(Ross McElwee, USA, 1993) 117 minutes


Director: Ross McElwee
Assistant editors: Andrea Lelievre, Claudia Gonson
Post-production supervisor: Jana Odette
Sound mix: Richard Bock

Reviews and notes

Festivals: Vancouver, 1993. Melbourne, Sydney, 1994

If you thought that Ross McElwee had said enough about his life in Sherman's March, you need to watch the glorious Time Indefinite. A sequel that eclipses McElwee's cult hit, it retains the appealing elements of the original - McElwee's wry, deadpan attitude to his life, for one - and it breaks new ground as well. That ground yields inspired and oxymoronic soil. Time Indefinite is lightly entertaining and darkly profound. It's uplifting and disheartening. You leave this two-hour, home-movie documentary amused, deeply touched and quietly philosophical.

Sherman's March, a cult hit in Washington, was a wonderful accident. McElwee had intended to retrace the trail of Sherman's military advance on Atlanta for a documentary. But a breakup with his girlfriend on the eve of filming turned McElwee's journey into a touching, funny campaign to replace her. Time Indefinite, which opens at the Biograph - the same venue that made a local hit out of Sherman's March - goes south again. But this time, McElwee comes marching home. In visits with his family - his aging grandmother, work-driven father and brother, lifelong maid, Lucille, and others - he re-explores his family role.

Long regarded as the McElwee oddball (in a family full of doctors and traditional women), the softspoken, bearded filmmaker - never without a camera glued to his face - examines his tentative relationship with his relatives. In a series of unforeseeable, bittersweet events, he comes through the experience a radically changed man.

During McElwee's filming of porch get-togethers, dinners, beach wanderings and whatever else takes his fancy, sundry questions arise, from existential to absurd. What worries him so much about babies, he wonders, as his brother proudly and repeatedly thrusts his newborn before McElwee's lens? Will he never shave that beard, his ailing grandmother wants to know? Why does his camera always seem to lose battery power when his father's around? Why do Jehovah's Witnesses follow him around the country? (It is one Witness's mysterious use of the term "time indefinite" that inspired the title.) Most significantly perhaps, is McElwee living his life or depicting it? Turn off the camera, demands his wonderfully nutty friend Charleen, a memorable character from Sherman's March, who figures poignantly in this film. "This is not art, it's life!"

Speaking of reality participation, McElwee has a significant announcement for the family at the beginning of Time Indefinite. He and Marilyn Levine, a beautiful and serene personality, who also is a filmmaker, intend to get married. McElwee's standing in the family reaches an immediate, unprecedented high. The movie enjoys an early euphoria. McElwee (with characteristic trepidation) is actually going to join the world of people - those characters in front of his lens.

But he still brings his camera to everything, from stag night with his filmmaking friends (who else?) to telling Grandma the good news. (She still wishes he would lose the beard.) Minutes before the wedding ceremony, McElwee is still filming Marilyn (a good sport to say the least) as she dresses for the big event. But he manages to relinquish the camera to take his vows.

Time Indefinite becomes increasingly tempered with tragedy, ranging from the horror of a fisherman gleefully encouraging his son to stomp a caught, wriggling fish, to Charleen coming to grips with a searing family loss. Standing slightly apart from his life and the people in it, McElwee enters his existence in a profoundly stirring way. In Time Indefinite Ross McElwee isn't just observing his life. He's living it - all of it.
- Desson Howe, Washington Post, 7 May 1993.

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