work. Henry Darger lived in his world though. He was creating an alternative world in which he could control what happens. It sometimes felt like therapy, company or maddness. His genious is evident in his story telling and artwork. You never know who may be living next door to you. He may not have been much to notice in life but his work will hopefully live on forever.
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