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This film image released by the Sundance Selects shows Elaine Stritch in a scene from "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me." (AP Photo/Sundance Selects)
Movie review: Elaine Stritch shows survival skills in documentary
Review » Personal look at life of a Broadway star.
First Published Mar 20 2014 03:12 pm • Last Updated Mar 20 2014 05:12 pm

Elaine Stritch sums herself up quite nicely in the opening scene of the documentary "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me":

"I’ve got a certain amount of fame, I’ve got money. I wish I could f---ing drive. Then I’d be a menace."

At a glance


‘Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me’

The Broadway veteran talks about her life in an intimate documentary that goes behind the scenes of her latest one-woman show.

Where » Tower Theatre.

When » Opens Friday, March 21.

Rating » Not rated, but probably R for salty language.

Running time » 80 minutes.

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As captured in intimate moments by filmmaker Chiemi Karasawa, the then-86-year-old Stritch is something of a menace to those around her — her assistant, her musical director and people on the set of TV’s "30 Rock" (where she had a recurring role as Alec Baldwin’s demanding mother).

When "30 Rock" creator/star Tina Fey talks about working with Stritch, she admits, "It’s a bear, but she’s worth it."

In other interviews, stars such as Cherry Jones and James Gandolfini talk about how Stritch’s long career bridges show-business history — such as Noel Coward (who wrote a musical for her) and Stephen Sondheim — to the present.

In a funny and touching moment, Gandolfini (who died last summer) muses that "if we had met when we were both 35, I have no doubt that we would have had a torrid love affair that would have ended very badly."

Karasawa uses these interviews, and some seldom-seen archive footage of Stritch onstage and in films (including working with Rock Hudson in "A Farewell to Arms"), to illustrate the breadth of her long career. But it’s the behind-the-scenes moments that illuminate the depth of her personality.

Karasawa follows Stritch through the development of a one-woman cabaret act, a revue of Sondheim tunes at New York’s Hotel Carlyle (where Stritch lives).

The movie captures Stritch in rehearsals, struggling to remember her lyrics and talking about the struggles she has as a diabetic. After rehearsal, it’s time for dinner, where Stritch — who bills herself as "a recovered alcoholic" who was sober for 24 years — allows herself one cocktail per evening.

But it’s on the stage where Stritch, a Broadway staple for decades, truly reveals herself. When she sings "I Feel Pretty" from "West Side Story," she turns Maria’s naive vanity into a declaration of survival.

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Whether onstage or off, Stritch regularly wears the same outfit: an oversized white blouse and black tights (for which she still has the gams). It would be easy to see that wardrobe choice as a sign that Stritch is always on — but, as Karasawa’s well-observed movie shows, it’s also proof that she reveals her whole self when she’s performing, and that she’s as real there as anywhere else.


Twitter: @moviecricket

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