(Just a single rule: mix-tape-style, no more than one film per director. You know, because otherwise the whole thing would be pointless.)
(#44) Time Indefinite
Documentary • dir. Ross McElwee • 1993 • USA
In my life there has been no better proof of my film nerd credentials than once being thrilled by an unexpected close encounter with Ross McElwee, the documentary filmmaker. He was two rows in front of me during a screening of West Side Story at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts. Full house, beautiful art deco theatre, great film coming up, unexpected McElwee sighting: I was almost giddy enough to faint. (I don’t remember exactly how fulsomely Jacqueline, sitting next to me, shared my enthusiasm, but I’m fairly sure she didn’t much enhance it. In fairness, though, from her perspective it was basically just the back of a stranger’s head.)
I won’t bother claiming McElwee films have mass appeal. But, nonetheless, how about I do spend just a few more words nudging you in their general direction? If you haven’t already, I say give one at least a go. Time Indefinite, my favorite, or his earlier Sherman’s March, or later Bright Leaves. So much of modern filmmaking, especially, is big, breathless, and brash. McElwee documentaries, on the other hand, are ruminative, understated, and gentle. They never do one single thing to grab your attention, but in their own meandering way they can certainly charm it. Or rather McElwee himself can, through what emerges in his work as a reoccurring struggle to both live life as it happens and to capture it somehow as it does. His voiceover and his camera circle around giant themes – foremost: love, family, mortality, and death – but only ever softly, and not without humor. If it didn’t sound quite so pretentious, I’d say the fruits of his labor are beautiful and profound.