Sherman’s March: The Unsinkable Charleen

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Of all the women in Ross McElwee’s Sherman’s March – and there are a LOT of women in Sherman’s March, all of them memorable – there is one who gets a different kind of attention. Charleen Swansea is one of the very few subjects in McElwee’s film who is not the object of a sexual or romantic lens. She is also remarkably in control of her filmic presence; when she is on-screen she is refreshingly comfortable, letting her full personality be seen. Whether bubbly and optimitisic, dominieering, dismissive, or introspective, she doesn’t care much if she is being filmed. When she does, she demands that the camera be put down or turned off.

Charlene: Conclusion from Hanly Banks on Vimeo

The film does not go into Charleen’s background or her history with McElwee, but she is such a compelling personality in the film that it’s undeniable that there’s more to her than the matchmaker we see during her brief appearance in Sherman’s March. A teacher, writer, poet, and managment consultant who had a friendship with Ezra Pound, studied Dadaism, and walked on the beach with an elderly Albert Einstein, Charleen is someone you can conservatively say is quite a character. Her relationship with McElwee began in his adolescence in the ’70s, as his teacher she encouraged him to nuture his artistic endeavors and welcomed him into her community of creative thinkers. “I tried to teach Ross …that outrageousness was appropriate… To have original ideas and also try to fit in socially in high school is impossible. At my house we all had a strong sense of family and community.*” Their friendship continued to evolve as McElwee grew up and his first feature-length film Charleen is, as suggested by the title, a portrait of Charleen. Documenting her professional work as well as her personal life – both the light and dark moments (as seen in the above clip**)- we highly recommend you hunt it down and get to know this great lady a little better.

*from “The Meaning of Life”, Stephen Rodrick, Boston Magazine, September 1994