Monday, October 11, 2010

Mawrencol: Best Documentary of the year

Just a few months ago, Exit Through The Gift shop was the "be all, end all" of documentary films in 2010. In a short period of time, films like Best Worst Movie, Winnebago Man and most recently; Mawrencol have all bumped it down to the point where i barely remember it (although i remember it enough to criticize it). Although Exit Through The Gift Shop is entertaining, its nothing new. Even more, there isn't really ANYONE in Exit... that you care about. Banksy, the subject of Exit Through The Gift Shop, is a kind of a prick and totally full of himself when in fact he's just a prankster mislabeled as graffiti artist. Shepard Fairy is pretty much a walking contradiction. His famous "OBEY" tag went from being a comment on consumerism to becoming a hip clothing label, which pretty much goes against everything Fairy was against in the first place. And Thierry Green, aka "Mr Brainwash" is a clueless idiot who not only believes in his own hype but actually thinks hes a real artist. Don't get me wrong, there's no rule that says documentaries have to focus on subject you should care about, but Exit Through The Gift Shop, although entertaining and a good film, is full of nothing but self centered people you don't wanna know in real life. Marwencol is the opposite of that.
Mawrencol is the story of Mark Hogancamp. A man who lost his memory after being brutally attacked outside of a bar 9 years ago. The beating was so bad that not only did he lose his memory, but he lost his the ability to write, walk and a lot of the other basic fucntions we take for granted every day. Over time he re-learns all the basic human functions i mentioned earlier, but still lacked the psychological help needed (he couldn't afford the therapy). To cope with the psychological trauma that still haunts him from the beating, he created his own kind of unique therapy. He built a fictitious 1/6 scale model town called; Mawrencol, complete with bars, stores, a strip club, church and dolls that represent people in his real life (Hogancamp himself, his mother, friends, co-workers, made up people and even the men who attacked him years ago). The major difference between the fake town of Marwencol and Hogancamp's real life, is that Marwencol is set just after world war 2 (late 1940's). All of the men in the town are soldiers in the military (US, British and German), dressed in detailed military uniforms. The US soldier figurines represent the good guys, and the Nazi Officers represent the bad people in the town. As the documentary goes on, we clearly see that the Nazi figures specifically represent the men who attacked him.
Although the documentary is under 90 minutes, you still feel like you've watched two movies. And i mean that in a good way. On one level, you have a documentary about a man working out his demons. On another level, we have the town of Marwencol and all the adventures that Hogancamp acts out (similar to a child playing with action figures, altho in Hogancamp's case its obviously a lot more serious). Some the adventures that Hogancamp re-enacts with the figures of Marwencol include; battles with the Nazi figures, cat fights between the women (barbie dolls) of Marwencol and one adventure in particular that clearly represent his attack in real life.The dolls in the film all have a personality of their own, and they almost come to life in the pictures that Hogancamp takes of them. Hogancamp's fake town is actually more than just a way to work through his demons. It also teaches him patience. Each Doll has its own unique look, outfit and hair, all crafted, sewn and painted by Hogancamp himself with an amazing level of detail. Later on in the documentary, the photographs that Hogancamp takes of his model town, which almost look like real people, are discovered by a local art magazine, and they become the subject of an art show in New York City. This causes a bit of conflict in that Hogancamp's therapy has now become art for the whole world to see.
This definitely the best documentary I've seen so far this year. Mark Hogancamp is quite the character himself, reminiscent of a subject that Errol Morris might document in one of his films. The documentary itself; a man dealing the psychological trauma of memory loss after a brutal attack reminded me of some of Herzog's documentaries, specifically; Little Dieter Needs to Fly and Wings of Hope. This should not be missed.


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