Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (2013) (Not Rated)
Like many of the current era of pop culture, I'm not an avid consumer of the theater. I know the name of a few plays, I know about "Wicked"; but I can't say that any modern performers who aren't cross-overs from television or movies are names that come to mind. In this arena, I am very unknowledgable.
I was introduced to Elaine Stritch through "30 Rock" which became one of my all-time favorites TV shows and Stritch's character one of the most dear to me. It made me feel like I was her friend, foolish but true.
Then "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me" came out and the world was given a glimpse into an artist's soul, one who was finally winding down. It's a morbid little documentary, a flirty and wonderfully coy piece, a devastating meditation on mortality, and the celebration of artistry that it deserves to be. It cuts right through the bullshit.
The movie opens as Stritch is planning a new venture in the theater involving Stephen Sondheim's songs. She practices in her house, in her hotels, and always without pants. Always described in the critical eye with a sense of cautious love, Stritch embodies the beasts that she is so often compared to. She is a lion or a dragon; but she is not fearless. Far from it.
The nerves are getting to Elaine and we see that from one scene to the next as director Chiemi Karasawa never shies away from showing the whole picture, however devastating it might feel.
For a figure most known for bringing laughs, it's strange that such a piece as this could such a powerhouse of emotions. Elaine balances on a tightrope, this proverbial act of theater and personal life teetering along from drink to drink as she keeps promising the camera that she is going to quit someday.
The alcohol is one issue, the diabetes is another, the paranoia a third, and the fading memory the largest one. As Elaine prepares for her Sondheim stage show, she begins to be more and more nervous about how she is going to make it through the night. Sondheim is already hard enough to read without the added pressure of an aging starlet meeting the reality of her situation.
"Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me" makes me never want to age another day. It makes me want to preserve these moments that I have in some sort of crystalline form and never let them age. I'm fairly certain that on this, Elaine Stritch and I agree.
Although there are moments when she confesses that it's "her time", she fiercely defends her right to be in the theater those other times.
Karasawa acknowledges how the documentary might be taken and lets us really really see Elaine Stritch in her primes and in her lows. One moment that sticks out particularly so is Elaine directing the camera man to follow her around because it's "how it should be" rather than what looks better. She is very irate, in complete diva form, and refuses to budge on her position. Eventually the cameraman has no choice but to obey her.
But there is also a knife of self-criticsm that cuts through Elaine and these are some of the moments that are the hardest to watch. She beats herself up for forgetting the words that she worried so much about, she refuses the biggest room in studio and settles for a large study area, etc. But she is unashamed of herself and places her bare image on the screen for us to see.
"Shoot Me" is as much a comedy as it is a tragedy. There are no laughs, but no real tears here; yet it suspends us in the artistry of the woman and the despair of it all. The admiration that people have for Elaine Stritch is tremendous and justifiable...but that doesn't paint the picture in its full complexity.
For being so short and about such an interesting person, "Shoot Me" feels like it shouldn't have the emotional impact that it has...but it is such a hard movie to watch...the memory, the diabetes episodes, the neuroticism, the alcohol.
Perhaps in making this, Stritch's legacy lives on a little longer; but maybe it also detracts from it. It's almost too real to even bear watching.
Posted by Micah Jones