This film acts as a testament to the success of Stritch’s ultimate triumph: herself
by Tori Laxalt
“First, you’re another sloe-eyed vamp, then someone’s mother, then you’re camp, then you career from career to career.” Elaine Stritch famously claimed that only actresses of a very certain age should be afforded the privilege of singing those lines, taken from Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway standard “I’m Still Here.” And seeing her perform it live, as in her Tony-winning one-woman show Elaine Stritch at Liberty (2004), you’ll be damned if you can imagine any other human being owning those world-weary couplets.
Director Chiemi Karasawa’s documentary Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me is a snapshot portrait of a living legend just prior to her death (Stritch passed away on July 17, 2014, just a few months after this film was theatrically released). A full decade after finishing what some thought would be her final work, ol’ Stritchy is seen fighting her way onto any stage she can. Karasawa skillfully follows the actress as she films scenes for Tina Fey’s sitcom 30 Rock, performs in her solo revues at the Carlyle Hotel, and charms the pants off of anyone and everyone around her. One snippet even has Stritch singing an ode to her apartment building’s elevator operator; a consummate performer, it seems as though that was all she was built to do.
And, for better or for worse (as Stritch and the documentary might claim), the above might be true. Shoot Me shows us a seasoned professional who for years was known for her less-than-professional persona—as seen in her one-woman show (and in many interviews), where Stritch is candid about her lifelong relationship with alcoholism and her crippling self-esteem issues.
Karasawa is ruthless in her honest portrait of the actress. In one priceless scene, Stritch “breaks the fourth wall” and the audience gets an awkward glimpse of her chastising a cameraman for not following her in the manner she wanted. We also see her in the throes of her struggles with diabetes in hospital rooms and an ambulance, free of any makeup or even her trademark white button-down and black tights.
However physically and emotionally vulnerable she seemingly appears, this Broadway broad unfailingly remains sickeningly sharp throughout. In one memorable vignette, Stritch recalls rejecting a lover in favor of Rock Hudson, quipping, “And look how that turned out.”
The actress’s recent death casts no shadow over Shoot Me; in fact, the film acts as a testament to the success of Stritch’s ultimate triumph: herself. For all the “brilliant zingers” and “vodka stingers” (from Company’s “The Ladies Who Lunch”), for all of the legendary roles she’s commanded, what ultimately endures is Stritch the bitch herself.
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me is available from MPI Home Video (mpihomevideo.com) and through VOD services (including Netflix).