Charles Bukowski once said of creativity and art, “Don’t try.” This apparently stuck with Ross McElwee as he shot his autobiodocumentography, Sherman’s March. McElwee let loose his camera and lateraled the storyline and ultimately the overall message to his subjects — primarily family members and female love interests — as he set off on a journey to overcome a painful breakup. And, I guess unsurprisingly, it sucked. A lot. Maybe I missed some important nuances, or maybe I’m just not high enough of mind to see the significance (aside from the obvious cultural value it earns by being the first film of its kind) but it honestly was just depressing — and not in a good way.
I hated McElwee. I hated the women he talked to. Ross McElwee seems like a weird guy and obviously a weird guy attracts strange company, but he was digging his own hole. The first woman — Pat, I believe — was totally and utterly delusional. To paraphrase, “I’m mildly talented but I’m gonna be a huge star, really. Also, my boyfriend is in a mental institution. He grabs me and threatens to throw me out of my six-story apartment window. But I love him, so, fuck it!” Ross. Buddy. You can do better than that. Listen to your sister and trim the beard, maybe put down the camera? I would understand if you seemed like a great guy and together we couldn’t figure out why these women were overlooking you, but you’re extremely flawed.
But maybe THAT’S the point. They say that honest art is the best art, and McElwee is completely transparent. Hunter S. Thompson was the same way. Flawed to the point where I feel like I should stop reading lest I devolve into a raving, Mace-happy lunatic. McElwee didn’t set out to MAKE a story, just to let one unravel — and unlike Didion or Wolff and Thompson, he didn’t go out of his way to make the story interesting. At two and a half hours (yes, as long as The Dark Knight, but without any super cool super villains or explosions) there is no climax. As one critic basically said, “The story never progresses, only deepens.” This is the truest story ever told, by nature of how boring and pointless it seems. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky would be proud.
In the spirit of honesty, I’ll say that I only got an hour into this movie before I gave up, so I don’t really know the connection between McElwee’s story and Sherman’s March. Sorry, not sorry.