Inside The Strange World Of Marwencol

Posted by David Ozanich — 7 Apr 2011


The marvelous and strange story of "Marwencol" gets told today in the Times. Mark Hogancamp, a former Navy sailor, was viciously beaten by five men outside a bar in his hometown of Kingston, New York. After waking from a nine-day coma, he found that his memory had been almost completely erased. The then 38 year old began constructing his fantasy world of Marwencal, which I will let the Times describe further:

Made from scraps of plywood and peopled with a tribe of Barbies and World War II action figures, Marwencol grew along the side of his trailer home near Kingston. (Mr. Hogancamp named his new world after himself and Wendy and Colleen, two women he had crushes on.) Narratives surrounding a downed American fighter pilot rescued by Marwencol's all-female population began unfurling against a backdrop that was nominally a World War II setting, in Belgium. The themes, however, were Mr. Hogancamp's own: the brutality of men, the safe haven of a town of women, the twin demons of rage and fear. Mr. Hogancamp captured his stories with thousands of photographs, shooting on an old Pentax with a broken light meter. The noirish images, complete with blood flecks in the snow, are riveting and emotional.

How these photographs made their way into an art magazine, and then a Manhattan gallery show -- "Mr. Hogancamp has an uncanny feel for body language, psychology and stage direction," Jerry Saltz wrote in 2006 in The Village Voice -- and how Mr. Hogancamp negotiated the blessings and pitfalls of what he calls his second life, was the subject of "Marwencol," a documentary that made its debut at the South by Southwest film festival last spring and roared through the festival circuit in the fall, accruing an armful of awards.

The film is being released on DVD and Blu-ray next week and will be shown on the PBS series "Independent Lens" on April 26th.

Photographs taken by Hogancamp can browsed through here. See pictures of Hogancamp and his world here. Watch the trailer for the film below:


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