Elaine Stritch—what an utterly fascinating, talented force of nature she is. Frankly, I want to be her when I finally grow up. If you love the performing arts and its artists, then the documentary, “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” is a must see for an inside, no-holds barred, vanity-free look at this hard-working performer.
Director Chiemi Karasawa appears to have been given unfettered access to Stritch, whether it is in rehearsal for “30 Rock,” preparation for one of her one-woman shows, or even a stint in the hospital. It’s a decidedly unglamorous view, but one in which you come away with a greater appreciation and understanding of the woman and what it means to be a “Broadway Baby.”
The documentary opens with one of Stritch’s regular walks on the Manhattan streets and the first of her many quips, “I wish I could f**king drive. Then I’d really be a menace.” Thankfully she doesn’t drive, because not being able to watch her navigate the NYC landscape with her hulk-like stride, dressed in her fur coat, hat, black stockings and shirt, would deprive New Yorkers of quite the sight. How she has managed not to get hit by a car is a mystery and blessing in and of itself, but somehow she hasn’t. It’s wonderful to watch NYC natives and tourists stop her to say “hello” and just chat in general, and you can see that she derives a great deal of pleasure from it as well.
As the documentary notes, Stritch has many film and television credits to her name and certainly has guest-starred in many television shows, even winning Emmys along the way, but she is best known for her work on Broadway…as either part of an ensemble or for her one-woman shows. “Shoot Me” takes us behind the scenes as she prepares what is probably her last show, “Elaine Stritch: Singin’ Sondheim…One Song at a Time.” Stritch is no Bernadette Peters, but in her own way she is the perfect person to sing his music. When she sings…belts is more like it… she tells a story and makes the song her own. Poignant and funny, her rendition of “I Feel Pretty” gives new meaning to the song. The only problem…her memory is failing and she’s not always able to remember the lyrics. Watching her work with her longtime musical director, Rob Bowman, melts your heart…he is so patient with her. And when she forgets the words in concert, it matters not. She’s such a performer that she makes it work.
Alec Baldwin, who played her son on “30 Rock,” is one of the film’s producers, and in interviews, their love for one another is evident. When he’s late to rehearsal she starts calling him Joan Crawford. It’s probably only something Stritch could get away with. Among many, there are other conversations with John Turturro, Nathan Lane, Cherry Jones, Tina Fey and most poignantly, James Gandolfini, to whom the film is dedicated. All simply admire and adore her.
Stritch is a recovering alcoholic. She makes no excuses, saying she just enjoys drinking. Now she has one drink a day and says that if she was on a desert island and could have just one item, it would be a stocked bar. She’s also diabetic and is constantly monitoring herself. The most dramatic part of the documentary is when we see her experience a hypoglycemic attack and watch her being taken to the hospital.
Residing for years in NYC’s Carlyle Hotel, Stritch was 86 when filming the documentary began. At that time she was contemplating a move back to her Detroit hometown where her family resides, and taking life a little easier. After completion of the film, as her eyesight worsened and her memory continued to fail, she did make the transition.
But somehow it seems wrong to say she’s done with NYC and all that it’s meant to her. As the documentary and Stritch point out, she’s faced debilitating diabetes, alcoholism and dare one say it, old age, and “she’s still here.” Praise the Lord.