Sherman’s March (1986)
Directed by Ross McElwee
The great thing about Sherman’s March is the overall simplicity of the idea. The success of such a personal film depends completely on the personality of the director (Ross McElwee), who’s decided to put himself in front of the camera in a project that began as one thing; a historical look at General Sherman’s Civil War march, and became another; an autobiographical search for true love.
It’s important to put McElwee into context here. This is a man who can be summed up by his consistent nightmares about nuclear holocaust. (One trait I seem to share with him) His initial interest in Sherman’s March is thwarted by an unexpected break up with his girlfriend, thus setting forth a film that seems to take on a life of its own as friends and family attempt to hook Ross up with just about any single female they know. Some are attractive and polite, while others are outspoken and strange. You can imagine which ones Ross actually manages to secure dates with. I’d have to say Pat is the most unusual of the bunch. She’s quick to show Ross her cellulite exercises, squatting and thrusting to his shocked delight. She’s also an aspiring actress, on a mission to star in a Burt Reynolds film. Once she’s out of the picture, Ross takes on the burden of hunting down Burt Reynolds for a one on one interview, but ends up settling for a look-a-like.
At one point in the film, Ross meets up with Charleen, a friend and former teacher of his. The chemistry between these two is comic gold. Charleen completely takes advantage of Ross’ quite and passive tendencies, insisting that she help him find a lady. “I am bored with your singleness. You have been insufficient in this quest, so I have to take over…because I’m going to be so bored with your loneliness, that I’m going to have to dump you myself.” Charlene finds Ross the “perfect woman”, a singer/songwriter named Dede. She plays him a cassette tape of her music, enthusiastically selling her like a used car salesman. Upon their first meeting, Charleen boisterously confronts Ross about his insistent need to film everything; “This is not art! This is life!”. Her enthusiasm to make a love connection ends up creating a gloriously awkward meeting that borders on cringe-worthy. Ross responds by simply hiding behind his camera.
McElwee brilliantly weaves the story of General Sherman throughout his journey, creating his own historical path of destruction. Clocking in at just over two and a half hours, this film is an epic look at relationships and love, rivaling the best of Hollywood’s neurotic, self-deprecating, anti-heroes. Ross McElwee is a real life Woody Allen.