THE MAN WHO LOST HIS WORDS
an animated documentary by Gwenaëlle Gobé
In 2013 my dad, Marc Gobé, renowned for his award winning design firm and bestselling book Emotional Branding, was suddenly diagnosed with brain cancer. Cut off from the outside world, he retreated into the works of his favorite artists where his imagination could compensate for his inability to communicate.
The Man Who lost his Words is an animated documentary retracing my dad’s battle with cancer using the mighty force of his insatiable imagination.
Renowned for his award-winning design firm Desgrippes, Gobé & Associates, his bestselling book Emotional Branding, and his unquenchable well of ideas, Marc was enjoying the keynote speaker circuit until he was suddenly diagnosed with brain cancer.
The surgery to remove his tumor left him unable to communicate. He became forgetful of names and places; he lost the capacity to function on his own. In his pocket he carried a piece of paper with all of our names on it, including his own. He would check it constantly. His words were all jumbled. He spoke one word but meant another. "Home" became "hotel", "tumor" became "river"… A speech therapist gave him reading lessons using the book he wrote ten years ago as a text. It took him a week to get through the first sentence.
Cut off from the outside world, he retreated into our art book collection. With William Kentridge, Douanier Rousseau and Alfred Jarry, his imagination could compensate for his inability to communicate. The colors and shapes of his favorite artists collided to form his own language, which he used to connect with us.
Marc died ten months after his diagnosis in the beauty of his creative mind. This animated documentary is a lasting testament to his life and the mighty force of his insatiable imagination.
At 18, on the day my parents dropped me off to college, I went to the store with my dad to buy a comforter. We had just spent the past 7 hours driving, attending college functions, and stuffing a pile of books and bedding into my dorm room. Everyone was grumpy and hungry.
An entire wall display of different comforters rated according to feather count, sizes and a multitude of other criterias erupted before us. We stared at the shelves for a good while, unable to make a decision. You know, he said, choosing a comforter is a very delicate matter. There are so many options. Check it’s size, he continues, make sure it covers your entire body. It is annoying to have your feet sticking out when it gets cold. Most importantly though, he says looking at me very seriously, you need to unroll the comforter and make absolutely sure there are no Martians living inside. The best way to do this is to jump up and down on the blanket in the store before you buy it. In the event Martians come running out, alert the store manager immediately. When you are confident it’s Martian free, lie down on it to make sure it is not a FLYING comforter. Many people make that mistake and wake up from a nap three feet above their beds. I smile. And suddenly, just like that, the entire day became a magical adventure.
I believe what kept Marc afloat during his illness was his aptitude to imagine his surroundings in ways that fit his abilities. In the book The Man Who Mistook his wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks describes a music teacher stripped of his faculty to distinguish faces and objects. He gradually loses the competence to converse with others, to transit within spaces at home or outside, to get dressed by himself… Yet, if he is singing he can go about his daily routine without any hindrances. Music fills in the gap of his neurological shortcomings. Marc was not a musician, but he had a relentless well of ideas continuously surging out of him. When his mental capacities broke down, it was this part of him that came to the rescue. He created a world where he could function and be himself.
Cancer, Dr. Muckerjee writes in his Pulitzer Prize winning book Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies is like being trapped in a hall of mirrors. Everything starts to reflect the portrait of imminent death. Surviving becomes the primary and only focus, to the point that a world without cancer is forgotten. Life is suddenly replaced by hospital visits, radiation appointments, Doctor checkups, medication schedules, side effect management and exhaustion. Because of his illness, Marc had lost his sense of direction, his sense of time, and his ability to have a conversation. The tumor coerced him into isolation. Cut off from the outside world, he retreated into his art book collection. With William Kentridge, Douanier Rousseau and Alfred Jarry, his imagination compensated for his inability to communicate. The colors and shapes of his favorite artists collided to form his own language, which he used to connect with us. In that world he was able to be free of cancer, to live fully, and to imagine limitlessly.
I documented my dad in the last devastating months of his life with the intent to tell his story. Cancer is more than statistics, clinical trials, hospitals and doctors like we are used to see in the news. It is also the harrowing story of patients and their families. Marc died ten months after his diagnosis in the beauty of his creative mind. This animated documentary is a lasting testament to his life and the mighty force of our imaginations.
Using footage, photos, audio recordings and drawings, the film recreates Marc's world in his last ten months by progressing from photographic certainty to animated imagination.
He liked to boast that he grew up in the same town as Douanier Rousseau, who used photo clippings and his creativity to conjure up fantastical landscapes. To reconstruct Marc's memory, I will use an approach similar to Rousseau’s, by combining real life documentation and invented reconstitution of what Marc's journal might have look like during his last ten months.
ABOUT GWENAËLLE GOBÉ:
GWENAËLLE uses lots of different mediums to chronicle human's search for identity, meaning and belonging within the social contract. Born in San Francisco to French parents, she grew up bilingual, speaking French at home and English out in the wild. This juxtaposition of cultures shaped her worldview and prompted her exploration of nationality, public space, cultural legacy, civic engagement and protest.
Using the mediums of documentary and photography, Gwenaëlle’s films capture real-life events and personal portraits with emotion, energy and poetry. Her feature This Space Available explores the detrimental impact of visual pollution on cities and people on a global scale. The film premiered at DOC NYC and screened in festivals and institutions around the world including at Mumbai Film Festival, Moscow Film Festival, Warsaw Museum of Art, Columbia University and Beijing Design Week. Her short King of the Line follows 5 pioneers of Subway Graffiti Art in New York City as they describe the struggle to inhabit public space with their art and signature. It won best documentary at BeFilm Festival and screened as part of the Henry Chalfant (author of the seminal book Subway Art) retrospective at Gallery Hellenbeck.
Gwenaëlle’s illustrations, comics, and animated work are detailed, dreamlike meditations on the journey to understand how we shape our world. Her work has been shown internationally including in Shepard Fairey’s Subliminal Projects in Los Angeles, French Institute Alliance Française in New York, the Institute of Visual Arts in London and printed in Swindle Magazine, 3x3 Illustration Annual, Desert Island’s Smoke Signal and Obey the Giant Clothing. She is also the creator of the self-published comic book series The Diary of Stephanie
ABOUT MARC GOBÉ:
MARC was a designer, marketing and branding expert, filmmaker, author and public speaker. He was co-founder of the award winning international branding agency Desgrippes Gobé and Associates with offices in Seoul, New York and Paris. He also authored the 2001 bestselling book “Emotional Branding: the new paradigm for connecting brands to people”. His book has been translated into 17 languages. Marc worked with such clients as Coca Cola, Estee Lauder, Abercrombie & Fitch, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, Victoria’s Secret, IBM, Johnson, & Johnson, Danone, Procter & Gamble, Telefonica, Unilever and Samsung. Marc graduated from the Ecole Professionelle de Design Industriel in Paris.