I want to take this time to salute the inimitable Elaine Stritch, who died this past July at the age of 89. Stritch was a Broadway legend and, as is evident in the documentary Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, one of the brassiest broads to stroll through Manhattan.
Shoot Me follows Stritch through several months near the end of her life, showing her rejection of pants and love for Bay’s English muffins. Stritch was a complicated delight. She drew little distinction between employees and friends, treating both with similar domineering affection. At one point, she parks her limo in the fire zone outside a Starbucks and, when the cops show up, fakes a limp. Filming during her stint on 30 Rock as Jack’s mom, she calls out “Alec ‘Joan Crawford’ Baldwin” when they’re waiting on Baldwin to shoot the scene.
The film honors Stritch and provides a glimpse into her long love affair with the theater and her audiences. As such, it’s a testament to a remarkable performer and an amazing woman who grew older (not old!) with peacock-like aplomb.
But in addition to being a portrait of an artist, the film highlights something that all of us must go through: the process of dying. Stritch suffered from diabetes, and in the film the disease, combined with old age, interferes with her physical health and her memory. The memory problems make it hard for Stritch to remember lyrics during her one-woman revival show singing Sondheim songs. This failure horrifies a performer who thrives on the stage but also terrifies a woman facing her own death.
Stritch feels that she’s nearing her time and struggles with how to go out with grace. And it is this human struggle, combined with the magnificence that was Stritch herself, that makes Shoot Me such a fascinating film. We all have to die. It’s a terrifying, solitary process. But Stritch inspires me to face the reality with guts. It doesn’t have to be polite or pretty but it does need to be honest.
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me is streaming on Netflix and is rentable on Amazon Instant.