“This isn’t art. This is life.”
I was really on board with Sherman’s March from its premise. The first I read of the film was that it was a man’s attempt to make a Civil War documentary, but he ended up getting distracted and making it about his personal relationships. The longer the documentary went on and the more I learned about filmmaker Ross McElwee, the more dubious I am that there was ever a genuine attempt at a documentary about the Civil War. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting, vulnerable movie that never amazed me but was still a refreshing change of pace from what I’ve been watching lately.
Sherman’s March is a work of video journaling by McElwee during a strange, transitional period of his life as he attempts to follow Union general William T. Sherman’s path through the American South. He seems most interested, though, in the women he meets along the way, building relationships and moving from one woman to the next in hopes of finding true love. McElwee also conveys his nightmares of atomic war and his fascination with General Sherman’s scorched earth campaign over a hundred years ago.
I’m not sure I was totally on board with McElwee himself, and I think I liked what he was going for a lot more than what the film ended up being. His deep-voiced narration is often poetic and beautiful, such as when he discusses his dreams, the land, or his experiences as a Southerner. But the movie is about McElwee finding love, and it comes across as a desperate loneliness in a lot of ways. There’s enough self-deprecation and wit to keep it from being creepy, although it definitely toes the line at several points.
McElwee organizes the film by the different women he meets with interludes of foreboding between each relationship. Some sections are definitely more interesting than others, and I was really fascinated by the period where McElwee’s mother is trying to set him up with various women, desperate for him to settle down and marry in a very socially conservative sense. The total runtime nears three hours, which makes me think that some trimming could have occurred. It never really starts to drag, but it definitely gets repetitive towards the end. It seems like the only reason the movie ever ends is because McElwee ran out of film as he seems to suggest in one confessional towards the end, and I think this indicates how “on the fly” this movie really was. While there’s a cool quality to that, it’s also let down by a lack of formal structure.
On the whole, I was engaged with Sherman’s March long enough to keep me entertained, although a lot of it was riding the high of a premise that I really admired. I love documentaries that are personal and reflective, and I hope to seek out more of this type of work in the future.
Films Left to Watch: 853