Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sherman's March

    I had heard about Ross McElwee’s film Sherman’s March for quite a while, and figured I had better finally devote the 2 hours and 27 minutes needed to watch this documentary.  Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.
    Ross McElwee’s introspective style of storytelling is interesting to me, because while he is essentially just telling stories from his own life, he manages to broaden the ideas and themes to a wide and relatable state.  At times the story line did move a bit slow, but it almost seemed intentional.  If he had forced the doc to be fast paced with quick cuts and sudden camera movements, he would have sabotaged the feel of the slow, simple Southern life McElwee was able to achieve through long shots and fairly slow camera movements.
    McElwee puts himself in the place of “everyman” in the universal quest of love and loss.  The characterization of the women he comes in contact with was intriguing, because seeing the women directly compared one another brought out each of their respective eccentricities.  It may have been unfair for McElwee to put the various women on the screen for the audience to judge based on their minimal relative time with Ross.  At the same time, however, I think he did as accurate job as he could to portray these women.  In the end they may have come off as recognizable characters such as the hopeful actress, the Mormon, or the environmentalist hippie, but beyond these titles McElwee was able to show more of their character by sharing their intimate conversations, and his own thoughts on who they were and what they meant to him.
    In the end, I came to care about the filmmaker and the subjects.  I wondered what became of the actress or if Ross ever was able to find the right woman.  This was achieved through McElwee’s willingness to share himself.  This is a very critical idea, because I believe if you want to connect with your audience or subject on a deeper level, you have to be willing to put yourself on display, as well. 


  1. I have still only seen Bright Leaves, but I would like to see more of McElwee's films. What was this film about exactly? From your post, it sounds like a film about all his ex-girlfriends. That sounds kind of high school or college-esque, but McElwee's good, so I can imagine him pulling it off. It seems like I've heard of another film (I don't remember if it's fiction or doc... I think fiction) where some guy can't get married, so he looks up all his past girlfriends to ask them what he did wrong....

    Haha, I just asked my wife about it and she reminded me that she was just telling me about it last week. It's called High Fidelity. I haven't seen it. My wife says don't watch it. There are lots of F words.

    Anyway, yeah... so what exactly was this one about? And how did the girls feel about being interviewed?

  2. Yeah, it's not really about him and his ex-girlfriends. Basically, he and his girlfriend just broke up, and he discusses his relationships with new women he meets, as well as some from his past love interests that he sees again. There is a lot more to it, though, I would definitely recommend seeing it if you get the chance.

    The women in it have varying reactions to being filmed. Some (like the aspiring actress) seems to seek out being filmed, whereas some (like "the girl who got away") are not comfortable discussing their relationship on camera.

    The thing that strikes me about it is the honesty with which Ross McElwee approaches his subjects. It's pretty inspiring.

  3. As you talked about McElwee's "introspective style of storytelling" I immediately thought about the discussion we had in class about being wary of the belly-button syndrome....or whatever it was called. I think it's cool that your experience with a film that may have been more of the filmmaker "looking down" was executed successfully instead of just turning into a film where he was too self involved to notice anything or anyone around him. Like you mentioned, he still has interactions with other people so it's not strictly a film of Ross McElwee, it's a film of Ross McElwee and his relationships with other people and how they shape him and affect him. Or at least, that is somewhat what I gather from what you wrote.

    Do you think there's a certain point in a filmmaker's career when they've earned the right to make a directly introspective or self-evaluating film? I think about the film we watched in Dean's class, "The Beaches of Agnes". That was definitely a film about a woman examining her life, but she made it after she had several other successful films under belt. I guess there's not really a rule for when a filmmaker can make a self-reflecting film, though it seems that the later on in their career, the better because they've had more time and made more mistakes to help them learn about themselves, about life, about the world.
    What do you think? Is there a certain time in a filmmaker's career that maybe qualifies or earns them the right to make a blatantly introverted film? And by that I mean, since we have been discussing how we should try to avoid that, is it different for people further down the road than us? Or is it just a matter of remembering to glance around as we look down and inside ourselves? It's pretty interesting to think about. I almost feel like it's impossible to make a self-reflecting film without at least mentioning other people since we are so deeply affected by the people we associate with, live with, or work with. But I suppose it's possible to be completely narcissistic, like the film Brad told us about where the filmmaker was talking about names and how his own name was the best thing he's ever heard. I wonder how hard it is to avoid being so self-absorbed in making a film (whether or not its autobiographical).