Sherman's March: A Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love in the South during an Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation

1986 self-indulgent documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A guy's given some funds to make a historical documentary about General William Tecumseh Sherman's March to the Sea that devastated the South during the Civil War. He gets sidetracked and ends up making a documentary about his failed attempts to find love. Tracing Sherman's path, Ross McElwee meets various women, falls for them, and then watches his chances at a lasting relationship with them fall to pieces. Meanwhile, nightmares about nuclear war keep him up at night.

Full disclosure: I had to give this a bonus point once I found out the title was much longer than Sherman's March. At 2 1/2 hours, this is a little too long, and I'm not really sure who the audience would be for this sort of thing. People like me, I guess. It's got a Woody Allen vibe (or maybe a Michael-Moore-without-a-Point vibe), philosophically self-conscious, and folks annoyed by Woody's filmed dissertations on romantic love would likely be just as annoyed with this but for a lot longer. And it's essentially a guy making his own reality show in a time that predates reality television. But I like how McElwee's inner conflicts revolving around art as well as love become universal, and the freeform approach is as revealing as it is humorous. The film tackles a trio of discursive topics--love, nuclear bombs, Sherman--but they somehow come together as a cohesive whole. It's also a series of nice portraits of random people from America's South, almost working as an ethnological study on the side. You've got militia men, a woman who thinks slavery should be allowed for blacks who want to be slaves, and island-dwelling hippie chicks. The episodic, meandering structure makes this a very watchable, entertaining 150 or so minutes, and chances are, if you don't mind the guy, you'll probably enjoy this movie just fine.


Barry said...

This was the first documentary I ever rented....way back in the glorious 1980's.

It was too long. It was really pointless, and it really did not accomplish anything it set out to do, but I was still entertained. I loved the whole Burt Reynolds sequence, any scene with Charleen Swansee (The older blonde woman who is always trying to set McElwee up with women.) and the entire beginning of the documentary with his sister and the car are fantastic. It did slog down when he kept going back to that island with the birdwatching woman.....but oh well. It did stick with me.

I give it an 18. Simply because of nostalgia.

Shane said...

Actually, I was kind of wondering what you'd think of this, Barry. Arguably, it's more pointless than the Showbiz movie. Its ideas are more universal though.

You're right about Charleen Swansee...she was a hoot!

It is way too long. That kept me from going higher with the rating.