Elaine Stritch - new film about the famed actress/entertainer is a gem

Elaine Stritch

Elaine Stritch

The movie is called, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me. The actress who played Alec Baldwin's mother on TV's "30 Rock", had a hit one-woman show on Broadway, has been a cabaret star off and on for 50 years or so and starred in Noel Coward's musical, "Sail Away" back in 1961, allows a camera crew to film her most intimate moments of doubt, daring, depression and self-deprecating humor like no performer has ever done before.

The film maker,  Chiemi Karasawa, hasn't made the typical documentary. Rather, it chronicles the year leading  up to the star's 87th birthday as she prepares for a new cabaret show, "Elaine Stritch Singin' Sondheim...One Song at a Time." The camera follows her everywhere as Elaine walks the streets of New York City, has endless rehearsals with her musical director, Rob Bowman, forgetting lines that she's sung for years, and takes time to tell the camera crew how to film a scene where she's opening a package of Bay's English muffins. Her husband, the late John Bay, came from the family that owns the company.

The archival footage they found is fascinating with short bits from people like Hal Prince, Nathan Lane, John Turturrow and Tina Fey. And conversations like the one with James Gandolfini who says, "If we both met when we were 35, I have no doubt that we would have had a torrid love affair that would have ended very badly."  There are short clips of recording sessions and on stage performances. But it's the real life moments that are most revealing. Like the one of her in bed, watching "30 Rock" and muttering how she could have been better.

This brash, brassy broad needed an audience's love and attention more than we might have imagined. Her early problems with alcohol and later the effects of diabetes all played an important part in a life that she admits was "protected by the proscenium."  Now it's aging that concerns her most. Her health and memory are not doing well, but she finds it hard to stop. Performing has been her life's work and this is a rare example of  how one must accept the inner truth and move on even if it hurts. And you can tell it does.

If you're a fan this is must see. If not, see Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me and you may become one. As of 3/7/2014 the film is playing only at Chicago's Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport.

Time: 80 minutes

Not rated



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