Sherman’s March, a documentary produced by Ross McElwee is not in fact about General Sherman’s march to the sea, but about McElwee’s journey through the south in search for love interests. The majority of the film, McElwee is basically stalking several women trying to find love. His mother becomes involved at one point, too, because she thinks he is wasting his life and should already be married. Though to be fair, the setting of the film happens to take place near several historical locations of General Sherman’s march during the Civil War that McElwee throws in random facts about it.
Throughout the film, McElwee employs several tactics that are reminiscent of creative non-fiction writers. Since it is self-produced, McElwee remains behind the camera and is only seen in the reflection of mirrors or during monologues complaining about sleepless nights. Due to the fact that he stays out of the main focus of the frame, McElwee takes on a removed presence. However, he is present during much of the dialogue so the audience knows he is there and is part of everything going on around him.
A problem that I had with this film was the misnomer. Despite the fact that the setting is near the route General Sherman took through the south and some facts about the battles and devastation that occurred that McElwee tells us, the film is not really focused on that at all. The main interest of the film is the several women McElwee pursues in search of a wife, which is not by any means related to Sherman’s march. Calling the film Sherman’s March gives a lot of false expectations to the audience. For me, I definitely would not have watched the full two and a half hours if I knew nothing was going to happen. There are even points when McElwee states that he doesn’t know where he will find more material for his film. I assumed that towards the end there would be at least some sort of climax or shift in focus towards the historical march, but I was left dissatisfied. And to top that off, McElwee was largely unsuccessful.
Aside from the lackluster progression of the documentary, McElwee’s films (Sherman’s March included) have made a splash in the culture of film making. He is able to provide a view into the life of America’s south and its rich culture and background. And his other films are often of personal journeys intersecting larger political and historical issues. But to me, McElwee comes off as a bit of a creep and socially awkward character who has created a relatively disorganized film diary.