Unexpected in ways that 90% of fiction films are not, the documentary Marwencol reveals, little by little via a variety of media, approaches and sources, the artist inside of a damaged man. It reminded me a bit of Sherman’s March, an estimable self-doc from 1986, that similarly interrogates male sexism and the objectification of women without explicit condemnation but not without distance.
That subject is by no means all that, or even most of what, Marwencol is about; but, it’s there and faced head on, like everything else touched upon or explored in this film.
It reminded me even more of In the Realms of the Unreal, which provided a more explicitly biographical and meta-critical account of Henry Darger, an artist I consider to be one of the greats of the 20th Century, outsider or not.
Mark Hogancamp’s encounter with human brutality stripped him of his memories and turned him into an expert 1/6th model-maker and a wildly talented photographer and transmogrifier of his own internal conflict. Like Darger, there was something wrong with his head, and he made totems, stories and tableaux out of the wrongness.
But Hogancamp went steps beyond Darger and documented it all with a camera: Storyboards for a self-therapeutic movie that will never get made. He even slips and calls his work, a “movie,” when he’s describing it to a fan at his Greenwich Village art opening.
I don’t know whether Hogancamp’s work will endure as I’m sure Darger’s will. Regardless, his instinctual resistance to irony, in and of itself, is a victory against lazy post-modernism in both art and personal politics. And I’m a bit resentful, but understanding of, director Jeff Malmberg’s desire to document this self-professed cross-dresser’s journey from bludgeoned hate-crime victim to litigant to NYC-approved artist.
I’m enriched by having witnessed it all but I also can’t help but wish that everyone would just leave Mark alone.