- Notre Musique, and: In the Realms of the Unreal
Speaking from "purgatory," Jean-Luc Godard, in his familiar sardonic tone, declares that "humane people don't start revolutions, they start libraries." To this observation, an addendum, "and cemeteries," follows and imposes on us an ambiguous truism. In this meditation on war, genocide, violence, and ethnic hatred, the former nouvelle vagueenfant terrible continues his exploration into who and how we might interpret and interrogate history and the possibilities of gleaning new regimes of knowledge. Simultaneously privileging and condemning the site/sight of the cinema, he insists on the feasibility of the two faces of truth: "death; life," [End Page 153]"dark; light," "good; bad," "real; imaginary," "activist; storyteller,"..."shot; reverse shot." 1
Likewise, these "eternal opposing movements" haunt Jessica Yu's In the Realms of the Unreal,an animated, documentary fiction on reclusive Chicago janitor Henry Darger and his secret life as artist/storyteller of a 15,000-page illustrated epic, The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as The Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angellianian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion.The title itself merely gazes upon the surface of this man's complex, interior life, only made public in 1973 after his death at age 81. Just as Godard contemplates the history of cinema and the cinema of history as "deeply personal, but which is also the story of us all," Yu weaves a universal tale of a social outsider who, by retreating into a world of his own creation, showed us the capacity of the human imagination to thrive and survive in captivity. 2The films resonate with each other for they explore the parameters of intelligibility constructed by the artist and his oeuvre, the work of memory and its often-clandestine relationship to personal and historical trauma, and the archive as theoretical and cultural concept.
These journeys toward historical and universal truths foreground the artistry both of their subjects and their creators. Considerations of Godard and the French New Wave's contributions to and influence on the cinema being numerous, here we mention Godard's autumnal achievements, beginning with his eight-part, made-for-television video essay Histoire(s) du Cinema(1988–1998), along with For Ever Mozart(1996), and In Praise of Love(2001), in order to elucidate the composition and mastery of Notre Musique.Viewing these in succession reveals a progressive build-up or crescendo toward some breakthrough meditation about modern existence, fraught with ethnic strife, the physical and psychological ravages of war, poverty, underdevelopment, incurable diseases, and the inchoate mess of making sense of it all in everyday life. In a dialogue with Godard, art historian Youssef Ishaghpour elaborates succinctly on Godard's concern in his cinema of the past two decades:
You position yourself below the vicissitudes, without avoiding them, and also above them, in a synthetic perspective from which cinema stops being the entertaining spectacle it is generally held to be, or the specialist area it is for cinephiles, to appear as it really is, not just the major art form of the twentieth century, but the center of the twentieth century, embracing the human totality of that century from the horrors of its disasters to its efforts at redemption through art. 3
This striving for "redemption through art," with its reference of a Judeo-Christian belief system lies at the heart of Henry Darger's inner struggle, which fueled his art. In the universe he constructed, the forces of dark and light and the real and imaginary fought each other for control. His Realms of the Unrealtold the story of the Vivian Girls, a royal family of pubescent sisters strong of will and body, and how they became foot soldiers of God to redeem the Christian land of Anniennia from the evil, godless Glandelinians. Incorporating biographical details from the reality of his life with...