The concept of a “diary film” is not a new one, but no one had really put themselves under such a fine microscope as Ross McElwee did with his odyssey Sherman’s March. Ostensibly about the march in question, the film is ultimately about McElwee himself; his life, his personality, and how he goes through the daily toil of merely living. Others may not have been content with such a blasé and shapeless mass of a plot device, but McElwee makes no excuses; this is a film pretty much for himself, about himself, and yet couldn’t come across any more humble than it already does.
In the beginning, McElwee sets out to make a documentary retracing Sherman’s march through the South. Unfortunately, his girlfriend decides to essentially break up with him right before he begins, and thus his documentary is derailed onto an entirely different path; not to be deterred, McElwee goes ahead with the film, which ends up being about his periodic quest to meet someone and fall in love. What was especially notable was that McElwee probably would not have been able to make this documentary only a few years before he did; the technology simply wasn’t advanced enough. In those days, the smallest audio recorder was roughly the size of a record player or VHS deck, and McElwee would’ve carried it over his shoulder, making the setup rather fragile and especially cumbersome. With this film, however, McElwee has with him a Nagra SN, which fits comfortably on his belt, and this combined with his handheld camera essentially made him a one-man crew, which up to that point had basically been unheard of. What makes Sherman’s March as unique as it is isn’t just the breakthrough technology and setup; it’s what McElwee decides to use it for. To opt for a pure cinema verite style, especially when making a documentary about oneself, is amazingly open-hearted, and is about as vulnerable a position as a filmmaker could possibly put himself in. It’s credit to McElwee both as a filmmaker and as a person that he is as affable as he is, even if he has the tendency to come off as somewhat sullen. We care about him as if we would care about any fictional film character, or even more so because he isn’t a fictional character; he’s a real person, sharing his life, his mind, and his emotions with us, and it is that much more easy to relate to him, because we so easily see ourselves in the same position.
All that said, there really isn’t much to this one. It’s overly repetitive, as well as being overly long; I could see one or two of McElwee’s core romantic interactions cut from the film to make it easier to get through without the film losing too much substance. It may even be called boring by some, and I wouldn’t begrudge those who would be bored by this; when you break it down, it’s basically one guy filming his life, and that’s it – that might not be enough of an impetus for some to warrant making a film of, especially a two and a half hour long film. It’s this that’s largely why I’m giving it the rating I am; this is not an easy watch. But, if you have the mind for it, it can be an especially rewarding one. Just don’t go into it expecting something other than what the film is really about. Do your research, and then capitalize on that research. Oh, and make sure you’ve got the time to spare with this one, as I think I’ve mentioned how long it is.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10