By William Wolf


After all these years of honoring film greats starting with Charlie Chaplin in 1972, it must get harder for the Film Society of Lincoln Center to choose recipients of the Chaplin Award, given the impressive honorees who have gone before, with the likes of Astaire, Hitchcock, Olivier, Fellini etc. But the choice of Robert Redford to be honored at the 42nd Chaplin Award Gala last night (April 27, 2015) at Alice Tully Hall was inspired. Redford is the real deal—as actor, director and one who has given back to cinema by helping others through the Sundance Institute that he founded in 1981. And the celebrating was accomplished in less than two hours!

At the outset Film Society Chairman Ann Tenenbaum, who welcomed the crowd and spoke of her personal admiration for Redford, paid special tribute to Time Magazine critic Richard Corliss, who died last week. She called attention to the fact that he had written the article appraising Redford’s career in the program published for the event.

The audience stood and cheered when Redford finally appeared on stage, looking maturely handsome at the age of 78. Barbra Streisand, looking attractive and impressive, presented the award. Among other speakers were Jane Fonda, J.C. Chandor, Laura Poitras, Elisabeth Moss, John Turturro, and by video, George Lucas and Quentin Tarantino, the latter talking about how Redford’s Sundance institute helped him start his film career.

Intermittently through the program, we were shown clips from films that Redford either appeared in, directed or both. The accumulative sampling was impressive, including in a partial list: “Barefoot in the Park,” “Downhill Racer,” “The Sting,” “The Candidate,” “Jeremiah Johnson,” “Three Days of the Condor,” “The Horse Whisperer,” “The Conspirator,” “The Company You Keep,” “Quiz Show,” “All the President’s Men,” “Truth” (due this year), “Ordinary People,” “A River Runs Through It,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “A Walk in the Woods, “ “All is Lost,” and of course, the iconic “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Way We Were.“

While Fonda and Streisand were show-stealers, an especially interesting account came from Chandor, the writer-director of “All Is lost.” He told how he walked into Redford’s office one day with an offer for Redford to star--“it was the only part”—in “All is Lost.” Subsequently he received a call that Redford wanted to see him. At their meeting Chandor recalled how he kept pitching the script. Redford said, “For a 31-page script with no words in it you sure can talk.”

Chandor was lavish in his praise of Redford as a result of his experience of working with him, and told of the first time they nervously watched the film together at a public screening. He said they looked around and when they saw audience members leaning forward in rapt attention, Redford smiled. His goal had been achieved.

Fonda’s participation was extremely pertinent, given a film clip shown. She related that she and Redford were playing on Broadway at the same time in the early days of their careers. The clip of their performances in the 1967 film version of “Barefoot in the Park” revealed how young they looked then and how well they acted together.

In her remarks, Fonda lauded his works, past and present, and said she didn’t think there was another actor “who has had as important an influence on American cinema.”

The extended clip from “The Way We Were” (1973) brought further nostalgia to the event as we had a chance to see anew how vibrant Redford and Streisand were together. When Streisand took the stage for the big presentation moment, the audience gave her a rousing welcome. (Streisand received the Chaplin Award in 2013, Fonda in 2001.)

As usual, Streisand could be counted upon to add some humor. She remembered how when they met Redford wanted to know about Brooklyn, and she told how when one day fans were calling out “Hello, gorgeous,” she thought it was for her. But she discovered it was for Redford. Whether the story was true or just a good gag, it drew a huge laugh. On a serious note, in the process of her lavish praise for Redford, she pointed to what she saw as his complexity, and said that was what made him such an interesting actor.

Redford, in accepting, lightened the mood, saying “My first mistake that I made tonight was when they asked me if I wanted a teleprompter, I said no.” He then spoke with humility about his work and his good fortune, noting that the most importance of money “was being able to help young filmmakers.” (He has been repeatedly lauded for what he has been able to achieve in the way of such help via the Sundance Institute.)

There was plenty of posing and hugging between Streisand and Redford for the assembled photographers, and many members of the audience, instead of filing out immediately, stood around to take it all in.

When the gala was over, I thought back to when I had interviewed Redford on the occasion of “Downhill Racer” (1969) and “All the President’s Men” (1976). On the first occasion, he was gracious and not at all flaunting the star-power that was building. On the second occasion he quietly but earnestly talked about the content of his film that would leave such an impact in the wake of Watergate.

During the evening there were references to Redford’s political liberalism and his concern for the environment. Yes, honoring Redford was a prime choice.

Posted April 27, 2015.


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