Revolutions of the Night tells the story of the amazing discovery of Henry Darger’s secret world of writings, paintings, objects and collections, created and collected for over 40 years in his one room apartment in Chicago: apocalyptic visions of an imaginary war-torn planet in which children are pursued and enslaved by a race of evil adults.
Darger died unmourned in 1973 and was buried in a pauper’s grave. As far as anyone knew, he’d led an anonymous and isolated life, doing so-called menial jobs in hospitals on the north side of Chicago. This documentary charts Darger’s journey from obscurity to what the New York Times has called his ‘almost van Gogh-like mythic stature.’
The documentary reveals the untold truth behind the Darger discovery and captures the confusion, shock and astonishment of residents, landlords and neighbours, artists and students, even visiting psychiatrists who pored over the mysterious contents of Darger’s room at 851 Webster Avenue. Male and female alike struggled to come to terms with the haunting, unsettling work with its disturbing violence and strange sexuality. Some were profoundly affected and the encounter changed their lives. Others thought Darger’s work should be thrown in the trash.
The documentary shows how Darger’s room became a shrine or was thought to be haunted; how Darger’s works found their way into the world; the cult of Henry Darger grew, fired by controversy; and how Darger has been praised and patronised, psychoanalysed and pathologised, and laid claim to by different factions.
Probing the origins of the myths surrounding Henry Darger, the documentary challenges many of them, and counters the often-held view of Darger as the mental isolate retarded in childhood. It draws on many different facets of his work (including Weather Reports, journals, Life History, artifacts, source materials and collections) to uncover surprising concerns and contacts, tracing Darger’s relation to the material world and casting new light on the purpose and methods behind his life-long project. We see how Darger survived a brutal institutionalised childhood and forged an incredible creative life rooted in the context of his time and place; how key sites were transformed in his imagination, and served not to inspire straight-forward fantasy but to memorialise his past, the forgotten and the dead, the anonymous and the unmourned, and to reflect the brutality of life. Darger is shown not as a creator of individual pieces but of a total work. The documentary also argues for Darger’s relation to nature, disclosing an intense lyricism.
Filmed in the US, UK and Europe, the documentary brings together extensive interviews with rare film and video filmed as early as 1973, previously unseen photographs, unique archive sound recordings and unpublished Darger materials.
From incredible chance survival to worldwide fascination, this is the strange afterlife of the last great unknown artist of the 20th Century.
Henry Darger’s art and writings © Kiyoko Lerner