NEW YORK -- Elaine Stritch would rather get on with it.
The 88-year-old Broadway legend and New York icon – as much a fixture as the Statue of Liberty, but with a whole lot more to say – has made her way slowly into the Chelsea theater where the documentary "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me" was premiering Friday at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Led to a green room before the show starts, she's displeased about the seating options, and, coming off a hip surgery, would prefer to go directly into the theater. She isn't shy about it. First, though, she grips a reporter by the forearm, fixes her gaze on him, and says in that unmistakable, feisty voice:
"There are ways around my life, if you know what I mean."
She has lived a full one, from defining performances of Stephen Sondheim tunes on Broadway to the Tony- and Emmy-winning one-woman show "Elaine Stritch: At Liberty" to her memorable guest appearances on "30 Rock." She's New York show business, personified.
"Shoot Me," directed by Chiemi Karasawa and produced by Elizabeth Hemmerdinger of Providence Productions, captures Stritch off the stage, but no less theatrical. Just walking down the street on her Upper East Side neighborhood, Stritch is entertaining. The film – one of the best at Tribeca – follows her around as she makes plans to move back home to Michigan, thinks about winding down her career, and generally reacts with anger, frustration and acceptance at her increasingly evident mortality.
As in everything else, Stritch makes no bones about her opinion of the unadorned portrait of her in "Shoot Me."
"I'm not going to comment," she says, before doing so. "It's not my cup of tea on a warm afternoon in May. I'd like to be do doing something else but complaining about my life, and that's a lot of what I was doing. But I think I had a right to."
Karasawa, a veteran documentary producer and former script supervisor, came to make the film (her directorial debut) through sharing a hairdresser with Stritch. It was the hairdresser who first suggested Karasawa make a documentary on the cabaret grande dame. An introduction was made. Others vouched for her.
"It took some prodding," says Karasawa. "She'd tell me to call and then I'd call and she wouldn't remember who I was."
Along with interviews with Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin (who has joined the film as a producer), and her longtime musical companion, Rob Bowman, "Shoot Me" is mostly just Stritch – irascible and vulnerable – going about her days with brassy humor and undaunted energy.
Stritch's "At Liberty" was memorably documented in an award-winning HBO film, and D.A. Pennebaker's "Company: Original Cast Album" (1970) showed her wildly wrestling to record "The Ladies Who Lunch." But Karasawa wanted to an inversion of that, an off-stage picture of Stritch.
"She is not ashamed to present herself at any stage in her life as she is and be honest about what she's going through," says Karasawa. "When you see someone that's that liberated, it inspires the same thing in you. I think that's why she has so many fans, because they wish that she was the person on their shoulder giving them courage and the strength to do and say what they feel."
There are some remarkably intimate moments. When Stritch, a diabetic, landed in the hospital, she called for Karasawa to come quickly with her camera. Sitting in a hospital bed, she says: "It's time for me, and I can feel it everywhere."
Then, with a flash of resilience, she says: "This is the time in my life where I'm going to behave like an elegant human being, or not. Because I can be a lot of things."
"Elaine is extremely critical of it," Karasawa says of the film. "If you're a performer and an entertainer and you're used to performing and entertaining, then you see yourself not performing and entertaining, it can be very difficult. It makes her a little bit nervous because she's not used to presenting that side of herself and I don't think she's aware of how entertaining she is when she's not performing."
Stritch doesn't plan to retire from show business, but take it slower: "Easy does it is what I'm looking for," she says.
Earlier in April, Stritch performed a farewell series of shows at the Cafe Carlyle, ahead of her planned move to her hometown of Birmingham, Mich. – the same town she left to come to New York some 70 years ago. She moves next week, she says.
What will she miss most about New York?
After careful thought, she answers: "I love holidays in New York. I love `em. I want to celebrate something all the time and New York has holidays for every day of the week, practically. I like holidays in New York City."
"And days off!" she adds, before making her way to the theater for yet another adoring audience.