NEW YORK--Barbra Streisand had been feted, fawned over and (slightly) ribbed for nearly two hours at Lincoln Center when she walked on to the Avery Fisher Hall stage and offered a quip.
"Ever since I can remember I've been called bossy and opinionated." Pause. "Maybe that's because I am."
It was vintage Streisand, a turn that, by plainly acknowledging the criticism, had somehow subverted it, turned it into a virtue.
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The occasion was the performer's acceptance Monday of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Chaplin Award, a lifetime nod that, over its 40 years, has been won by the brightest of luminaries from Hitchcock to Davis to Olivier to Eastwood.
Because of Streisand's singing talent, the night had a musical tint (performances by Wynton Marsalis and Liza Minnelli and Tony Bennett, and even lyricist Alan Bergman singing a personalized rendition of "The Way We Were"). It offered costars from Streisand films vintage (Kris Kristofferson and George Segal, the latter noting of their "Owl and the Pussycat" collaboration, "I played a failed novelist and she played a failed hooker -- I don't know which is more improbable") and modern (Blythe Danner and Pierce Brosnan and Ben Stiller, the latter the most rib-y about her domineering moments, the former noting her showmanship by saying she was “lit from within”).
And it had Bill Clinton, called upon to introduce his Hollywood ally. "What am I doing here? I never directed or acted in a movie," he asked, then proceeded to explain how he was returning the favor for all the times she turned out for his fundraisers. "She has been driven, and those who've been on the other end of her drive haven't always been comfortable. But the driver has a big brain, massive talent and a big heart, and you want to go along for the ride."
Then, finally, Streisand herself. It's been a career of song and stage -- just a few months ago she had been across the river taking Barclay's by storm — but Streisand had different things on her mind. "Tonight is about film," she said, ever-so-slightly emphasizing the last word so that she sounded relieved, even elated.