Not rated, this 80-some minute documentary is directed by Chiemi Karasawa and released by Sundance Films. Opens in select theaters.
FILM SYNOPSIS: The uncompromising Tony and Emmy Award-winner is showcased both on and off stage via rare archival footage and intimate cinema vérité.
PREVIEW REVIEW: Ever see an old movie about a screen actress/diva? Sunset Blvd comes to mind, as does the stage equivalent in All About Eve. Elaine Stritch is the real-life personification of those fictional characters. That’s not a jab at the 87-year-old irrepressible performer. It’s just the reality. She’s a consummate performer, a singer/actress who has shared a scene with nearly every acting legend of her generation and beyond. And while she enjoys the success of a lasting career on the boards and before the camera, she is pictured here as also suffering from distrust, cynicism, and a loss of that one un-replaced true love.
While some could blame her crankiness on old age, the truth is, she has always been, how should I put this, a strong force. Independent and seldom one to control the verbalization of her thoughts (as stated by many who knew her on a personal level), Elaine Stritch is seen here as both remarkable and irksome.
The documentary follows her through rehearsals for a one-woman show (at 87), walking through Manhattan and signing autographs, dressed like a classy version of Phyllis Diller, through revealing moments in her home as she discusses the meaning of her life, and even more revealing moments as we are brought along to hospitals as she has near-death spells brought on by diabetes and alcohol abuse. (I’m not sure what it says about the producer or the cameraman as they record her physical emergencies much like a dancing rehearsal. It can be argued that such exposure does serve the viewer in revealing that even the rich and successful have their time when all fame and glory is stripped away and a human is exposed as vulnerable and finite (Earth-wise).
It always saddens me when a documentary reveals all about a person who spends little to no time expressing a spiritual belief. While the filmed showcase reveals a Catholic upbringing and has her praying a somewhat irreverent prayer before going on stage, the verbally profane performer never discusses Heaven or God or Jesus. She knows she’s nearing the end of her earth-bound journey, yet makes no effort to seek a relationship with her Creator. That said, the overall exposure of her life reminds us that to some degree we all tend to place ourselves in a self-involved bubble. Getting outside ourselves is a daily struggle.
Again, none of this bloviating is meant as a knock against Ms. Stritch. She’s a gutsy, talented woman who, like Katherine Hepburn and Bette Davis, is forthright in her opinions and view of her legacy. She’s truthful in relaying her eccentricities and weaknesses. She is an open book. At one point, dealing with her own foibles and troubles, she remembers a wise saying by her late husband: “Everybody’s got a sack of rocks.”
This is a film being praised by most all who loyally follow those who have influenced the entertainment mediums. But far too many of those doing the evaluating of celebrities seldom consider the spiritual import of their existence. And by spiritual import, I meant their willingness to seek God and His will.
I guess watching a fading entertainment diva for over 81 minutes can remind us that all glory is fleeting and that our true purpose on Earth is not about gathering moments that laud ourselves.