Marwencol is an award-winning documentary by Jeff Malmberg that tells the real-life story of Mark Hogancamp. The awe-inspiring film is a breathtaking glimpse into the mind and life of a man who was beaten in a hate crime and left for dead because he is a crossdresser. He was in a coma for nine days and spent almost a month and a half in the hospital. The beating left him with brain injuries that resulted in complete amnesia and physical limitations. Now, Hogancamp has become a brilliant artist who builds incredibly detailed dioramas to work out his pain in lieu of talk therapy. His life has been optioned to filmmaker Robert Zemeckis. A narrative version of the documentary will be written by Caroline Thompson, who also helped write Edward Scissorhands, City of Ember, The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Secret Garden.
The documentary Marwencol details Hogancamp’s struggle to regain his life and heal from severe injuries after being jumped and beaten by five teenagers in a bar. At least one of the assailants admitted to police that Hogancamp had revealed to the teens that he was a crossdresser, and according to an audiotape of a police interview with that assailant, right after Hogancamp’s crossdressing was revealed, the assailant decided Hogancamp “was going to get it.” The teens beat Hogancamp and left him for dead. When he awakened, he had no memory of his former life.
At first, he attended talk therapy to assist with his emotions about the beating and began working with miniatures to improve his dexterity. When funding for his therapy was completely cut off, Hogancamp became more involved in his miniature dioramas and began to build a town, which he calls Marwencol. The town’s name is a combination of his name, plus the names of his friends, Wendy and Colleen. His town contains a bar, numerous outbuildings, roads and open spaces; Hogancamp creates incredibly detailed scenes which depict battles from World War II mixed with many situations that involve interpersonal relationships between the town’s inhabitants. He uses Barbie dolls and well as dolls he crafts from parts he gets from the hobby shop. He also takes extensive photographs of each event depiction.
Some examples of scenes from his diorama include German soldiers drinking in a bar, women fighting over his affections and revenge on the representations of the people who beat him. He often takes his characters for “drives” along the scenic back roads of New York State, where he lives, and spends much of his time enacting different scenarios with the dolls. Each person in Hogancamp’s life has their own doll representation, and working with the dolls enables him to cope with his feelings.
The detail Hogancamp puts into his work is magnificent in its scope. He knows what each of his dolls is carrying in their pocketbooks or satchels. If his doll has a gun, the gun is a totally realistic miniature made of metal, complete with a removable clip and the moveable trigger. Hogancamp does detailed work on the characters’ hair and makeup as well as their clothing.
Word of Hogancamp’s artistic genius spread, and soon he was approached to show his work in an art gallery in New York. His photographs were also published in Esopus. The documentary is fascinating, lyrical and enchanting. Now, Robert Zemeckis has purchased the rights to Hogancamp’s life and will turn Marwencol into a narrative film. It is being reported that Leonardo DiCaprio is being eyed for the lead role.
Marwencol the documentary does an excellent job telling the story of Hogancamp. The fact that he is a crossdresser is slowly revealed, making the fact that he was beaten in a hate crime and put into a coma all the more disturbing. His amnesia did not destroy his artistic talents, and now, he has become a brilliant artist. Marwencol is worth watching, and the narrative version seems promising. Hogancamp is a true inspiration.
By: Rebecca Savastio