“Stritch is in a Stretch,” someone announced right before the theater icon arrived on the red carpet Friday, April 19, 2013 at the SVA Theater for the world premiere of “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” at the Tribeca Film Festival. The documentary, which followed Stritch around for a year while she toured and performed, includes intimate behind the scenes footage, and is directed by Chiemi Karasawa.
The 88-year-old arrived in a glittery top hat, black leggings and tie, a white shirt, white gloves and riding boots. She carried a cane that she used as she tap-danced down the red carpet. (See Melanie Votaw’s red carpet photos.)
I asked the director how she happened to choose such an uncomplicated person for her film debut. “I met her at my hair salon,” she laughed. “Our hairdresser told me I should make a film about her, and at that point, I didn’t know as much about her as I do now.”
Karasawa said she had to do some research, including on Google and YouTube. “I had never seen her on stage, so for me, it was just a treasure trove to just dive into. Hopefully I’ll immerse the audiences in her and reveal her the way I learned to reveal her because she’s such a singular talent.”
She added, “You can’t compare her to anybody. At the same time, she’s going through something very universal and she can be articulate about it and funny about it and powerful about it and poignant about it, and that’s when I think you have an amazing subject for a film.”
Did Stritch ever complain about the camera being in her face for a year? “There were times early on when we were shooting her upstairs at the Carlyle, where she and I had not developed a relationship that we have now, and I think it was a little touchy for her to be just getting into a performance, getting ready and having these cameras in her face. But I think as the film progresses you see more of an ease, and kind of like, it’s almost like second nature to have us around. And after the first year of us,” she laughed, “every time she woke up she was like, ‘Where are you? Where’s the camera?’ So I think she really enjoyed it at the end.”
Stritch is moving to Detroit to be closer to family, and I asked, how will New York survive without her? “How will she survive without New York is my question,” Karasawa replied. “Now I feel like she’s really ready to go and be in an environment that’s not quite as brutal where she can have a bigger place to live and someone to help her with her day to day issues. I think she’s going to enjoy it, but I bet you she’s going to get bored very quickly.”
Stritch was gracious and friendly and spoke to everyone on the red carpet. The two reporters from Belgium standing next to me asked Stritch how she managed to age so beautifully. “I take it easy. I’m fine with age. It’s time for me to be 88, so I’m 88. What can I tell you?”
What was it like to be followed around for a year, I asked? “Boring! Stopping and starting, and stopping and starting. Documentaries are hard stuff. You follow every inch of someone’s life. It’s terrifying.”
Of the many dramatic plays and musicals in which she starred, which would she like to do again? I liked her in plays by Sondheim and Edward Albee, especially Albee’s “A Delicate Balance,” for which she was nominated for a Tony.
“So did I,” Stritch said. “I liked me in those plays.”
What was her favorite Albee play? Someone trying to be helpful yelled out, “At Liberty,” Stritch’s 2002 autobiographical one-woman show. “I wrote that,” Stritch said, “Albee had nothing to do with it.”
She teared up when she said next, “I can’t think of a more charming way for me to end my days in New York City than the way I’m doing them this week with Chiemi and her documentary and the film festival, that they picked it up and promoted it. It’s so wonderful! This is exciting!”
Then Stritch was rushed inside and past the long line of people waiting to see if they could buy standby seats to the sold out show.