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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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Elaine Stritch: At Liberty was a brilliant one woman show that chronicled the life of a Broadway legend, with wonderful musical interludes and wry storytelling about a convent girl making it on the stage that spanned her life through roughly 50+ years of Broadway musical theater. That show earned her that elusive Tony Award and became the pinnacle of her musical career. Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me never rises to that caliber of excellence. The film is in dire need of tighter direction, more concise editing, and better camera-work. This documentary focuses on Ms. Stritch's latter years and, while more serious in tone than the previous reincarnation of her biographical solo show, the film successfully tackles the ravishes of the aging process and becomes her swan song to a life upon that wicked stage.
￼For those unaware of Ms. Stritch's many contributions to the theater (and there just may be a few out there), the film reveals her irascible nature and unique larger-than-life talent via some sparse film clips from past shows (Sail Away, Company) and some recent concert and cabaret performances at the Hotel Carlyle, where she took up residence for many years. She is the one and only Broadway Baby and Ms. Stritch unleashes her cynical humor and sage wisdom throughout the film. With her as the main subject, how could the film not succeed!
Now, contemplating leaving the biz and moving back home with family in Detroit, Michigan, the film documents her journey. Her candid interviews and fond reminiscences of her past glories sharply contrast with her on-going bouts with illness and memory loss at the age of 86.
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me is a raw honest depiction of the aging process and its physical toil of the human body, but not its spirit. The in-your-face hand-held camera-work is, at times, startling and intrusive, but it captures her pain and stamina. One admires the documentary's frank treatment of this aging diva and her battles with various ailments that sadly beleaguers her. This aspect becomes the film's strongest point.
Ms. Stritch has always been a master storyteller and her tales cover the lives of other celebrities that fell into her orbit like Rock Hudson, Ben Gazzara, and John F. Kennedy in such an entertaining fashion. Tributes from with other actors and close friends like Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, the late James Gandolfini, and others attest to her powerful presence.
￼But more seems to be said in words than shown in pictures in this film. One wishes there could have been more footage of her classic stage performances which would have made this film biography all the more encompassing. There are many lost opportunities here, moments begging for those musical interludes from her earlier years to intermix with her life today. The film ends rather abruptly, adding to an unfinished quality of a tale not fully told.
￼Still, any time spent with the glorious Ms. Stritch is time well spent and Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me is a must-see for any theatergoer or moviegoer alike. GRADE: B
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