In an interview I recently read, Ross McElwee briefly discusses the possibility of making his documentary, Sheman’s March, into a fiction film and/or a fictional cable series. Some interesting points were made about the purpose behind doing this. During the Cold War, the idea of nuclear warfare had everyone in a panic. McElwee’s documentary brings a lot of attention to this.
Interestingly enough, they go on to talk about how there’s actually a much higher risk of nuclear war today than there was during the Cold War. Yet, most people today remain pretty unconcerned and subsequently unaffected by the fear and anxiety McElwee tells us about.
I agree that this would be an interesting idea to explore for a fiction film or series. However, it’s my opinion that it would take a lot away from McElwee’s work to make it anything other than what it is.
A lot of the reason’s that Sherman’s March is so successful can be credited to the style he uses. The idea of it being a personal documentary that captures real people and their real beliefs gives it a lot more validity. Being non-fiction says a lot for the work. Making into a fiction flim/fiction series would take all the legitimacy of genuinely displaying a ‘Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love In the South During an Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation’.
Some might be confused by the name: Sherman’s March
I think Ross McElwee made the right choice in the naming of his documentary. Not only did he tear grant providers a new one in the making of his film, but he also shed light on the the absurdity of preceding educational documentaries which were basically art sinks.
Sometimes a film maker will witness an event and then try to capture it on film. McElwee does the opposite, starting with a camera on his shoulder, and from there lives his life through its lens for a few sad months. What a bizarre way to meet women, and what a bizarre way to live your life.
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.
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? Continue reading →
Have you ever looked into someone’s eyes, and for a moment, the rest of the world around you fades into nothingness? For that one moment, you feel entrapped by an unexplainable feeling. This short but deep infatuation is what so many strive to share with one they can call their own. Many don’t know what love is until they see it. And when they see it, they know. Continue reading →
It seems I’m filming my life in order to have a life to film, like some primitive organism that somehow nourishes itself by devouring itself, growing as it diminishes. … It’s a little like looking into a mirror and trying to see what you look like when you’re not really looking at your own reflection. –Ross McElwee
The confusion between field report and self-portrait; the confusion between fiction and nonfiction; the author-narrators’ use of themselves, as personae, as representatives of feeling states; the antilinearity; the simultaneous bypassing and stalking of artifice-making machinery; the absolute seriousness, phrased as comedy; the violent torque of their beautifully idiosyncratic voices. –David Shields, Reality Hunger
The line between field report and self-portrait is constantly stepped over again and again in Sherman’s March: A Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love In the South During an Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation. McElwee’s life experiences becomes the audience’s entertainment, his own thoughts narrating the story for us. One would expect a documentary that strives for objectivity and reporting accurate facts at first glance of the title Sherman’s March. But McElwee surprises his audience by making the documentary almost a personal diary, by openly sharing his struggles, his parents’ expectations and the pressure they put on him, and his feelings towards the women he sees along his journey.
And yet Ross describes the experience similar to “looking into a mirror and trying to see what you look like when you’re not really looking at your own reflection”. Although he turns the camera on himself during the whole movie, he becomes alienated with himself. Filming self becomes more haunting than filming others, because one suddenly becomes the audience of himself too. And suddenly, the idea of self becomes uncanny.
It’s a unique experience watching McElwee create what he does not expect to create. How often do we create something totally different from what we intended? I know that’s happened to me a couple of times. When I write down my thoughts, I’m still in the process of processing my own thoughts, so as I write I’m still discovering new ideas that I didn’t know I had in my mind. I wonder whether this is the same with McElwee’s filming experience, whether he felt as if he were “looking into a mirror and trying to see what [he looked] like when [he wasn’t] really looking at [his] own reflection” because he saw so many things he did not recognize. “It seems I’m filming my life in order to have a life to film” indicates how McElwee’s filming shaped his life while simultaneously his life was shaping the film. Is he the potter or the clay? This blur between self and the object of the filmmaking seems to be what makes McElwee’s movie so intriguing.
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. Continue reading →
In my experience with creative non-fiction I’ve come across many techniques for delivery of information. What I think Ross McElwee has used is a sort of braided essay, albeit with some stray threads (ahem, Burt Reynolds). In Sherman’s March we originally start with Civil War Sherman and his rampage to the sea, but then we get slightly distracted when Ross is broken up with by his girlfriend for another man. It is then that McElwee begins his own sort of march through past relationships, new relationships, and possibly what’s wrong with his own inability to couple happily. We also gain such interiority from McElwee that is not usually seen in a normal documentary, he is unafraid to turn the camera on himself and be intimate with his audience, which I think is just another characteristic of creative non-fiction. Just on a side note, it seems so funny that McElwee builds himself on a man that is solely known for the destruction of his home region. Although, McElwee acknowledges that Sherman liked the South regardless, even had friends in Charlotte–so he does provide a certain complexity.