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Wednesday, April 22 • 2:45pm - 3:05pm
Ross McElwee’s monstrous progeny in an era of nuclear weapons proliferation

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This paper examines the intersection of personal documentary and the essay film in the eye/“I” of Ross McElwee’s camera. These modes of cinematic expression are linked to Alexandre Astruc’s notion of the caméra­stylo, or the “camera­pen,” and to Agnès Varda’s related notion of cinécriture, or “cinema as writing,” which calls for an authorial and wholly personal approach to filmmaking. Teeming with candid digressions and curious excrescences, cinécriture carries forward the loose, essayistic legacy of Michel de Montaigne. Ross McElwee, along with Agnès Varda, Jonas Mekas, and Ed Pincus, helped pioneer first­person filmmaking, infusing their works with intimate reflections on their own lives and the filmmaking process. In effect, they embody Montaigne’s famous declaration “I am myself the matter of my book,” yet they often demonstrate profound humility in baring their souls. McElwee’s first feature, Sherman’s March: A Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love in the South During an Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation, shows the filmmaker working very much in the same vein as Montaigne in his Essays; both men approach their personal demons in the aftermath of great loss under the pretense of discussing historical figures. Thus, each author-as-subject emerges reflexively as one and the same with the eponymous object of study, engendering, as Lawrence Kritzman notes, a narrative self or self-as-other to compensate for life’s deficiencies. Linking the essayistic impulse to an erotic, procreative impulse, Kritzman underlines the vital force of the creative process, as well as its potential to aid in self-therapy. In this paper, I apply a similar framework to Sherman’s March. I argue that, through a Montaignian conception of the narrative self, McElwee attempts to cope with feelings of inadequacy in personal and professional life by sublimating them into spectacle and the protean enactment of subjectivity which is the essence of the essay film.


Wednesday April 22, 2015 2:45pm - 3:05pm PDT
012 Karpen Hall