Directed by: Chiemi Karasawa.
Back in 2010, I saw Elaine Stritch on Broadway in the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. Watching her, I couldn’t help but notice that her voice wasn’t as strong as it once was, but her stage presence was undeniable. It was a great performance – and an experience I will always remember.
The documentary Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, which was shot in 2011 and 2012 and released earlier this year, before Stritch’s death in July at the age of 89, is a surprising film. I expected to see a movie that was, like Stritch, was larger than life and funny – brass and bold. And it is all of those things. But it is also surprisingly deep and introspective. Stritch seemed to have no illusions about herself, and didn’t feel the need to hold anything back. It delves into her alcoholism – something she struggled with until the end. She says she was sober for 24 years, and then decided to have one drink a day, which she did, but then when various medical problems present themselves, she decides to stop. By the end, she’s back to that one drink a day – and sees no problem with it. She confesses her insecurity with performing – shows her rehearsals for her one woman show Elaine Stritch; Singing Sondheim, One Song at a Time, where she often forgets the lyrics, and grows frustrated with herself. Director Chiemi Karasawa was given remarkable access to Stritch, and she makes the most of it.
The movie covers the bases of what you expect in a show business documentary – it goes over Stritch’s great career on stage and screen, and lets Stritch tell some great stories about her career and personal life. She is a natural born storyteller, and when she holds court, everyone stops and listens. Whatever room she is in, she’s the one everyone wants to listen to. But I was much more interested, and ultimately moved, by the moments when Stritch talks about her life now – why she continues to work, when most people her age have retired, and how nervous she is when she goes on stage, and her fears for what is next – not death, but for the rest of her life.
We get a lot of documentaries about famous people – and often they are very interesting, even if they cover just the standard bases. But Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me goes deeper than most, and it’s better than most. I expected to enjoy the movie – and I did – I didn’t expect to be as moved by it as I was. This is a great documentary, about a one of a kind performer.