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Elaine Stritch On (Not) Wearing Pants and Hating the Title of Her New Documentary

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | /Bent February 22, 2014 at 9:40AM

It's not often that documentary subjects admit to disliking the films about them -- especially in the presence of their directors. Then again, Elaine Stritch isn't known as a gal who plays by the books. The uncompromising Tony and Emmy Award-winning legend is profiled in producer Chiemi Karasawa's directorial debut "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me," an uproarious and highly entertaining peek into the life of the 88-year-old Broadway star that doesn't shy away from chronicling her struggle with alcoholism and diabetes. The film, which includes interviews with Tina Fey, Nathan Lane, Hal Prince, Alec Baldwin and others, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and opens this Friday (it's also available to view On Demand).
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"Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me"

Was Chiemi's pitch to document your life a hard sell on you?

ES: I have no idea. I'm not selling.

I didn't want to do it. I did not want to walk around New York and talk about myself. I'll tell you the truth, I don't. And that's what I was more or less pushed to do for a couple of years; that's what a documentary takes. It also takes telling the truth -- that's very difficult. And I managed to do it.

I don't like the documentary much but I think it's very good.

Why don't you like it?

ES: I think it's a downer. But I do like it because it's telling the truth and what's the point of doing a documentary if you don't tell the truth? A documentary is a step beyond drama; it's what's really going on.

Did you set up any kind of boundaries before going to camera, Elaine?

ES: No, I didn't. I just sat down and told the truth to every question they asked me. And that takes guts and it takes initiative and it takes a terrifying amount of energy to tell the truth. About your life? Come on!

"Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me."
"Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me."

Chiemi, in the press notes you make no qualms about revealing the fact that prior to making the doc, you weren't that familiar with Elaine's work. What made you the right person to document her life?

CK: Well, I don't know if I am. I just knew that when I was introduced to who she was and I started researching her, I just couldn't believe that more people in the world didn't know about her. I think that Elaine is just such a singular character and such a singular talent that how could there not be more of her out there? And so really that was my quest.

How has your relationship evolved since first meeting to today?

ES: Well, someone expresses a desire to do a documentary on you which means they have more interest beyond a certain point -- then you pay attention to them. So I paid attention and I liked what I saw in Chiemi, and she had a way of talking to me about my life that was simpatico and fine. It worked out fine.

I don't have many fears about who knows what about me.

I can tell that from meeting you.

ES: That's why I agreed with her title, when she called it "Shoot Me"... except she doesn't call it a documentary. I'd like her to call it a documentary but she didn't call it a documentary and I'm angry at her because of it. "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, A Documentary": that's funny to me. To explain to the audience what it is because they don't need an explanation, they know what it is. Apparently she doesn't agree with me so I really don't give a shit what she thinks anymore. That's the end of that. You know what I mean? That's what I think the name of it should be. It should say "a documentary" at the end of the title.