Monday, May 16, 2011


The most inspiring, touching, and relevant art in the world isn't created by artists. Mark Hogancamp has created an entire world in his backyard and because he took pictures, he's considered an artist. He didn't set out to create art in the way someone sits down at a canvas and asks, what should I paint today? Mark simply wanted to escape the pains of the real world. Marwencol is his story.

A decade ago, Mark was savagely beaten by five men outside a bar. He was left brain damaged and lost most of his memories. Unable to afford any kind of therapy, Mark begins constructing a model of a fictional World War II era town; Marwencol. He populates the town with G.I. Joes and Barbies. At first, the construction of this town and its inhabitants enable Mark to practice his fine motor skills. Eventually, Mark gives personalities to each doll, based on people he knows in his personal life. There is even a Mark doll, the alpha male of Marwencol. Through this doll, Mark is able to live his life.

Mark, in real life is divorced, but he doesn't remember why. He only knows that he loves women. In Marwencol the women, an assortment of different Barbie dolls, love him back. There are several times when the Mark doll runs into serious trouble. He is often tortured at the hands of Nazi toys. These conflicts represent the barrage of demons Mark has locked inside his subconscious. It is often the women toys, including a witch with magical powers, that come to his rescue. This means more than I'm willing to give away.

As the line between Mark's Marwencol and his real life starts to disappear, the pictures he has taken are discovered. He is asked to show them in a gallery. Mark must choose whether or not to venture out of his world. It is amazing to see how this climax in Mark's life translates to the storyline taking place in Mark's backyard.

Marwencol is a fascinating look at a real man living in an artificial world. The story is sad at times, but Mark has small victories every day; a true testament to art therapy. The interviews with Mark and his neighbors paint a picture just as detailed as the buildings and characters Mark has built. Jeff Malmberg, the filmaker, presents Mark in such a matter of fact way you can't help but love him. He treats the town of Marwencol as if it were just another one of the shooting locations. Thanks to Malmberg we enter Marwencol just as Mark does on a daily basis.

Everything is brought together at the end in a beautiful metaphysical kind of way. Charlie Kaufman would have a run for his money had this been a fictional story. The fact that it's all real makes Marwencol even more special.

This film gets 4 stickers from me. Really big stickers... (All images are property of Mark Hogancamp.)


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