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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, that gravelly-voiced, long-legged, larger-than-life singer/dancer/actress and Broadway legend, died less than six months after the release of "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me," a documentary made when she was 86. At an age when most other performers have long since called it quits, Elaine Stritch went soldiering on, clinging tenaciously to the one thing that gave her life purpose and meaning - performing on stage in front of a loving and devoted audience.
Director Chiemi Karasawa and her crew follow this grand dame of the stage around Manhattan as she preps for a new one-woman show, chats with friends, poses for pictures with fans and passersby, and speaks, with often brutal honesty, about her life, her career and her views on aging and death. Needless to say, her outsized talent and personality shine forth through every single moment of the film.
On a personal level, the movie chronicles her struggles with alcoholism and diabetes, her marriage to John Bay, the one love of her life, who died of brain cancer in 1982, her affair with Ben Gazara, etc. Karasawa interviews a number of celebrities - Nathan Lane, the late James Gandolfini, the cast of "30 Rock," among them - to get a sense of what it was like to work with Stritch on a professional level. The movie buttresses this with a veritable treasure trove of photographs showing Stritch at various stages in her life and career.
The movie doesn't shy away from showing the difficulties and diminished capacities that come with aging. For instance, there are moments of tremendous tension as Stritch becomes increasingly temperamental and irascible, struggling to do things now that came so easily to her in her youth (i.e. remembering lyrics during rehearsals and sometimes even performances). There are times when she even comes across as a bit of a diva or curmudgeon, going so far as to "direct" the documentary itself, molding a particular scene to her own liking.
The fact that Stritch died not long after the filming of the movie makes watching it now an especially poignant experience, as what was initially intended as a tribute has now become an elegy.
One of her non-celebrity friends describes Elaine Stritch as "a Molotov cocktail of madness, sanity and genius." That pretty much sums her up, all right.
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