International Festival of Films on Art- Review in Art Press No.390

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TRANSCRIBING HISTORY

Sharing the tools used by art historians, a filmmaker can also delve into the past in search of clues, traces and analytical elements. The British director Mark Stokes’s movie Revolution of the Night: the Enigma of Henry Darger is a sensitive attempt to unearth the story of this major outsider art figure who was totally unknown at the time of his death. It was no easy endeavor to describe the project of an artist who died in 1973, a hospital janitor who lived for thirty years in the same rented room in a small building in Chicago, where day after day he piled up newspapers and magazines found in the street. The film revisits these places and slowly brings fully into view Darger’s colossal achievement, a literary as well as visual opus, the 15,000-page tragic story of the Vivian Girls, androgynous children who are exploited, raped and murdered, amid nightmarish natural surroundings. Stokes worked with archival footage made in Super 8, at the time when Darger died and in 1999, in Darger’s room, kept undisturbed by its sagacious owner, the artist Nathan Lerner. In both sets of footage the camera is shaky and the viewer is lost amid the proliferation of pictures, newspaper stacks and sketchbooks. The feverish images do justice to this room stuffed with a thirty-year accumulation. Through this methodical inquest the filmmaker reconstitutes, in his own way, Darger’s obsessions – Léa Bismuth

Henry’s Table – Photograph © Michael Boruch
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