Chiemi Karasawa, the director of this lively and brisk documentary, is an accomplished film technician; prior to this film, she worked as a script supervisor and producer for over 45 film and television projects. Her experience is evident—she and her creative team have made a confident film without a false note.
It opens with a Woody-Allen-esque montage of elegant Manhattan buildings and Ms. Stritch navigating fiercely between them, in her signature fur coat and tights. If you didn’t know Ms. Stritch before, this montage gives you a good idea of her personality. Ms. Stritch, who was born in Michigan, is very much a product of that cultural (if discontinuous) theater stretch which starts at the Public Theater, crosses Broadway, and goes over to the Upper East Side. Also, Ms. Karasawa and her team ably condense Ms. Stritch’s long and colorful performance history and weave it with some backstage and onstage footage of her latest tour. We get a bird’s eye view of her immense accomplishments and an intimate view into her current state of mind (and fragile health). Third, they balance a real sympathy and awe for this talented artist while showing her stormier side. Finally, they capture the New York-ness of New York—in my biased view, an endlessly fascinating subject—from the jazzy, fizzy feel of it at night to the quiet intimate moments, post-show, in diners and boîtes.
Beyond the technical finesse, though, I wonder whether this film also works because it is made and produced by young but accomplished women, who have an eye, ear, and mind for a great story and who know how difficult it is to succeed as a woman in a fiercely competitive business. Further, interesting juxtapositions—the young filmmakers with the Broadway legend, the old-school stage culture being presented and promoted through the latest media—give us a powerful, multi-generational production that reminds us that the show must go on.
With appearances by George C. Wolfe, Nathan Lane, and Rob Bowman.
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, dir. Chiemi Karasawa, 2013. 80 min. Isotope Films. In English.
Related: “Elaine Stritch, Broadway Legend: Entertaining is Hard,” by Dave Itzkoff, The New York Times Magazine.