The years spent shooting the life of a living legend, an elderly yet very active one with a well-earned reputation for being difficult, could not have been a walk in the park. Shoot Me (whose playful title might be thought to run in two directions at once) makes a virtue of that at times, no doubt, exasperating bargain. Stritch says she had to think about it before accepting the project.
"I wasn't crazy about the idea," she admitted in a recent phone conversation while she was on a promotional swing through New York. "I was a little skeptical, and afraid of being bored. But I wasn't bored for a minute."
And the camera, there every step of the way, seems for its part thoroughly mesmerized and intrepid. Stritch, after all, is not above directing the show herself. "I think you should be watching me unpack the muffins," she insists at one point, turning a desultory scene of domestic routine into a just slightly uncomfortable confrontation with a conciliatory cameraman. At other times, the camera is her confessor, as when, from a hospital bed, she relates her mixed emotions and convictions about meeting the inevitable end of life.
"Your tendency might be, if you didn't know her, to disregard how vulnerable she is, and how deep her insecurities are," says Hal Prince, whose storied accomplishments on Broadway include producing and directing Company. One of several impressive interviews of Stritch friends and colleagues, Prince here sounds a note that echoes throughout an untidy but deeply personal, touching but rousing documentary profile: "She's complicated and she's an eccentric. But you've got to deal with Elaine's eccentricities because, ultimately, they're worth it." *
ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME opens Fri/14 in Bay Area theaters.