This post is the start of a new occasional feature on my favorite documentaries. I'm a huge documentary fan, and will share some of my favorites with you, perhaps once every week or two. If you have a documentary suggestion, please post it in the comments!
First up, Sherman's March by Ross McElwee (1986). This film carries the rather long secondary title: "A Meditation on the Possibility Of Romantic Love in the South During An Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation," and that begins to give you an idea of its scope. The basic gist is that Ross McElwee set out to make a film about the lingering effects of General Sherman's March to the Sea during the Civil War (read about it at Wikipedia). However, as soon as McElwee began shooting, his girlfriend dumped him, and his preoccupation with women took over the film.
(Much more after the jump.)
As McElwee gamely attempts to make his documentary about Sherman's March, he travels through the American South, following Sherman's historical path and shooting occasional bits of historical narrative. But along the way, McElwee meets a string of Southern women, and the film covers this series of developing relationships as McElwee seems to bring his camera to every personal event in his life. The women McElwee meets, and the way he relates to them, are the main content of this film. Sherman's March itself (the historical event, and its aftermath) is used as an allegory about another lonely, bearded, misunderstood man traveling through the South (although McElwee doesn't exactly practice "total warfare").
Here's the first three minutes of the film (please stick around until after the 'historical narration' concludes):
Soon, McElwee meets Pat. Here's a snippet about her:
After Pat we meet Claudia (and her daughter Ashley, then Claudia's father):
Sherman's March is funny, touching, and above all, personal. This is really McElwee's life, and he is truly struggling to figure out what's going on and what choices to make. His constant documentation of his life adds to the struggle, as he tries to create and maintain personal relationships despite the camera constantly on his shoulder.
McElwee has made a series of equally excellent documentaries in recent years, continuing in the spirit of Sherman's March -- I'll likely cover several of them in this series. To see Sherman's March, you can rent it from Netflix, rent it from Blockbuster, or buy it from Amazon. Or you could just come over to my place in Portland and we'll have a viewing party.