In this respect Elaine Stritch is an extraordinary set of training wheels for learning to respect showbiz history while having a great time and hardly noticing that you’re being schooled. She’s dabbled in TV (she was almost one of “The Golden Girls” ) and film (former co-stars include Rock Hudson and Mia Farrow) between her stage triumphs so her celebrity anecdotes regularly include household names, legends and other stage stars (Woody Allen, Stephen Sondheim, Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, James Gandolfini, and more come up in or appear in the documentary). What’s more, Stritch’s personality is so big that even if she had no talent whatsoever, a scenario that’s admittedly difficult to imagine, she’d be totally well suited for gargantuan fame on a reality TV show.
All of which is to say that the director Chiemi Karasawa has a lot to work with in the form of TV, stage and film clips as well as a wealth of contemporary footage as she trains her cameras on this irrepressible old trouper from February 2011 through July 2012 as she storms through the streets of New York in her furs, swears like a sailor, tells great showbiz stories, sings to cabaret audiences, and gets opinionated on the set of 30 Rock (at one point she refers to her co-star as “Alec Joan Crawford Baldwin” and I died laughing. I am no longer alive).
What’s most impressive is how Karasawa and her editors manage to squeeze all of that into a fleet 80 minutes without it feeling rushed or unfocused. And that’s just the funny bits. The documentary also stares non-judgmentally, right in the face of Stritch’s alcoholism (her relationship to vodka stingers being previously immortalized in Sondheim’s Company “Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch”) and into the ravages of old age and Stritch’s ambivalent much-delayed retirement. This is no mere comic hagiography but a three dimensional portrait of an incredibly gifted, ornery, funny, self-doubting icon. Nor is it a sentimental premature obituary, though Stritch is too confrontationally honest a life force to pretend death isn’t coming. Instead Shoot Me is the best kind of “I’m Still Here” scrapbook, a collection of indelible past images, reconsidered memories, and revealing fresh moments.