Let's be clear about it: you'll probably either love or hate Ross McElwee's documentaries. Intensely personal, frequently plotless, and filmed in a first-person style that both calls attention to the artifice of the camera and makes the camera disappear, McElwee's films meditate on human relationships, historical events, and the passage of time in an utterly unique way. Much of McElwee's work can be watched online on Netflix. Here are four films worth seeing:
- Time Indefinite. Spurred by the coincidence of a marriage and a funeral and concluding with the birth of McElwee's son, Time Indefinite is an attempt to use filmmaking as a way to comprehend the myriad significant events that punctuate our lives, endowing them with meaning.
- Sherman's March. Begun as an attempt to trace the path General Sherman made through the south at the end of the Civil War, Sherman's March willfully allows itself to be derailed by McElwee's personal life. In the process, the film considers what it means that the plans we make are almost invariably interrupted.
- Six O'Clock News. A course in reality TV before reality TV really existed, Six O'Clock News is an extended meditation on how film and TV cameras (and what these cameras portray) present us with a singular vision of the world.
- Bright Leaves. Also in part a meditation on film, Bright Leaves uses the discovery of a classic Hollywood film about tobacco as incitement to explore McElwee's family history of tobacco farming along with the distinctive import of the industry to North Carolina.