Wednesday, April 2, 2014

ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME (2014)

Directed by Chiemi Karasawa



Where & When: Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills, CA. March 26. 2014 5:10PM



What would be appealing about watching a documentary on a self-absorbed, self-centered and self-possessed actor? While this may seem to be common personality traits among many performers however, Elaine Stritch elevates it to a whole new level. And it makes you love her even more. This fascinating film, "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me" follows the complicated and unfiltered Broadway legend as she prepares to enter in to her eighty-seventh year of life. Stritch is in fragile health due to diabetes and simple aging yet she remains determined to follow through with her busy life and work commitments. Realizing she is no longer able to give her very best, Stritch is at a loss as she knows it's time to wrap up her time on stage yet is fearful of a life without thunderous applause. We witness the frustration and panic early on during a rehearsal for her final shows at the Caryle with her very patient musical director, Rob Bowman as she's having difficulties remembering lyrics. Although this is partially due to a spike in her blood sugar, the ordeal has left her confidence shaken.

As a young woman, Stritch left her comfortable suburban life in Detroit to venture out to the Big Apple to try her luck as an actress. It didn't take long and soon found herself on the professional stage. At one point, she was the understudy for Ethel Merman in "Call Me Madam" while headlining in a revival of "Pal Joey". During the less than stellar run of "Goldilocks", Noel Coward caught a performance. While he didn't think much of the musical, Coward was quite impressed with Elaine Stritch and created a part for her in "Sail Away". Her career took off and later found herself in the orbit of Stephen Sondheim. After originating the role of Joanne in "Company" and introducing the classic song, "The Ladies Who Lunch", Stritch became known as a great interpreter of the composer's work.

This is the first film for director Chiemi Karasawa and she's fortunate enough to have such a riveting and unpredictable subject. All she has to do is point the camera in Stritch's direction and wait for the magic to happen. The ballsy Stritch even reprimands a cameraman when she deems him too close to her and gives him directions on how to properly capture a shot.

After the great loss of her beloved husband, actor John Bay in 1982, Stritch never found love again although she still had her career and drink to keep her company. She is upfront about her problem with alcohol and had stopped drinking for over twenty years yet, at this point of her life, she allows one drink a day. What we learn is that despite all of Stritch's blustery bravado, deep down she's just another flawed and insecure individual still searching for love and acceptance. Elaine Stritch quotes another hard-hitting actress, Bette Davis with "Aging isn't for sissies" and it's clear that she intends to get through her remaining days with true grit, the occasional cocktail and very good humor.

Many fellow actors who have either worked with Stritch or are simply fans appear to sing her praises but Tina Fey, who performed with the actress on "30 Rock" sums her up best. She says that while Elaine Stritch may be a handful and you don't know what you're gonna get but it's all worth it in the end.