‘Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me’ is a magical tribute to Broadway legend
The best documentaries about performers help us learn what creates the magic on and off stage.
Just as “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” reveals the soul of a legendary singer, this documentary about Broadway veteran Elaine Stritch paints a picture to cherish about an incomparable talent.
Stritch, who died shortly after this film was released in 2013, owned every inch of the floor, each eye in the house, every time she performed. No matter what would proceed around her, that action remained secondary to what she would say, do or sing. Any story being told would pause for the audience to have its moment, to advance its adoration, to savor the lady’s style. No matter what character this actress would portray, she always played Stritch. And we couldn’t get enough.
I first “discovered” Elaine Stritch when I was 14 years old and she stole every possible moment of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” on Broadway. I had never experienced a stage force so galvanizing, a talent so accessible. With each gesture of the hand, or nuance with her voice, she expressed more about a character than lines of dialogue could describe. And when she sang the signature “Ladies Who Lunch” — a work she later described as “a one-act play with melody” — the world stopped for a moment. I couldn’t get enough.
This began a multi-decade connection with everything Stritch as I re-discovered her work on screen in “A Farewell to Arms” and savored her performances on stage in Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance” and the revival of “Show Boat,” as well as her work on television in “30 Rock.” She capped her career with the one-woman Broadway show in 2001, “Elaine Stritch At Liberty,” a project that perfectly captured the magic of the performer and the complexity of the woman. Thank goodness this amazing work, for which she finally won a Tony, is forever captured on video.
But time passed and, with each year, her appearances became fewer, and her command of lyrics weakened, as she faced the inevitability of time. With the authenticity of a woman of striking wisdom, Stritch agreed to be the focus of this piercing documentary by Chieme Karasawa, “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. This daring, insightful and ultimately loving tribute refuses to shy away from the truths in the performer’s life as it reconfirms the authenticity of her choices. With care, respect and persistence, Karasawa examines how a woman once so commanding must adjust to change in her day-to-day capabilities. Without hesitation, it reveals as it respects the realities that now define her life. The film celebrates the best of Stritch while it focuses on how this legendary performer prepares for her next chapter.
Focusing on her final performances at the Café Carlyle in Manhattan, and her decision to move back to her native Michigan, “Shoot Me” carefully avoids any histrionic moments that would compromise the lady’s candor. While some sequences recall the intensity of her outbursts in D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary about recording the “Company” cast album, and her endearing patter in “At Liberty”, we primarily share time with Stritch as she reflects on her joys, shows off her room at the Carlyle Hotel, confronts her fears about performing and counts the blessings of the days past. The lady, an ultimate realist, carefully imagines the possibilities for her future, and lovingly recalls the relationships of her past, without ever never taking herself too seriously or forgetting to save the best laugh for herself.
When the film premiered at Tribeca, as Stritch worked the press line for what would be the final time, she laughed when I told her I saw “Company” in 1970. “My God, you must be as old as I am,” she said, followed by that signature deadpan pause and her outrageous laugh. And, when she laughed, the lady was ageless. Thank you, Chieme Karasawa, for capturing the magic of Elaine Stritch.
“Shoot Me” is not rated. The film runs 80 minutes. It is available for online streaming.