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Here she is, boys. Chiemi Karasawa’s new documentary Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me makes an appealing companion piece to …At Liberty, Stritch’s one-woman show filmed in 2001. We hear hints of the stories she told then in Shoot Me, including leaving Ben Gazzara for Rock Hudson in the fifties. (“And we all know what a bum decision THAT turned out to be!”) Everyone watching probably knows about Stritch, either from her rich theatrical career, or from guest spots on 30 Rock.
But this new doc is less about survival than about acceptance. Over the year she’s filmed, she’s hospitalized twice from her diabetes. She struggles to remember lyrics in her act: not able to recall Stephen Sondheim’s words to “I Feel Pretty” at the dress, she knocks it out on stage later that night in front of an audience. After decades sober, she picks up drinking again, one drink a day. She swears off alcohol again after a bad diabetes attack, but then we see her months later, on her 87th birthday, back to one drink a night.
Karasawa adds one more piece to the recent Stritch lore, unmasking a legend who’s made a career of sharing her own demons. Even at her most personal, the actress always looks like she’s performing. There’s a key moment when Stritch argues with the cameraman for a better take, offering to re-do her entrance for the right angle. Not to be too showy, though, she is given a rehearsal studio in her name at the Stella Adler School of Acting, but asks for a smaller room instead. “Too much Elaine Stritch,” she laughs.