By Mark Borchardt on 13th November 2014
At the beginning of “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” the venerated actress bombastically declares: “…”Look, I’ve got a certain amount of fame, I’ve got money, wish I could fuckin’ drive…then I’d really be a menace.” 86 years old at the time of this film, she certainly knows her circumstances but hasn’t yet set limitations on her horizons.
This is a film about indomitable spirit, unflinching integrity – yet playful buoyancy in the daunting, accumulating shadows of time and age which are undoubtedly beginning to infringe upon her sun-strewn days. She’s always been a feisty soul and that zest has paid off in some vibrant roles, enjoying the spotlight of both the stage and screen. “A Molotov cocktail of madness, sanity, and genius,” an acquaintance describes Stritch as.
She’s been on stage since 1944, appearing in numerous productions including Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “A Delicate Balance.” Also, in the renowned musical “Company” which sports its own documentary and which she’s featured in. Her career recognition culminates in a Tony as well as an Emmy Award for her solo show in 2001’s “Elaine Stritch at Liberty.”
Stritch possesses a storied history with many notables and relates an encounter with a yet-to-be president. During the next act of a date with John Kennedy, he responds to her: “If coming up for a nightcap means listening to Glenn Miller records and eating scrambled eggs, I’m not interested.” She got a kiss, he disappeared into the night and she surmised: “That guy’s going someplace.”
In more contemporary times, she has a guest spot on the TV show “30 Rock,” and being a sucker for real life snippets, I especially enjoyed the brief lunch-time exchange between her and Alec Baldwin. And even though she’s a show business entity herself, she retains an awareness of its, at times, artificial firmament: “Everybody’s just loving everybody too much for my money.”
It’s rollicking lifestyle, she’s a recovering alcoholic and at one point she hadn’t had a drink for over twenty years when she decided that just one a day wouldn’t kill her. “One drink is too many and a hundred is not enough” stands true for the rest of the population yet, somehow, she has the determined psychology to persist in her strict regimen; it‘s amazing to possess that kind of self-control. In addition she also has diabetes to which she reflectively puts forth, “Everybody’s got a sack of rocks.”
“Getting old is not for sissies,” she reiterates Bette Davis‘s famous observation. Stritch is aware of the slow but inevitable disintegration of her physical being as well as the loosening of the mind‘s biochemistry to which she responds, “Why not enjoy (life) because there’s not a goddamn thing you can do about it.” When she contemplates retiring she wonders what it may be like if she leaves the world of pretend and face that cold, unimaginable realm that we call “real life.”
Yet she’s remains a determined performer so it’s especially heartbreaking to witness her forgetting her lines. She’s outwardly scared of what age and her condition are doing to her, especially when she temporarily loses her ability to speak properly. Yet, she also admits: “There’s something exiting about being afraid” – she’s got a knack for finding gold dust in some precarious situations. But once recovered, she gets back on board with her work and continues with her latest solo show: “Elaine Stritch Singin‘ Sondheim One Song At A Time.”
Fortunately for her, hindsight wasn’t the clearest vision granted, for she had spot-on 20/20 all along the way. She ennobled her craft with vibrant performances, lighting up the room with her firebrand personality as she blazed a trail of can-do philosophy. And she’s still got a great set of legs to boot and has no qualms about showing them off as she regally struts down the street. Born in Detroit, that’s where she ultimately settles again after over six decades in show business.
Watching this film only serves to inspire and is a good kick-in-the-seat if you find yourself piddling around with your time in half-gear. So, whatever age you are, it’s a good time to assess where you’ve been and where you’d like to go – and most importantly, what you’re doing to get there.
She wouldn’t have it any other way, nor should you.