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Friday, 14 March 2014 00:00

'Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me' takes a Stritch in time + Video

'Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me' takes a Stritch in time
Written by Martha K. Baker
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Shoot me: that's a joke, not a command. It refers to filming, as in shooting a film, but anyone who has been around Elaine Stritch knows that it's the sort of thing she would say. "Just shoot me" sounds like a Stitchian response to things-gone-wrong.

This documentary goes right, for it shows the great song-and-dance woman at 87, in all her aging beauty and wit and decrepitude and attitude. She's now 89, retired and living in her homestate of Michigan, but for decades, she lived in New York City, specifically in the Carlyle Hotel. She sang there, too, standing on those long, long pins of hers, clad in black tights and a main-tailored white shirt. She sang. She belted. She fiddled with tune and words.

When she couldn't remember the words, as happened more and more often in the last years, she vamped with her loyal friend and musical director Rob Bowman. He is a saint, guiding her, tolerating her, nudging her, nursing her. We see Stritch in a diabetic whirl, half out of her mind, panicking. It's scary -- for her and for us. But the documentary presents that reality of growing older (her preferred phrase over just "old"), of being forgetful and diabetic and prone to coma.

It also shows Stritch as dictator, telling the camera operator how and what to do, arguing with him about when to follow her into the kitchen as she gets her Bay's English muffins.

They would be Bay's, for she was happily married for to John Bay until his early death. "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me" is not filled with boyfriends and paramours although she does talk about old lovers, such as Ben Gazarra. Director Chiemi Karasawa shoots Stritch's friends, including Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin; they starred with her in "30 Rock," and Baldwin co-produced this documentary. Among the friends are also actors Nathan Lane, Cherry Jones and James Gandolfini (it's to him that the film is dedicated), producer Hal Prince, and Julia Keyes, a buddy from AA. Stritch is also a recovering alcoholic, who now allows herself one drink a day. Why not?

Karasawa accompanies Stritch as she curates her vintage photos and talks of the old times, the really old times, as well as the Emmy- and Tony-award-winning times. She captures Stritch singing bars of her classic song from "Follies," "I'm Still Here." And she shows her with her immediate family, rhapsodizing over that word, "immediate."

"Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me" is a surprisingly moving biodoc, especially for anyone who has followed the career of Stitch's career on stage and screen, in bars and hearts. 

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