Keep It Brassy

We should all take a moment and just admit there are certain personality types we enjoy over others. ADMIT IT, I SAID! OK, now that our prejudices are out in the open, one of those personality types I like are fiercely intelligent, strong-willed, older women from New York. I mean, I like them from afar; dealing with them face-to-face is...less enchanting. Anyway, one of the ways I can enjoy them from afar is by taking in a movie or two, and hey! I just happened to catch a couple documentaries about two such women.

The first was Public Speaking, a 2010 movie directed by Martin Scorsese. Far from being one of those polemic documentaries, or even one of those fun ones that educate me on a quirky subject like pastry competitions or city planning, this one was just a brief glimpse at a typical day in the life of Fran Lebowitz. Lebowitz is an essayist and author, but this movie is a look at her speaking engagements. She's a popular speaker, and it's easy to see why. She is witty and acidic and happily ignores the tact filter the rest of us must reluctantly listen to. Nothing important is discussed. Nothing of note happens to her. It's simply an hour and half of following her around, listening to her spout opinions. She doesn't suffer fools gladly, and though it sounds like this should be insufferable, but Lebowitz is such an entertaining oddball, it was actually a lot of fun. This isn't a movie I would readily recommend to others unless I were positive their tastes aligned with mine, but once that hurdle was cleared, I'd tell them that this one is definitely worth their time.

The other movie had more of an actual story to it. The recent 2014 documentary Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me has been hanging out on my queue for a while, but unfortunately, it took Stritch's recent death to knock it to the top. Stritch had a long career in theater, movies, and television, and this movie follows the rehearsal and performance of some of her last appearances. Her forceful personality always delighted audiences, but the footage doesn't shy away from the uncomfortable realities of her later life. Nobody expects teachers or plumbers to work into their late eighties, but entertainers often like to hang on as long as they can, and no amount of memory lapses or sore joints was enough to keep Stritch off the stage. It's awkward to watch her stumble through rehearsals, forgetting verses and loudly cursing at her declining health, but equally heartwarming to see how much the public still adores her. It's an unflinching portrayal of a public figure at the end of not just her career, but the end of her everything. While it can be viewed as a sad story, it was also pretty uplifting, watching a legend give it her all as long as she possibly could.

Public Speaking: B
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me: B


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