Last week after a post I wrote about one man’s artistic transfromation after experiencing a stroke, Al, a longtime reader, sent me a link to aninteresting site about the imagined world of another man whose life had been similarly transformed and whose story is told in a documentary,Marwencol, which airs tonight on the PBS series, Independent Lens. It’s also available streaming on Netflix.
This fellow, Mark Hogancamp, didn’t suffer brain damage due to a stroke. He was beaten and stomped by five young men outside a Kingston, NY bar back in 2000 to the point that he lost large chunks of his memory including that of his actual identity. He slowly began to gather bits and pieces of his past in rehabilitation but the trauma of the attack lingered, deeply carved into his pysche. When the Medicare funding for his rehab ran out Hogancamp started his own therapy.
That’s when Marwencol was born. Marwencol is the name of a small fictional Belgian village in the World War II era world that Hogancamp’s mind began to form. Hogancamp began a new life in the character of an American GI who found his wayto this place where all of the men were either off to war or had been killed by the German SS. The only inhabitants of Marwencol were the women who had survived by hiding from the SS and who, in a show of their appreciation for Hogancamp, gave him the village tavern. The towns inhabitants and the other GI’s who come to Marwencol are all fashioned and named after friends of Hogancamp.
Hogancamp, using small dolls (Barbies are used as the women) and roughly made buildings made from found lumber, recreated the village and scenes from his Marwencol stories then photographed them. It’s a grim world where the SS, often in groups of five, are a constant threat. His photos are highly realistic and vividly compelling, giving a sense of experience that goes beyond the narrative of the photos and into the mind of Hogancamp.
I was able to see the documentary last week and liked it a lot, finding parts that were uplifting and humorous, including his discovery upon coming home from rehab for the first time that he owned a couple of hundred pairs of women’s shoes and didn’t know why. Hogancamp’s world of Marwencol is a triumph of the creative mind in coping with the reality of a very harsh existence. But as the film ends, there is a tinge of sadness as Hogancamp remains a very fragile, damaged soul. I found myself hoping that he finds some way to keep this creative part alive and still find peace so that he doesn’t have to live the rest of his life in Marwencol, always under attack from the dark forces that haunt his past.