One day, director Chiemi Karasawa was getting a haircut when she saw someone walk by who looked like Broadway star Elaine Stritch. Turned out, it was Stritch. The two met and became friends and Karasawa, intrigued by the fact that Stritch was still performing in her eighties, followed the actress for a year and a half. Together they shot shooting some 150 hours of footage that would become the new documentary film Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me.
The movie provides a warts-and-all look at an aging star as she's prepping for a one-woman show and struggles to cope with health issues that make it difficult to rehearse. It opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre.
"She's so independent and unique and untraditional, I felt like that was a great opportunity," Karasawa says when asked about what her made her want to make a film about the actress. "There could have been 12 movies made about her. That is the god's honest truth. She's a really complex and engaging woman."
But after seeing the first couple of shows she did, Karasawa realized Stritch was struggling.
"At first, I was taken aback at the way her lack of memory was coming off on stage," says Karasawa. "Everyone expects performances to be perfect. People don't expect someone at 87 to be doing one-woman shows five nights a week. I thought, 'This is an opportunity to show what it's like to be doing this at this age and to be navigating these obstacles when you used to be a top-notch performer.'"
In the end, Karasawa says the film is about a "critical moment" in a woman's life and speaks to the larger issues of aging and womanhood.
"When she started going to the hospital for her diabetes, I thought it was a side of life we don't see very often," she says. "And we really get what the essence of her life is like. This is a universal tale of aging and not just a story about Elaine Stritch." — Jeff Niesel