The Ross McElwee DVD Collection

First Run Features

Now that it’s safe to accuse documentaries of having become crass, commercially self-interested and formulaic—mainstream, in other words—a Ross McElwee survey seems like needed refreshment. McElwee works as a crew of one, a roaming personal essayist who sees the big themes in the small details. But instead of indulgence, he radiates sly, dignified, self-deprecating humor. Consider this classic sample of McElwee narration, from 1986’s Sherman’s March: “It’s 3 in the morning, and I can’t sleep. I keep wondering how I should’ve responded to Pat’s comment about not wearing any underpants. I mean, that’s not like telling someone that you’re not wearing any socks. Also, I’ve begun having my dreams about nuclear war again.” Gently neurotic first-person filmmaking doesn’t get any better.