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An Outsider’s Journey Into <i>the Realms of the Unreal</i>

Realm of Unreal
courtesy of Diorama Films

Greetings and salutations
* film geeks from the Subterranean Beatnik Library where everyone’s favorite film snot (Poppa H) just had an out-of-body movie experience that (literally) made the 4-year-old hermaphrodite sitting next to me wet his britches.

I’m not sure who brought the child; I mean I’m talking realms of the unreal here.  Specifically In the Realms of the Unreal, an underappreciated 2004 documentary from SF’s-own Jessica Yu about the life of the greatest self-taught “outsider” artist of the 20th century … Henry Darger. Who’s Henry Darger? Oh brother, we’ve got a maroon in the net. Haven’t you hipsters heard of Outsider Art? No … Okay, fasten your turtlenecks bitches.


Here’s the setup: When a hermetic hospital janitor is found dead (in 1973) in his Chicago flat at the age of 81, none of the neighbors who saw him rummaging through their trash for the last 40 years could have predicted an art star was being (posthumously) born … or that their neighbor’s tiny apartment would eventually become an art museum. You just never know about your neighbors, do you?

Realm of Unreal
courtesy of Diorama Films

Overlord of the Realm

Rumor has it that the lonely janitor (Darger) was quietly writing a novel for 40 years that was so comprehensive and bizarre, upon hearing it’s title, the overwrought ghost of Marcel Proust choked on one of his Madeleine cookies then rolled over in a heap o’ tears. Why was Proust so bloomin’ pissed?

We’re talking about the longest novel ever written here. Clocking in at a whopping 15,145 pages: The Story of the Vivian Girls… follows seven Vivian Sisters who (to the untrained eye) appear to be a militant army of child hermaphrodites leading a child slave rebellion against the forces of evil—but that’s just my take. You’ll have yours. With the help of a few psychedelic dragons and hallucinogenic butterflies, the girls spend most of their time inflicting bloody carnage on their legions of mortarboard-wearing tyrants. That’s right … mortarboards. Any of you scared yet?

Realm of Unreal
courtesy of Diorama Films

You will be…*  Darger’s violent fairytale is both psychologically fascinating and viscerally disturbing, namely in the brutal depiction of a world where lost innocence and cosmic martyrdom are orders of the day. What makes this movie so memorable is the fact Darger also painted hundreds of detailed illustrations to accompany his sprawling narrative. The audience gets the benefit of seeing the (psychedelic animated) battle scenes play out while the story of the Vivian Girls is told. It’s pretty fucking rad actually …

As for whether Realms validates my romantic belief that there are still some mysteriously awesome things (as opposed to horribly depraved things) going on behind every 10,000th closed door in the big city?… um, not exactly. This is America, remember, “the home of the crazed?” Until next week, this is Poppa H signing off, be bad and get into trouble baby…* MRF

Realm of Unreal
courtesy of Diorama Films

Outsider Artist Picks to Click
•    My Name is Albert Ayler (2005) Dir. Collin
•    Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten (2007) Dir. Temple
•    The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005) Dir. Feuerzeig
•    Man on the Moon (1999) Dir. Forman
•    Lenny (1974) Dir. Fosse

Volume 39 Footnotes
•    “Greetings and salutations.” – Heathers (1991): Christian Slater doing his best Nicholson impersonation to a monacle-lovin’ Winona Ryder
•    “You will be, you will be…” – Empire Strikes Back (1980): Frank Oz puts the fear of Master Yoda into a quivering Luke Skywalker.
•    “Let’s get into trouble baby.” – Tapeheads (1988): Soul Train host Don Cornelius (as Hollywood Producer Mo Fuzz) to upstart filmmakers Tim Robbins and John Cusac