[ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME opens in Cleveland on Friday March 14th exclusively at the Cedar Lee Theatre.]
Review by Pamela Zoslov
Eighty-seven at the time the film was made, Stritch is seen
rehearsing her latest cabaret show at New York's Carlyle Hotel, where
she also lived at the time. The show, "Elaine
Stritch Singin' Sondheim…One
Song at a Time,” has Stritch, in her distinctively rough,
inimitable voice, revisiting the songbook of the composer who created
one of her most celebrated roles, Joanne in “Company.”
Beset by insecurities, the effects of diabetes and the occasional
memory lapse — granted, Sondheim's lyrics are a challenge for a
singer of any age — Stritch pushes on, with the help of her devoted
young accompanist, Rob Bowman.
The documentary, Karasawa's first directorial effort, is candid,
intimate and exceptionally well photographed.
While Stritch's name may not be
very familiar to non-theatergoers, she's also known for
occasional standout film roles (e.g. Woody Allen's SEPTEMBER)
and a recurring role as Jack's mom on 30 Rock.
As in her Tony-winning one-woman show, “Elaine Stritch at Liberty,”
the erstwhile convent girl reflected on her life, her career and her
loves, who included Marlon Brando, Gig Young, Ben Gazarra and Rock
Hudson. (She even dated a young Jack Kennedy, who dropped her when he
discovered she wouldn't put out.) She is elegiac about her husband,
actor John Bay, scion of the Bay English Muffin family and the
great love of her life. “He made me laugh and feel everything. I
was happy, happy.”
After Bay's death from brain
cancer in 1982, Stritch had to find a way to carry on.
Losing her husband sent Stritch into a battle with alcoholism, which
she still wages by attending AA meetings (“They keep my mind
sharp.”). She toys with the idea of having “one drink a
day,” but drinking seems to wreak havoc on her health. During the
course of the film, she endures two hospitalizations, which seem
dire, but after each one she comes roaring back.
Stritch is a singular talent with a remarkable personality. She's known for her long, slim showgirl legs and
her brutally honest tongue. “Your hair looks good for a change,”
she barks at a longtime friend while visiting her alma mater, the
Stella Adler School of Acting, which is dedicating a studio to her.
In another scene, she rebukes the film's patient director for not
filming her properly. But her salty personality is part of what friends and fans cherish. James Gandolfini, an admirer who
became a close friend, praises Stritch's “bullshit meter” and
says knowing her reminded him that acting, which can often seem like
a silly thing to do, is “a beautiful tradition.” (How much do we
miss him, by the way?) Nathan Lane says, “She's very, very
truthful.” A younger woman she
befriended at AA describes how Stritch commanded her to become,
henceforth, her driver, and also to clean her car and bring Elaine her favorite decaf
Coke. The woman, now a dear friend, couldn't resist Stritch. “She's
so alluring. She is a Molotov cocktail of madness, sanity and
We get a sense of Stritch's
particular magic when she takes the stage at the Café Carlyle. Honest,
self-aware and utterly charismatic, she sings “I Feel Pretty”
from West Side Story and “Rose's Turn” from "Gypsy" and absolutely owns them.
She is, in the words of her director, “a brilliant storyteller who reaches for the
emotional truth.” The audience responds with torrents of love.
“If I forget my lyrics — fuck
it! I'm happy,” Stritch says. She is realistic about her age and
the fact that time is limited. Still, she has plans for the future, including buying a home in her Michigan hometown and possibly retiring. (Later it was reported that Stritch found life in Birmingham, Michigan, where she bought a swanky condo, deeply boring.) It is her work that sustains her. “I feel
better when I work. I'm protected in the theater, with prosceniums
and escape.” She quotes Bette Davis' statement that old age "isn't for sissies,”
and adds,“I like the courage of age. Why not enjoy it? There's not
a damn thing you can do about it.” 4 out of 4 stars.
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