Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fantasia Day 7 - Marwencol

I saw the 5:30 show of Marwencol tonight. That is tough, sneaking out of work, rushing home because you forgot your tickets and then arriving to find like 10 people waiting with 25 minutes to go. You just feel like you haven't eaten properly, you are all hot and sweaty and because you are alone, you are stuck in your place in the line-up. Hopefully, this weekend I'll have some time in the day to get a bit more organized for next week. I can attest that if I am any example, Fantasia is good for the downtown economy, as I'm spending 5 times as much as I usual do in a week on food at downtown restaurants. I'm writing this at the new ramen restaurant on St. Catherine's, Ichiban (another positive food trend that has finally come to Montreal). Noodles were a bit soft, but otherwise really quite a good new addition to the neighbourhood.

I ran into my Fantasia friend Paul in the line-up. We actually knew each other back in the day when he was one of the organizers of the New York Asian Film Festival and I was one of the early adopter super kung fu movie geeks. He has since moved upstate and manages an old movie theatre in Schenectady. I didn't know this, but he has also been organizing some pretty cool sounding movie events there, like "It Came from Schenectady", a 24-hour movie marathon. Sounds like it would be worth checking out. Schenectady is only 5 hours from Montreal!

I had heard about Mark Hogancamp the subject of Marwencol several months ago and his website is a regular visit of mine. My other big nerdy hobby is tabletop roleplaying games and I love the idea of creating an entire other imaginary world. The documentary, though is about much more than that. It's really a psychological study of a victim in the process of healing himself. You do get a couple of the stories from the mult-threaded narrative that take life in the town of Marwencol and lots of great images, but if the world part is what you are interested in, you'll get much more from the website.

I had thought that Mark, being a wicked alchoholic, had sort of brought the beating on himself. Not that anyone deserves such a thing to happen to them, but my sense was that he was a really out of control drunk. As the movie goes on, another part of his character is revealed and you find out that the real reason for the attack was just the same old ugly macho hate that young male fucks like these guys so often seem to perpetrate.

I also thought that because Mark had lost his memory that perhaps his wounds were more physical than psychological. I was wrong about that as well, as you see him really struggling just to participate in the outside world, he has so much fear in him. He also struggles with the physical brain damage from the attack, but you see that his construction of the world is a profound form of therapy that gives him a safe space where he can explore what happened to him. It's touched upon lightly, but also to be noted that his insurance ran out and he was summarily booted from the hospital with no means of further physical or psychological healing.

You see also that he is truly an artist. Before the attack, he had long journals filled with skilled illustrations. Because of his shaking hands, he can't draw like he used to (his detailed painting and costume work on the dolls is also a way to re-train his hands). You can see that despite his lesser motor skills, his artistry is as strong as ever in the mise-en-scène, the posing and his photography. Not only do his pictures tell a great story when followed sequentially, they also each excude an incredible life and emotion on their own.

The climax of the film is his work being discovered and shown in a gallery in Manhattan. I personally found it incredibly moving. It's the first movie this year that got me teary-eyed. He just seems like such a sweet, innocent guy who really desperately wants to be able to express himself in his own way. By the end of the movie I had a strange mix of feelings. On the one hand, he seems to have such a long way to go before he can really heal himself and be comfortable in society again. On the other hand, he is so early in that journey that it seems like his art will remain innocent and uncynical for a long time, even if he is truly touched with success (which could well happen). It also seems like the filmmaker and the editor of the art magazine who is promoting his work were cool guys, far from the ironic hipster parasites who usually tend to hover around outsider art. A fascinating and moving documentary that you should really watch.

(below is a picture I took of a woman's stylish and thematically appropriate shoes while waiting in line for my next movie tonight, The Feast of the Assumption. I put the image in this post for reasons that will make sense to those of you who have seen Marwencol. ;) )


Julie said...

Mark is a friend of mine, and I love your review of this movie. He is an amazing talent and a very steadfast and loyal friend. Love you give the shoes tribute :) Thanks for your thoughtful comments!!

Chris Shellen said...

Thank you so much for this post - Jeff (the director) and the film's producers were really touched by what you said.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Wow! Thank you! To both of you. I am very pleased that you took the time to read my review and respond.
How cool is the internet!

Good luck with the film and with the further development and promotion of Mark's art (I'm getting my sister the book as a gift). And my best wishes for Mark himself. I'm psyched for the next story!

Thanks again for reading.