“Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” (2014)
Elaine Stritch is a Tony and Emmy winning actress who has appeared on Broadway since 1946. She has appeared in movies such as “A Farewell to Arms” (1957), Woody Allen’s “September (1987) and “Monster in Law” (2005). Stritch has also had a long career in television, winning 3 Emmy awards, most recently for her role as Colleen, the mother of Alec Baldwin’s character, Jack Dounaghy, on the NBC program “30 Rock.”
Chiemi Karasawa’s documentary is centered around her attempting to do a cabaret show called “Elaine Stritch Singin’ Sondheim…One Song at a Time” at age 87. We see her, warts and all as she struggles performing a demanding one woman show while dealing with old age, diabetes and alcoholism. As Stritch says in the film “Getting old is not for sissies.”
The is a fascinating look at a woman who is truly is a force of nature. Stritch has always been known as an outspoken woman who isn’t afraid to tell anyone just what she thinks of them. Her romances in the 40’s and 50’s were legendary, including encounters with John F. Kennedy, Marlon Brando, Gig Young and Ben Gazzara. In the film she talks about breaking up with Gazzara because Rock Hudson wanted to date her, “And we all know what a bum decision that turned out to be.” The late James Gandolfini, talks on screen that if she had been younger when he first met her, they would have had a torrid affair “that would have ended very badly.” She finally met her match in stage actor John Bay, whon she married in 1972. Bay’s family owned Bays English Muffins, and Stritch to this day, still gives muffins to family and friends during Christmas. Her husband died in 1982 due to cancer, and she never really fully recovered from his death.
The documentary will delight Broadway, and musical fans as the film gives us a glance at the talent of Stritch, showing appearances of hers both on TV and the stage, including many songs from her Tony award winning one-woman show “Elaine Stritch at Liberty.” Scenes are shown also from her appearances on the stage in “Bus Stop” (1956), “Sail Away” (1962), which was written for Stritch by the legendary Noel Coward, and her highly praised performance of Joanne in the Broadway musical “Company” (1971).
The movie gives us a look at a woman who while in rehearsal, struggles with remembering the lyrics to songs and gets frustrated when she can’t perform up to her high standards. We also get to see up close and personal her daily battles with diabetes, which rears up several times during the film, causing her to be hospitalized. Her struggles with alcoholism, something that she has battled most of her life is dealt with in the film. Stritch starting drinking at a very early age to help her deal with “stage fright.” When her husband died, she got even more dependent on alcohol, and it nearly killed her. At times, Stritch tries to justify her drinking by saying that it’s only one drink a day, but after a health setback, she attempts to get back on the wagon, even attending AA meetings. What makes this documentary so compelling is that we get to see her deal with these problems, giving us insight to what makes Stritch tick.
She is a woman that at times looks frail and close to death. At other times, especially when she is on stage, she is a performer that is determined and full of life. It’s remarkable how, in rehearsals, she is so full of doubt that you wonder why she thinks she can go up and perform. Then you see her enter from the wings and get up on that stage in front of an audience becoming transformed into someone who is full of confidence and bravado. She may not have the voice or the moves that she had 30 years ago, but she still knows how to work a room. Stritch is one of those performers who can almost instantly get the audience to love her.
The film allows you to see a person who is fully ready to admit to her flaws. Stritch is a someone who is at a time in her life that knows her days are numbered. She continues to deal with her fears, all the while saying “there’s something exciting about being afraid.” It’s a compelling look at a woman who lives to perform. As Stritch says in the film “What I needed was the people looking up at me,” and it’s a joy to do so. My Rating: Full Price
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The film is playing in Atlanta exclusively at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema