Day 68: Marwencol & I Think We're Alone Now

"I was the only man in a town of 27 Barbies."

A great documentary is almost always built around a great subject. Very rarely can a documentary be great with no one to latch onto, but the best documentaries are always about an interesting person or persons who have a different view of the world, whether that's because of the way they've always been or some occurrence in their lives that forces them to view the world differently. Mark Hogancamp is a great subject, and falls into the latter category. One night, when leaving a bar in his hometown of Kingston, NY, he was attacked by five teenagers who beat him into a coma, requiring extensive reconstructive surgery on his head and face, and forcing him to re-learn how to do virtually everything. He's now a stranger in his own life, finding out that he's been been married and divorced, and used to be a pretty hard drinker.

Mark begins creating a world for himself, set during World War II, in his backyard, populated with the people in his life. He goes to a hobby shop and begins crafting an entire town he calls Marwencol, that he uses to cope with his life and the past he can't remember. He creates figures for his friends, his mom, people he works with, and crafts elaborate stories, often photographing them. His photos capture the attention of a man running a photography magazine, who publishes them, attracting attention from an art gallery in Greenwich Village, who wants to put on a exhibition of his photographs. The struggle for Mark then becomes letting people into his world, which he's so carefully constructed and guarded.

Mark also harbors a secret, one that I found to be a bit of a paradox, spoilers ahead. In his old life, he was a cross-dresser, and it turns out this is the reason that the teenagers beat him senseless in the first place. He resumes this fetish in his new life, which I wasn't sure how to take. I'm not a doctor, but I wonder if someone would have that so deeply imbedded in them, that they would resume it after recovering from a traumatic brain injury. I suppose it's possible, I just wonder if it's a true desire to wear women's clothes, particularly their shoes, or if it's him trying to recapture his old self.

Mark's view of what lies ahead of him at his art show, and what he actually encounters, are two different things, and it's nice to see someone confront their own preconceived notions head-on. I really enjoyed this film, and was particularly taken by the reaction of one of the attendees of the art show. He talks about how some of the patrons at the show dismissed the pictures, saying they wanted to go look at pictures of real war, and this man felt that this was dismissive of the war that Mark himself is fighting. It's a true encapsulation of the film as a whole, and helped me to contextualize the entire film. It's a truly incredible insight, and one that I will use to approach the film when I revisit it…

"The difference between me and a stalker is that they don't truly love someone."

I have seen a great number of films and documentaries in my life, and I can safely say that I have never seen anything as borderline unbearable as I Think We're Alone Now. I say this, not because it's a bad film, it's far from it. I say this because the two subjects of this documentary are the saddest, most pitiable souls I have ever seen documented. The film tells the story of 50 year-old Jeff Turner and 31 year-old  (though I find that hard to believe) Kelly McCormick, two adults obsessed with 80's one-hit wonder Tiffany. Jeff has Asperger's Syndrome, though he never readily admits it, and is a born-again Christian who lives under the delusion that he is a close, personal friend of Tiffany's. His past with the singer is documented early on, he was charged by Tiffany with stalking, and told to stay away from her for three years, but it seems that after this time elapsed, Tiffany became a little more forgiving of Jeff and allows him to attend her concerts and conventions (that or she's just an attention seeking has-been, I'll leave it to you to decide). But Jesus Christ, just thinking about this man makes me feel like I need to shower.

There's an aesthetic distance that allows us to watch films like this without feeling a personal investment in the stories, and while I have no personal investment, I'm thoroughly disturbed to think that this isn't even the worst kind of stalker out there in the world. One scene in particular really haunts me, and that is where Jeff scoffs at the stalker who killed Rebecca Shaeffer, as if to suggest that there was something wrong with that man and nothing wrong with him.

Kelly's is almost a sadder case. She was born intersexed, commonly reffered to as a hermaphrodite, and, with divorced parents, lived her childhood as a boy with her father and as a girl with her mother. There is a genuine empathy to her story that I didn't feel with Jeff's, as she was deluded from a very young age by unloving parents who forced her to live a dual existence, something that no child should have to live with. Kelly, however, has deluded herself into thinking that Tiffany is going to move to Denver and marry her, but this dream comes to an end when she finally meets Tiffany, through a meet and greet she attends in Las Vegas with Jeff, yet she thinks now that Tiffany is a close, personal friend too.

These two people are insane, and it's hard for me to view them objectively in light of the fact that, although they have mitigating circumstances that prevent them from living a normal life, they're completely and totally delusional. There's a particularly enervating scene in their hotel room in Las Vegas where they actually argue about who loves Tiffany more or who has the deeper connection with Tiffany. When Jeff's focus shifts late in the film to Alyssa Milano, I wanted to strangle him. The people around him, particularly his church leaders, need to get him serious psychological help and instead they placate him. He stands up in a church service and talks about proselytizing to people at the adult entertainers convention he attends to see Tiffany, and the pastor seems to encourage him rather than take him aside and tell him he's a fucking nutbag.

At least Kelly's story has a happier ending as she meets a new friend at the end of the film and seems to be shifting her focus on fixing herself to get happy rather than relying on Tiffany to make her happy. I feel a twinge of hope for her that she'll be okay, but Jeff needs to be locked up immediately. I don't think he's going to hurt anyone, but he's not some harmless idiot, he's a delusional lunatic that needs professional help.

The thing that endeared me to Mark Hogancamp is that he's really struggling to find out, not just who he was, but who he is now. Jeff Turner on the other hand doesn't want to do any sort of introspection, it's easier for him to just live a lie and never be challenged by anyone. It's the duty of the people around him, especially those at his church, to do something about this man. I'm no fan of the church, but they do have a duty to help people beyond just giving them a safe place to talk. When people come into a church espousing crazy beliefs, they need to have action taken on them, otherwise it's dereliction of duty.

This was an incredible double feature, and one that has left me shaken. Watch Marwencol, I say that without hesitation, but only watch I Think We're Alone Now if it's immediately afterwords. Otherwise, whatever faith you have in humanity will erode into nothingness.

[Marwencol Image] [I Think We're Alone Now Image]