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At Lincoln Center, a night for Barbra Streisand, in all her guises

April 23, 2013|By Steven Zeitchik
  • Barbra Streisand at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall, receiving the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Chaplin Award
Barbra Streisand at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall, receiving…

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.

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Streisand turned reflective about the 19 movies she made, and how her directorial efforts in particular were tricky to finance. (On "Yentl": "A woman who wanted to dress up as a yeshiva boy in Eastern Europe to study Talmud. It seemed relevant to me. But it wasn't exactly 'Oklahoma.') " On "The Prince of Tides," studios told her the novel was too good to turn into a movie.

Her achievements in that realm -- "Yentl" was the first movie written, directed, produced and top-lined by a woman -- were mentioned often. When Amy Irving, Streisand's co-star and on-screen wife in that film,  came on to offer her homage, she began by saying, "In 1983, I married Barbra Streisand." It was funny but, like Streisand, had its own sly bit of political empowerment.

The performer had moments of confession -- her insecurity, her control-freakishness -- and a score or two to settle. (Of her "What's Up, Doc"?" director: "Bogdanovich didn't like any of my ideas. I appreciated that he knew exactly what he wanted." A beat. "I still don't understand the movie, though.")

And she turned psychological, telling Clinton that they had a childhood event in common. "My father died when I was [a baby] and President Clinton’s died before he was born.” She took a breath. "Maybe hyphenates need to accomplish a lot to make life as full as we can, because we're trying to make up for our fathers' lives, which were so short."

Then, realizing the moment called for something less Freudian, she poked a bit at herself. "I'm getting complicated.” She then described how, to increase her on-screen libido opposite an ordinary-looking male co-star, she put a piece of chocolate cake just out of sight of the camera.  "At least," she said, "I'd be attracted to that."


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