February 10, 2011

Backyard Animations

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His backyard adorned in a model one-sixth scale WWII-era town, complete with a church, stores and houses, Mark Hogancamp created both an imaginary refuge for himself and his miniature friends. Marwencol, also the title of this independent documentary film by Jeff Malmberg, is the name of Hogancamp’s model town that he created as alternate sort of therapy. After being attacked outside of a bar in Kingston, NY by five men who almost beat him to death, he suffered brain damage and physical injuries. Because he was unable to afford medical therapy, he redeveloped his memory, social skills and hand-eye coordination in a unique fashion — by creating Marwencol. The film focuses primarily on how Marwencol developed, the fictional stories about the characters and the events in his model town and how he regained physical and emotional functions as a result. The characters he developed directly mirror his friends and family — women he wished he had. Created out of G.I. Joe figures and Barbie dolls, the miniature figures take on a life of their own with the help of Hogancamp’s imaginative plots. But unlike child’s play, Hogancamp views the world of Marwencol almost akin to reality. The documentary depicts his creation as not just his hobby but as his lifestyle. He uses this backyard fantasy as a way to escape from every day life, instead enrapturing himself in the life of a WWII soldier in the midst of love, war and the daily struggles of life. Hogancamp represents these stories in pictures, taking stills of his miniature characters interacting, fighting and making love. Malmberg demonstrates these plots in vivid detail, moving from one of Hogancamp’s still shots of his characters to another as if a movie in itself. In this way, Marwencol is not just a documentary but also an elaborate tale of the life of Hogancamp’s creative characters. Intertwined with the tales of his model town, the documentary also tells Hogancamp’s life story. Once a depressed, reckless alcohol with a devoted girlfriend, his life was in shambles when he entered the hospital. After this 40-day stint, he remembered none of his previous life except what photographs and his crazed journals told him. While he had had a long-term girlfriend prior to the attack, Marwencol caught him at a time when he was single and alone.Love plays a central role in Marwencol, as Hogancamp wishes for intimacy from a woman and acts out his fantasies in his backyard dream world. After becoming friends with his neighbor, he creates a Barbie character out of her and has his miniature character marry the plastic version of this already married acquaintance. Malmberg depicts the juxtaposition of the imaginary world that Hogancamp has put his life and soul into with his real world in this incident, as he mixes up the two when he vividly describes his miniature character’s relationship to the real-life neighbor. While primarily adopting a hands-off strategy in order to tell the Hogancamp’s story genuinely, Malmberg successfully draws out Hogancamp’s emotional struggle in a heartwarming way. This struggle comes to fruition when the photos of the stories of Marwencol are discovered and published by Todd Lippy from Esopus Magazine, an arts and culture magazine. Marwencol’s creator has to decide whether he wants to show this extremely personal town and its characters to strangers and people he doesn’t know. When his homemade therapy becomes “art” and he decides to show his pictures of his town in a New York City art gallery, he truly is able to come to terms with who he is in an inspiring, heartening fashion. This documentary breaks down the boundaries between reality and fantasy, as it delves into not just Hogancamp’s emotional struggles, but also the clever, extravagant tales of Marwencol.

Original Author: Chris Leo Palermino