Film gaze of Ross McElwee embodies life

Marta Kucza

image shermansmarch 2.jpg

As part of our celebration of life as defined and experienced through cinema, we are thrilled to hold a retrospective of films by Ross McElwee. Ross’s film gaze embodies life, allowing us to understand better not only the experience of cinema, but also of life itself.

These documentaries explore familiar places and people both by creating and repurposing archival footage of the director’s family life. In his use, the home movie idiom does not remain in the domain of individual experience. It’s the ordinary, rather, that his camera explores: a space where the collective past is stored and the social is enacted.

By following his relationships, rather than focusing on individuals, Ross manages to capture the changing nature of human interaction. He draws the viewer into his narrative by commenting on what is happening with his trademark self-deprecating humour. These self-reflexive techniques, belonging to the long-established tradition of the essay genre, which, paraphrasing Michel de Montaigne, measures its own truth and error, allows spectators to gauge their own relations to filmed objects. Ross takes them further though, making space for the unexpected and relinquishing control over the course of his filmmaking process.

The beauty of Ross’s essay film is that it provides an account of the liveliness of human consciousness so faithfully: as a real-time process of making uncountable connections between different layers of the past, actualised in the present. The encounters with his film protagonists show us much more than the encounter itself, they create links with our own experiences, while evoking their social and historical entanglements.

One of life’s characteristics is an unceasing interaction with the environment. Ross’s camera never stops to relate. It is always of the world it portrays, immersed in it. The event of filming is a process that points both ways: it is influenced by the world that provides it with matter, but also transforms the real profoundly. The camera is a tool to test the capacity of experiencing the world, to exercise resistance, to engage. The immediateness of the home movie radically reduces the distance between the film and the viewer: the agile, sensitive camera movements belong to a living body that constantly attunes its attention to the changing world.

It’s not only his films that Ross eventually shares with the viewers, but also his own life shaped by the urge of filmmaking, leading at one point to the amusing interjection by his friend Charleen in Sherman’s March: “Turn it off, Ross! This is not art, this is life!”

Photo: Sherman's March, Ross McElwee

Published: 23.04.2024.

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