A churchgoing Chicago janitor and former resident of the Lincoln Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children, Henry Darger became the quintessential outsider artist after his death in 1973, when his landlords, Nathan and Kiyoko Lerner, discovered his 15,145-page epic ‘The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion’. Solitary and impoverished in life, Darger in death became a gallery star with his nightmarish drawings of angelic little blond girls (with penises) beset by horrific tribulations, including crucifixion, mutilation and a murderous twister called Sweetie Pie. Jessica Yu’s doc is an adequate Darger primer, combining interviews with his neighbours and the Lerners – who saved Darger’s opus from oblivion – with pans and simple animations of his often near-Brueghelian illustrations. Given the material, ‘Realms’ is inevitably engrossing, but the film at times seems uncomfortable with its own subject matter (it skips nervously over Darger’s voluminous fascination with scantily clad children), and with the aptly Vivian-like movie moppet Dakota Fanning supplying the narration, the movie risks cutesifying a painful and disturbing lifework.
Friday July 29 2005
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