Legendary actress and vocalist Elaine Stritch has been turning heads over the past few years after guest starring on "30 Rock" as Jack Donaghy's mother. Due to a series of bad falls, she was unable to attend the 2013 Emmy Awards where she was nominated for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. According to "The New York Times", Stritch wouldn't be up and about for six to eight weeks (http://theater.nytimes.com/2013/09/21/theater/as-fierce-as-she-is-fragile-elaine-stritch-in-michigan.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&). This made it all the more surprising (and exciting!) when the award-winning woman of stage and screen attended the Milwaukee Film Festival screening of her documentary "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me" exactly a week after The Emmys. The Milwaukee Film Festival (http://mkefilm.org) screened the documentary in the Oriental Theater at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 29, with a Q&A to follow.
There are several areas of Stritch's life that have not reflected all the glitz and glamor of success. "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me" delves a great deal into the struggles she's faced and is currently facing. Alcoholism, diabetes, and aging are the primary focuses and the documentary goes back and forth between the three, emphasizing that the problems don't completely go away. When the documentary was shot, Stritch was an 86-year-old recovered alcoholic with diabetes. While alcoholism wasn't an existing problem, Stritch shows a constant struggle to find a safe balance where she can have a drink a day while still managing her diabetes.
What scares me the most? Drinking. Just drinking because it's just an escape. It's such a warm, inviting heaven.
Diabetes, on the other hand, is a more prevalent issue in Stritch's life which the viewer sees many times as she forgets lyrics and even loses the ability to speak due to low blood sugar. The audience sees Stritch at her most vulnerable when her health issues lead her to the hospital early one morning and she shows genuine fear and sorrow at the thought of her life coming to an end. Throughout all of her struggles with alcohol, diabetes, and aging, Stritch still gives live performances and she expresses a kind of shock when her age and health issues catch up to her.
It's time for me to think very seriously about going home, wherever that is.
However, a scene or two later shows Stritch over her grief and fears, in full acceptance of the aging process saying, "It's just getting late! There's nothing sad... I pray that I can be at least amusing about it!" The audience watches as Stritch quickly gains acceptance and moves on with the same resilient, upbeat personality that makes her such an engaging, extraordinary woman. From the first scene of the film, Stritch's brassy personality and sharp sense of humor is exposed and, between her hilarious 2002 Emmy acceptance speech and random encounters with New York residents, the audience was exploding with laughter. Fellow actors such as Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Nathan Lane, and James Gandolfini commented on her spirit and unforgettable personality, Fey describing her as "Confident, brassy, stylish, gorgeous", and Gandolfini commenting on how she "knows how to lay it on the line."
Milwaukee had the distinct honor of experiencing this confident, brassy personality firsthand during the following Q&A with director Chiemi Karasawa. Karasawa said that there were hundreds of hours of footage and that it was impossible to answer which of the deleted scenes was the one she wished she could've included. The following are just a handful of Stritch's answers and comments:
When asked if she would consider doing a production in Milwaukee's Cardinal Stritch University-
I'll do anything they ask me to. I'm very proud to be associated [with Cardinal Stritch]. I'm proud of my Catholicism and convent background. I hope they DO ask me.. no matter what I did in geometry! I'll do as many Hail Marys as they want me to.
On what role she would like to have in the future-
I'd like to play a love story with a younger man and make it work. Because I think one was tried and it was leaning too much to comedy, raw comedy and I think there is something real to it. It's like when people criticize homosexuals...yay when two people fall in love and yay when two people are happy together!
On choosing her "no pants" look based on friend Judy Garland's rehearsal outfit (http://cdn.theatermania.com/article/1760/2.jpg)-
It gave me the feeling of playing an older woman who was kinda jazzy.
It was just to imitate one of my favorite performers in the world.
On watching "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me"-
I don't think you should sit back, put your feet up and enjoy a documentary about yourself because I think that's very hung-up on yourself.
When asked for advice for aspiring performers-
I honestly don't know what to say. If it's got a hold of you to the extent that you can't turn your back on it, you've got to try your very best and you'll make it....I also promise you sadness.
On her honesty-
I'm afraid to be dishonest on the stage because it's so obvious. I know when I'm fooling them and so do they.
On the crowd's reaction to the film and her presence-
I thank you for you reacting to the documentary. You can't imagine what a thrill it is to me. It really is.
It's just the best feeling in the world to be up here and look out and see all of you clapping.
"Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me" releases in February, 2014. For more information on the documentary, visit http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2405792/. For more information about the Milwaukee Film Festival, visit http://mkefilm.org.