Two to Live By (Elaine Stritch and the Lady in No 6)

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Last night was a wonderful double-feature of like stories. Both were documentaries about women, now both gone, who grabbed onto life and who inspire in ways that are hard to even begin to put into words. Two women for whom music and performance were the underpinnings of their lives, though each reflects against that aspect in very different ways.

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me is an incredibly bitter-sweet, well structured, entertaining documentary as much about the indomitable Stritch as it is about how to live and keep on going.  To see this is to be ready for the world, despite your fears.

Stritch, with her trademark irascibility and wealth of talent lays open her life and her mind, warts and all. And, best of all, she performs. To see the contrast of her rehearsing and her on stage is amazing. She comes to life on stage in a way that her day-to-day keeps very much on simmer. She was a gift to theater, film, and TV till the end. Having lost her so recently… and practically as this film left the theaters, made the end all that more powerful because her impact was so large and covered so many decades.

The Lady in Number 6: How Music Saved My Life is the more somber and sobering of the two. It is also less expertly directed; more a straight-forward discussion and history of Herz-Sommer’s life.  To Clarke’s credit (as his Oscar shows) he kept the film to an appropriate length for his point and the story.

I honestly didn’t know whether to cheer, cry, or rage at times listening to Herz-Sommer’s life and responses. Her attitude was necessary to survive, but a part of me couldn’t decide if she wasn’t fooling herself to do it or simply wired so differently she could deal with unimaginable horror with grace. There are moments in the interview, a look in her eyes, that leave these possibilities open. That she lived to 109 and still enjoyed, played, and loved music suggests she was a unique individual who was an incredible example of survival and the ability to see good no matter how buried in darkness. And she stayed sharp till the end, and what a life she had.

 

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