MARWENCOL (Jeff Malmberg, 2010)
The documentary MARWENCOL reveals the imaginative creations that bloomed out of tragedy and need for one man. On April 8, 2000 five men assaulted Mark Hogancamp outside a bar in Kingston, New York. He suffered brain damage, needed to have his face rebuilt, and was in a coma for nine days. Hogancamp also lost his memory of life before the incident.
Unable to afford therapy, he developed a unique way of rediscovering his identity and trying to recover. In his yard Hogancamp builds a World War II-era Belgian town he dubs Marwencol and fills its with dolls that function as the the alter egos of himself and those important to him. Hogancamp invests these dolls with his fantasies and photographs the scenes.
MARWENCOL provides a deeply empathetic view of loneliness and powerful evidence of art as an outlet. Director Jeff Malmberg exercises restraint and displays respect for Hogancamp as he freely and frequently talks about the pain of being alone. This artist born out of necessity discusses his alter ego and imaginary world with a depth of feeling that most would reserve for real acquaintances. Of course, the people in his one-sixth scale artistic fantasies do exist, but like his past, they cannot be accessed in the ways that he often desires.
Perhaps in a different vein Hogancamp’s channeled energies might come off as bordering on creepy, but within the context of self-therapy it seems like a healthy way to work out his demons. Some of the documentary’s most touching portions provide insight into the expressive and healing properties of the art on the creator. One storyline in his miniature world mirrors his attack. While it’s clear that the assault still haunts him, the Marwencol plot lets him manage his anger in a constructive way. The same applies to a secret revealed later on--and also echoed with his alter ego--that allows Hogancamp to feel more at ease about what makes him him.
A viewer of Hogancamp’s art remarks that the work distinguishes itself with its lack of irony. Malmberg’s documentary takes a great deal of care to duplicate that perspective on its subject. Hogancamp is not presented as a whimsical outsider with a monopoly on the answers to life’s problems or as an eccentric tortured genius. He’s simply a traumatized individual trying to do the best he can to pick up the pieces in a way that works for him and also happens to speak to others.