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Laramie Movie Scope: Marwencol

A unique recovery from a hate crime

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 10, 2010 -- Artist Mark Hogancamp suffered a near-fatal attack in a bar parking lot in New York after he told some people in the bar he was a cross-dresser. It was a pure hate crime, much closer to the actual definition of a hate crime than the infamous case of gay college student Matthew Shepard, who was kidnapped, robbed and beaten to death in Wyoming. Hogancamp was so severely beaten by five men in Kingston, N.Y., that he lost almost all of his memories of his life before the attack, including memories of his marriage. He lost his ability to draw and paint due to hand tremors. He had to learn to live again, how to eat, how to talk, how to write. He was literally born again. He was given a second chance to live. Interestingly, he had been an alcoholic prior to the attack and became sober when he recovered. What makes this documentary film interesting is the unique world Hogancamp creates to cope with his intense feelings of anger and loss over the near-fatal beating by five men.

Hogancamp dealt with his feelings by creating a miniature, fictional town of Marwencol, Belgium in his backyard. In this little town, in one-sixth scale, he created a World War II era story, with American, German and British troops peacefully coexisting along with the remaining town inhabitants, all women (Barbie dolls dressed in period costumes. The five bad guys are German SS troops, who capture Hogancamp's alter ego, beat him and torture him, but he is rescued by the women of the town, who kill the bad guys. Hogancamp's lengthy, complex storyline includes romances and marriages as well as battles, murder and brutality. It is like a three-dimensional graphic novel. In his fantasy world, he is once again married and happy, like he was earlier in his life. Now, in real life, he is still scared that someone will hurt him again.

Hogancamp's elaborate miniature town is populated by dolls representing friends and acquaintances. Even the director of the film, complete with a vintage WWII camera, is represented in Marwencol. Eventually, word spreads of his unique therapy and he becomes famous. Hogancamp's miniatures and photos of Marwencol are exhibited at an art gallery in New York City. Hogancamp finds the courage to attend the opening of the show, even though he is still not comfortable around crowds of strangers. He is a lot more comfortable back home with Marwencol rebuilt. He retreats into the comfort of his fantasy world. When he walks down the road, he pulls along a tiny jeep from Marwencol, manned by four heavily-armed soldiers. The tiny armed soldiers make him feel safer. Hogancamp is a gentle, creative man for whom the viewer cannot help but feel sympathy.

This documentary film by Jeff Malmberg effectively uses clever camera angles and lens choices to repeatedly film Hogancamp so that he appears to be inside Marwencol alongside his realistic-looking creations. Stop motion animation is used in one scene to make it look as if one of the tiny figures is moving. A number of visual strategies effectively illustrate the story of Marwencol, as narrated by Hogancamp. The film also effectively shows how Hogancamp's alter ego reflects the kind of life Hogancamp himself would like to have, stability, romance, a wife. Hogancamp even builds a time machine in Marwencol so he can be rescued from his fate. In one amazing scene Hogancamp creates a scene within Marwencol in which his alter ego takes pictures of another alter ego of himself, all of this captured on film by himself. It is like three different levels of reality represented in one image, worlds within worlds. Whatever those thugs stole from Hogancamp, they did not take away his imagination. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2010 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)