I hate titles. I mean, they’re useful, but I still hate them. I hate the title “Sherman’s March.” I think that it’s misleading, because the march is not the center point of the movie. It feels unoriginal, because there are more interesting things that McElwee could have named his documentary that also relate closer to the fact that McElwee is the main character not Sherman. He could have called it “Tracing Sherman’s March” or “The Failed March” or even “Total War.” That said, McElwee didn’t name is documentary any of these things, so why did he name it the way he did?
Three words: Hermit. Crab. Essay. I love hermit crab essays, like, a lot. They’re my favorite form of creative nonfiction, especially if they’re combined with a braided essay format as well. I would argue that this is the format McElwee used in his documentary. The braided part of the essay is condensed mostly in three threads- love, Sherman, and nuclear holocaust. McElwee weaves these three threads together to make a narrative that is naturally complex. The braided essay format forces the reader, or in this case the viewer, to connect the threads. How does talking about Sherman’s feelings of failure, despite being a successful general, relate to McElwee’s endeavors to find love? Are they both failures and how to their failures relate? Is nuclear holocaust the new form of total war? Did people during the Civil War stay up all night, because when they fell asleep they dreamt of their home being burned down in a war on the civilians? Is that any different than how McElwee feel toward the nuclear holocaust? The braided essay format ties all of these questions together, and, in this way, the documentary is very similar to creative nonfiction.
The other format that I mentioned earlier was the hermit crab format. The “shell” of this hermit crab essay is the path the Sherman’s March took. McElwee follows it as he tells this story and at each stop he meets someone new that adds to his story of love. What I really liked about this documentary was that the path was such a visual aspect of the narrative. We saw it on maps and through the car window and in crumbling buildings. While I felt that most of the narrative in this documentary could have been converted to text and read instead of watched, this one aspect worked much better through visual storytelling than through written storytelling.