February 28 – Bright Leaves

I have continued to rework this Ross McElwee book chapter, though it may already be too late for consideration for the anthology. Now I’ve temporarily finished it. The further away from his films I have gotten, the more I misremember them. There’s so much talk in film schools either for or against the explicit incorporation of perspective into filmmaking that I often hear McElwee’s work described as naval-gazing and I’m inclined to defend it, but I never remember how to. For a time when I was making documentaries in my senior undergrad, I moved far away from personal voice because the examples I saw springing up from my peers were often contemptible, flat, purposeless. The films I started to make myself were inhuman, so absent was I from any of the events or interviews that were transpiring. It’s one of the reasons that I have taken time off from creating.

I no longer really know whether McElwee’s films find the personal in the political or the political in the personal, so confused is their relationship between that grand, epic scale of history and the modest scale of intimacy. I’m very impressed with the body of writing that now exists on McElwee. When I first wrote about him in a class, there were no collected sources. Godfrey Cheshire’s commentary is particularly insightful and has proved especially useful to me in developing a way to address these films intellectually, when they’re so poised to provoke emotions far deeper than the laughter that they’re commonly met with (McElwee has an astonishing wit).

I watched Bright Leaves tonight, to confirm my recollection of it. It substantially transcended that recollection, and now I feel like watching the others, the few that I’ve missed — Space Coast, Something to Do with the Wall, In Paraguay. What a remarkable body of work.

Bright Leaves (2003, d. Ross McElwee)


February 28

Days of Heaven (1978, d. Terrence Malick)

Napoleon Dynamite (2004, d. Jared Hess) - image from google

February 27

Anguish (1987, d. Bigas Luna)

Dollman (1991, d. Albert Pyun)

Edge of Darkness (2010, d. Martin Campbell)

The Believers (1987, d. John Schlesinger)

February 22

Perfumed Nightmare (1977, d. Kidlat Tahimik)

February 21

Sherman's March (1986, d. Ross McElwee)

Backyard (1984, d. Ross McElwee)

An excerpt from an essay that I am currently writing on the three of McElwee’s films that are concentrated on southern-ness and the Carolinas (these two and Bright Leaves, 2003):

“When Godfrey Cheshire writes about the films of Ross McElwee, he offers that the southern film of his and McElwee’s youth was interminably offered from an outsider’s perspective (one imagines he’s speaking of A Face in the Crowd and To Kill a Mockingbird, though the same holds true for Smokey and the Bandit and southern ‘exploitation’ cinema that emerged in the 1970s). It was not an indigenous southern cinema that was issued to theaters – accents were faked, locations staged, the rhythm of the drama lacking an indefinable authenticity that Cheshire senses in McElwee’s calm, observational style. If this style lends the work an elusive authenticity as indigenous southern cinema, McElwee’s films become an auto-ethnographic cycle, adopting a distinctly southern conception of time and revelation to critique past and present southern-ness.”

February 20

The Philadelphia Experiment (1984, d. Stewart Raffill)

Dragonslayer (1981, d. Matthew Robbins)

February 18

The Ambulance (1990, d. Larry Cohen)

Island of Blood (1982, d. William T. Naud)