Responding to recent reports, Frazer Pennebaker has confirmed that, indeed, a documentary film on Elaine Stritch: At Liberty is planned. The actual filming has been and will continue to be done by the highly respected documentarian D A Pennebaker and his wife and creative partner, Chris Hegedus; Frazer, who is D A's son, is serving as producer.
After a critically acclaimed, sold out engagement at the Public Theater, Elaine Stritch: At Liberty had an equally successful limited run on Broadway this spring. The production won a 2000 Tony Award in the Special Theatrical Event category, and the often controversial Stritch garnered much notoriety when the telecast of her acceptance speech was cut short by CBS and she then complained bitterly about the perceived slight to those gathered in the Tony press room. (Click here to read an account of her discourse by TheaterMania's Peter Filichia.)
"We saw the show a couple of weeks before the last performance on Broadway," says Frazer Pennebaker. "It was great, and we went backstage and talked with [Stritch] for a little bit. She then called us a day or two later and said, 'Pennebaker, I want you to make a movie of my show!' Click. That was pretty much the conversation, direct and to the point. We knew that the last show was coming up that Monday--it was an Actors' Fund performance--and we got permission to go and shoot some backstage B-roll stuff. It was interesting to watch her get ready; she's a creature of habit, as a lot of people in theater are. She's got a little routine that she always seems to set up. You watch her kind of slowly get into the role of playing Elaine Stritch on stage--a role that she actually plays a bit offstage, as well! When her show goes on tour--which, I gather, is pretty close to being finalized--we'll go and film one of her performances full-length and hang with her for a few days. Then we'll mix up the film from the performance footage and the offstage stuff."
D A Pennebaker previously documented the inimitable Stritch at a highly dramatic juncture: In 1970, he made a film about the original Broadway cast recording of Stephen Sondheim's Company, a show in which Stritch was featured. The penultimate section of the film chronicles Stritch's increasingly desperate attempts to satisfactorily record her big song in the show, "The Ladies Who Lunch," at the tail end of a marathon studio session.
"Fifty percent of making a film is getting access," says Frazer Pennebaker. "We're doing this [new film on Stritch] because she asked us to; when you get an opportunity like that, you kind of grab it and then worry about what you're going to do later. We're just now trying to put together a budget and figure out what kind of product this is going to be at the end of the day."
Some of the best-known films by D A Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus are The War Room, Startup.com, and their documentary on Moon Over Buffalo, the anxiety-ridden Broadway show that starred Carol Burnett and Philip Bosco. To learn more about Pennebaker Hegedus Films, visit the website www.pennebakerhegedusfilms.com