By William Wolf


Of all the gala tributes by the Film Society of Lincoln Center since the first to Charlie Chaplin, which was in a class by itself, the 40th Anniversary event honoring Barbra Streisand was one of the best, an especially enjoyable and uplifting celebration. It also raised $2 million, twice as much as any preceding gala. Money aside, the gala on Monday, April 22, 2013, gave unique Barbra Streisand the kind of night she deserved. It sparkled.

Streisand had the honor and pleasure of being introduced by a former President of the United States—Bill Clinton. Tony Bennett sang in tribute. So did Liza Minnelli. These special attractions were in addition to the customary line-up of stars before an audience peppered with Streisand fans and offering sustained, loud cheering at high points throughout.

Clinton, who said he still sheds a tear when he watches “The Way We Were,” humorously wondered what he was doing at the event, as he had never directed or acted in a movie. But getting serious, he asserted “I am very grateful to the Film Society of Lincoln Center for giving the 40th Chaplin Award to my friend,” whom he called “one of the most gifted people I have known.” He praised her not only for her artistic achievements but also for her efforts in behalf of important issues and humanitarian causes.

Clinton said that when he was president he and Streisand had conversations “about everything under the sun” and that he had learned to “just say yes” to her. He also remarked that he thanks her for every time she sang “Evergreen” at one of his political events.

There was something else very special—the remarks by Streisand herself after she took the stage and received her statue from Clinton. She did not choose to get away with just perfunctory gratitude. She did deliver the appropriate thanks, but more importantly, Streisand choose to share intimately thoughts about her career and filmmaking. It was a down-to-earth response to all who had come to honor her, and it was an especially involving person-to-person talk that reflected her appreciation in a usually meaningful way for such events.

Noting how movies give us the opportunity “to connect with each other,” she made a point of recalling the importance of Charlie Chaplin in film history, the connections that his films made, and her excitement at getting an award named after him. (The song Tony Bennett sang with much feeling was Chaplin’s “Smile.”)

Streisand, while injecting humor in her remarks, spoke seriously about what she had learned to help her in directing. She particularly cited William Wyler, who directed her in “Funny Girl,” for allowing her to seek perfection. She cited an instance of her singing, and when everyone seemed satisfied after looking at the rushes, Wyler asked what she thought, and she replied, “I think I could do better.” He allowed that part to be shot over again.

Streisand gave thanks for having a good voice, noting that films can fail, relationships can end, “but music will be there forever.”

Much was made during the evening of Streisand’s achievements as a woman as well as an artist. She uniquely became producer, co-writer, star and director of “Yentl,” an achievement in a film world in which women have had to struggle to earn power of the kind exerted by men. She set a standard to which other women might aspire. Notably, she formed her own company, just as Chaplin had formed United Artists with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D. W. Griffith.

The evening was alive with clips that showed Streisand’s acting appeal, including “Funny Girl,” “Hello, Dolly!,” “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” “The Way We Were,” “Yentl,” “A Star is Born,” “The Owl and the Pussycat,” “For Pete’s Sake,” and others, some tied in with podium appearances or comments via video.

Omar Sharif, who played Nicky Arnstein in “Funny Girl,” speaking from France, called Streisand, “the person in the world I love most, and I don’t mean sex love.” Robert Redford, also remotely, heaped praise upon her, and added that he found her beautiful and that “she is still beautiful.”

The stars who showed up to honor her included Michael Douglas and Catherine Deneuve appearing together, Blythe Danner, Ben Stiller, and Pierce Brosnan, the latter getting laughs when he described Streisand listening to his efforts at singing and commenting, “Words fail me.” Highlights included Liza Minnelli delivering a terrific rendition of “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” from “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.”

The most tender moment that held the audience transfixed was when Alan Bergman, at the side of the stage looking directly at Streisand in her box seat, sang “The Way We Were,” which he and Marilyn Bergman wrote for the film of that name, and changed lyrics to address Barbara with such lines as “The way you are.”

Wynton Marsalis was on stage with his trumpet to provide music with three other musicians in his group. But, of course, the power note of the evening, apart from Stresiand, was the appearance of Bill Clinton, who received an immediate standing ovation when introduced by Ben Stiller.

As one who was there when Charlie Chaplin was honored and has attended nearly all of the Film Society galas, I found this tribute to be particularly enjoyable and rewarding. At the outset there was a montage of clips of honorees through the years, including Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, Bette Davis (repeating her famous line “What a dump!” to the crowd). Woody Allen, Gregory Peck, Jane Fonda, Mike Nichols, Sean Connery, Federico Fellini, Fred Astaire and others. It was satisfying to see director-producer-writer-award-wining-singer-actress Barbra Streisand taking her place among them. Reviewed April 23, 2013.


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