Sherman's March Movie Review

Ross McElwee is an American original. His films -- almost all of them -- are about himself. Though he almost always starts off to make a film about some legitimate subject (in this case, General William Sherman's infamous "march to the sea" during the Civil War), the movies ultimately never pan out, or the focus changes as McElwee finds something more interesting to focus on. Invariably, that something is Ross McElwee.

Strangely, McElwee's auto-navel gazing is remarkably compelling, and not in the hysterical way that Michael Moore does it. McElwee isn't a loudmouth raconteur. He's a softspoken southerner, though he picked up a strong liberal streak during college in the northeast. As such, he's a fish out of water, and invariably his films begin with a homesick return to North Carolina, where he soon realizes that he's got nowhere he can truly call home.

After quickly realizing he doesn't really want to make the Sherman movie, McElwee turns the camera on his love life. He's broken up with his girlfriend in Boston, and upon returning home, he finds that everyone he encounters wants to set him up with one Nice Southern Girl after another. And they all come with tons of baggage. There's free-spirit Pat, who's obsessed with the "cottage cheese" on her thighs. She wants to become a Hollywood actress, but first she wants to meet Burt Reynolds, who's allegedly in town. There's Joyce, who sings lounge music (before it was cool) around the state. McElwee bounces through a dozen or so women, each less stable than the last... and yet, nearly every time, he confesses to the camera that he's falling in love with them.

That McElwee is so pathetic isn't what makes the film interesting. It's that he bares his soul on camera for all the world to see. He even confesses to having insomnia and nightmares about nuclear Holocaust (the film is subtitled "A Mediation to the Possibility of Romantic Love in the South During an Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation"), and of course there are bad family relationships to ponder, too. The regressive nature of the south is another thorn in his side. Even Sherman's more eloquent subjects are naive to the point of criminality when it comes to their opinions about history and politics.

This all hangs together very loosely -- and at 2 1/2 hours in length, it comes off as a little narcisstic and repetitive -- but it's so funny (intentionally, on McElwee's behalf, and unintentionally, on his dates') that all is forgiven in the end. His first true feature film, this is the movie that put McElwee on the map -- however small that map might be -- earning him a place as one of America's most unique, and treasured, documentary filmmakers.

The DVD (part of the exhaustive Ross McElwee Collection) includes outtakes and interviews with McElwee.

Cast & Crew

Director : Ross McElwee

Producer : Ross McElwee

Starring : Ross McElwee, , Charleen Swansea

Comments

Sherman's March Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 1986

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