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What does it mean to be a performing artist - first, last and always? Broadway legend Elaine Stritch can answer that. At 87, Stritch is still here, dominating the stage in her one woman cabaret act, torturing Alec Baldwin on 30ROCK, giving us her take on aging, her struggle with alcohol and diabetes, and the fear of leaving the follow spot behind. In stolen moments from her corner room at the Carlyle, and on breaks from her tour and work, candid reflections about her life are punctuated with rare archival footage, words from friends (Hal Prince, George C. Wolfe, Nathan Lane, Cherry Jones and John Turturro) and photographs from her personal collection. By turns bold, hilarious and achingly poignant, the journey connects Stritch's present to her past, and an inspiring portrait of a one-of-a-kind survivor emerges. Written by
When the doctor called me and told me he had cancer... I burst into a flood of tears... That's the way I cried when John died. And then I cried no more!... But I said, "I've got to, I gotta, gotta get going and see what I can find now," 'cause I loved being married, and I loved being in love, and I loved all that. So where am I gonna find that again? And I never did. I never did.
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Saw this tonight at what may have been the world premiere showing at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York (Friday, April 19, 2013). At the Q&A with the filmmaker afterward, a young woman got up and said that she was a great aficionado of the documentary film, and that this was, she thought, maybe the best documentary ever made. For Stritch's fans -- who were out in force tonight -- it was certainly a love fest. One thought that there could be little more to reveal about this lovable, irascible personality after her great one woman show, "At Liberty" and the HBO documentary on the "making of" that show and its TV edition. But Stritch is, it seems, a person of unlimited depth: peel back the layers of the onion, there's always more, and it's always even more interesting. For those of us who know and love her -- well, at least for me -- the film is a wonderful send-off (Stritch is retiring and moving to Michigan -- or so she threatens) to a woman who has been part of the definition of classy New York for more than half a century. Great love for her is shown throughout the film in interviews with the likes of Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, Nathan Lane, and, most touchingly, her accompanist (and devoted friend) of the last 13 glorious years of a stupendous career, Rob Bowman -- who himself must be some kind of a saint. If you're already a Stritch fan, you will be deeply moved. If you haven't met her yet, you will be fascinated. If you are among the rare, sad folk who can't stand her, maybe this will change your mind. Side note: Stritch was present at the screening, and after being introduced to a cheering crowd, was asked what she had to say and -- surprise -- "Yes. Where's the bathroom? In 50 years I've never had to ask that, but I need to know NOW." She was escorted out (to general amusement) and the filmmaker and Rob Bowman answered a few questions (Bowman saying how much of a privilege and a joy it has been to work with her). When Elaine returned, she made a brief but very touching statement to the audience, telling us how wonderful we'd been, that we'd laughed and applauded, but not JUST laughed and applauded. She was asked how she liked the film, and she recalled that she had told the filmmaker "I like the film. It's very good. But I wouldn't want to be in it!" A paradox, like the lady herself: tough as nails, yet without a bit of useless armor. One of the great class acts of all time.
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