Put her on your list of things to be grateful for, right between Noel Coward and Sondheim -- both of whom had a hand in turning this wisecracking Sacred Heart Convent graduate from Detroit into a Broadway legend. In Elaine Stritch at Liberty, D.A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, and Nick Doob document the closing night of Stritch's Tony Award-winning production of the same name. By cutting between the performance, rehearsals, and Stritch's hotel room downtime, we're given a window into the creation of this one-woman musical memoir -- and we learn that onstage or off, Stritch is the same acerbic, authoritative, terrifically funny woman. When she begins a bit about a Broadway clunker she starred in called Goldilocks, Pennebaker and company cut back to an early rehearsal with George C. Wolfe and John Lahr at The Public Theater -- What are we trying to say with this anecdote? What's driving this stage moment? -- then we return to Stritch onstage, finishing the anecdote with clarity and vigor. It's an instructive moment in stage dramaturgy. But that's not to say we're watching some dusty or academic doc. Stritch's stories are so good they're worth recounting nightly, and her bouts with alcohol and loneliness add unexpected poignancy. Best of all, her scotch-and-cigarettes voice still thrills, and her stage attire -- a silky button down shirt met mid-thigh by black stockings, reveal that she's still got the best gams in the business. Early in the film, Stritch, mid-vocal warm up, bellows to the back of an empty Broadway house: "I love it I love it I love it!" Our thoughts exactly.
D.A. (Don Alan) Pennebaker is regarded as one of the pioneers of cinema vérité filmmaking. This style revolutionized the documentary genre by discarding narration, reenactments and other staged techniques and replacing them with direct, fly-on-the-wall observations. He made his debut in 1953 with the short Daybreak Express, and has since gone on to make many award-winning documentaries, including the portrait of Bob Dylan, Don't Look Back. In 2002, Chris Hegedus won several prestigious awards for Startup.com (codirected by Jehane Noujaim). After graduating with a degree in fine arts, Hegedus began her career as a cameraperson for the University of Michigan Hospital, then moved to New York to work as a cinematographer on Lizzie Borden's controversial feature Born in Flames. Her collaborations with Pennebaker have included acclaimed films Depeche Mode 101, The War Room, and Only the Strong Survive. Nick Doob has been a director, cinematographer and editor on numerous award-winning films, including the Oscar® winner From Mao to Mozart. Doob is a recipient of several NEA grants, and is a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures. He recently codirected Down from the Mountain with Pennebaker and Hegedus, and won an Emmy® as a producer on American High. He, Hegedus, and Pennebaker are currently working on a film about rock pioneers The Who.