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.
There is a little bit of everything in Sherman’s March: self-deprecation, Burt Reynolds, war, melancholy, failure, historical reanalysis, and cultural satire (did I mention Burt Reynolds?), all in hopes of reaching some semblance of love, art, and selfhood. Ross McElwee puts everything he has into this documentary equivalent of the epic poem, and to a large degree, succeeds in his efforts. His two hour and forty minute runtime is nothing short of a marathon, and it all comes together to make a truly unique cinematic experience. In a way, too, every single second is necessary for his artistic endeavor to meet its proper conclusion. That’s the thing about Ross… he lets the camera, an extension of his body, take him wherever the camera needs to go. Furthermore, the authorial sincerity behind this intimate journey, no matter the consequence, dictates where and how and why the story unfolds the way it does. Continue reading