Day four of the 9th Annual Traverse City Film Festival was all about Elaine Stritch, the octogenarian Broadway legend who received a standing ovation when she appeared for a Q&A after the screening of the documentary “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me.”
The doc is an all-access look into the life of this feisty, no-holds barred superstar who is not afraid to tell anyone anything at any time. The film follows the 89-year-old Stritch as she dominates the stage in her one woman cabaret act, tortures Alec Baldwin on “30 Rock,” offers her blunt take on aging, and takes us into her struggles with alcohol and diabetes.
In stolen moments from her corner room at the Carlyle, and on breaks from her tour and work, reflections on her life are punctuated with rare archival footage, words from friends like Hal Prince, George C. Wolfe, Nathan Lane, Cherry Jones and John Turturro, and photos from her personal collection.
Following the film, Michael Moore helped her up the stairs to the stage at the State Theatre, where the audience leaped to their feet and cheered loudly. In short, it was amazing to see her, and everyone there knew they were in the presence of someone who is like no other person on the planet or, for that matter, the universe, should other beings out there be peering into our lives.
The Q&A included moderator Michael Moore, Elaine Stritch, director Chiemi Karasawa, Elaine’s musical director Rob Bowman, and a cherished friend whom she met in Alcoholics Anonymous. Also in the audience were several members of her family from Detroit, where Elaine currently lives in retirement.
Chiemi started things off by explaining how the documentary came to be. She was getting her hair done in a New York City salon and happened to see Elaine there, also getting her hair done. Chiemi asked her hairdresser, “Is that Elaine Stritch over there?!” Her hairdresser replied that yes, it was indeed the legend herself, and that Chiemi should make a documentary about her.
And thus began the journey of this documentary which eventually brought Elaine here to Traverse City. In short, that hairdresser played a hugely important role, and we should all silently give thanks for his idea!
Rob Bowman choked up when he described the first time he and Elaine met, during a play that they both agreed was one of the worst plays ever made. “Within the first two minutes, something just clicked with Elaine, and I just said, ‘Thank you, God.’ That was 15 years ago.”
The documentary opens theatrically in February 2014 (in celebration of her 90th birthday that month) and will also be available on DVD next year.
Here are a few highlights from the Q&A, in which she called Michael Moore “adorable” and said of the film festival, “I haven’t had this much fun in a long time.”
On why she would allow cameras to follow her around for the documentary: “Why not? Nobody else was following me around.”
On moving from New York to Michigan: “I’ll always miss New York, but I kind of like going in and out, and having some place I can call home. I love being here in Michigan, and I think something very good is going to happen [with Detroit's economic situation]. They’re fighters. Detroiters are fighters.”
On Michael Moore turning 60 next year. “That’s so young. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.”
On how she got from Michigan to New York so many years ago: “On the train. It was easy. My dad paid the bill and off I went.”
On whether she’s on Twitter: “I don’t even know what that is. And it’s a lousy title.”
On whether she’ll do another one-woman show: “I’d hate to think what would ever make me do it again. It’s hard work.
On how she keeps her voice healthy: “I just keep talking. I guess I’ve got good pipes.”
On her favorite show she’s done: “‘Company.’ And ‘Delicate Balance.’ And ‘Showboat’ – that’s real old-fashioned theater.”
On her favorite entertainer: [First she pointed at Michael Moore, sitting next to her, who quipped, " That will not get you another hand when you get out of the chair," to which she replied, "You have no idea what that remark is going to get you."] “Chris Rock. He’s very funny and a hell of an actor.”
On James Gandolfini, with whom she was friends: “I don’t like to talk about it. It’s too soon. It’s one of the great losses of my life. I just think he was extraordinary.”