Charleen

Fans of Ross McElwee's Sherman's March (1985) will undoubtedly recall the character Charleen Swansea, the filmmaker's friend and former teacher, and will be pleased to discover that McElwee devoted an entire feature to this memorable woman back in 1977. An unorthodox fifth-grade teacher, small publisher, and poet who at one point was a protege of Ezra Pound, Charleen is an exuberant and outspoken southern eccentric, and McElwee's affectionate portrait (which, unlike Sherman's March, doesn't do double duty as a portrait of the filmmaker) gives her plenty of opportunities to show her special qualities—which she takes full advantage of. Much of the film focuses on her inspired methods of teaching poetry and the difficulties of her relationship with a man who's much younger. Larger than life and bursting with energy and intelligence, Charleen makes a fascinating film subject and indirectly gives us a glimpse of certain southern virtues that most accounts of the south gloss over.

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