Martin Scorsese presented director-actor-writer Rob Reiner with the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Chaplin Award last night at Avery Fisher Hall. Past recipients of the prestigious honor include Meryl Streep, Alfred Hitchcock, Federico Fellini, Mike Nichols, Scorsese and last year, Barbra Streisand.
On the red carpet, a reporter asked Reiner how he came to receive the honor. “I have no idea,” Reiner replied. His first reaction when he saw his name was added to the list was, “Maybe it’s a typo.”
Asked by a reporter which of his films would be watched in a million years, the director replied, “You never know about that stuff. So far for instance, ‘Princess Bride’ has been loved by people and it’s passed through generation to generation. ‘Spinal Tap,’ they still watch that, and ‘Stand by Me.’ I don’t know, you never know.’”
He added, ‘When Harry Met Sally, people watched that, so you know, just the fact that I’ve made a few movies that have lasted for a little bit is very exciting.”
But the film he feels closest to is “Stand by Me,” “because it probably reflects more of my sensibility than any of the others.”
Lately he has a whole new fan base in young people who have watched him on “New Girl,” as the father of Zooey Deschanel’s character. A young reporter asked if there are any plans to return to the show. “If they ask,” he said.
He also has other television projects lined up, including one he submitted to a number of television outlets as recently as Friday, he told me. “Basket Case,” based on the Carl Hiaasen novel, is also in the works. “It’s being written right now, and as soon as it’s finished, I’ll take a look at it and we’ll see about that.”
Reiner was rushed inside the theater, but came back outside to sign autographs when he heard fans groan as he passed by.
While he signed autographs, I asked him about his new movie, “And So It Goes,” which reunites him with Michael Douglas, who starred in “The American President” 19 years ago. Diane Keaton plays the love interest and “Rocky” Broadway actor Andy Karl – who attended last night’s gala – co-star in the rom-com, which, Reiner told me, was “gonna be great.”
On the red carpet, Douglas held his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones’s hand and the couple looked lovingly at each other. Billy Crystal, filmmaker Barry Sonnenfeld, and “Spinal Tap” star Michael McKean also shared their memories of working with the honoree.
“This is Spinal Tap,” the cinéma vérité-like documentary that created a new kind of film genre known as the mockumentary, put Reiner on the map as a serious director in 1984. McKean played the dim-witted British rock star David St. Hubbins. I asked the actor if he had any idea how popular the film would be while they were shooting.
McKean shook his head. “We just knew it was difficult to tell people about,” he said. “There were a lot of times there were rooms full of executives who were looking at us blankly, asking, ‘Where’s your script?’ ‘We don’t really have a script, we’re going to improvise.’ That got a little old. So the experience was a lot of fun. We spent a lot of time working on the backstory and creating new characters and writing news songs and new jokes and shot for five weeks and then they took 80 hours and chopped it down to 80 minutes,” he laughed.
A-listers who participated in the tribute included James Caan, Sonnenfeld, Crystal, Meg Ryan, Scorsese, Douglas, Carole Kane and McKean. Political activist Bruce Cohen spoke about Reiner’s efforts on behalf of gay marriage.
Reiner’s father Carl, Tom Cruise (“A Few Good Men,” 1992), and Morgan Freeman (“The Bucket List,” 2007 and “The Magic of Belle Isle,” 2012), gave their tributes to Reiner via video.
Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, stars of “When Harry Met Sally” in 1989, shared memories about making the film, “Finally under a Chuppah,” Crystal quipped to Ryan, as they stood under a sort of makeshift canopy on the stage.
Both Crystal and Sonnenfeld, who was a cinematographer on “Harry Met Sally,” talked about how excruciating the orgasm scene was to shoot because Reiner cast his own mother, Estelle, an actress, in the scene.
The day of the shoot “was perhaps the worst day of Rob Reiner’s life,” Sonnenfeld noted. The director “displayed equal amounts of panic and depression. He was sweating so much he had to wear a dishcloth over his head. He made Albert Brooks in the sweat scene in ‘Broadcast News’ look like he was calm.” Reiner kept uttering, “What was I thinking?” Sonnenfeld replied that it looked like it “was going kind of good.” Reiner kept muttering, “What was I thinking? What was I thinking? I’m directing a woman on how to fake an orgasm in front of my mother? Is that kind of going good to you?”
Also during that shoot, Sonnenfeld introduced Reiner to his future wife, Michelle Singer, a photographer. He thought they would make a perfect couple and on a double date, he heard Reiner tell Michelle, who smoked cigarettes, “You know, you really shouldn’t smoke. It’s not good for your health.” Reiner’s future wife countered, “And you shouldn’t be so f…ing fat.”
The two married and late in his life Reiner had three beautiful children, who spent a generous amount of time on the red carpet and shared stories about their father. One of Reiner’s sons told me as a child that “Princess Bride” was on a continuous loop, so he knew every word of dialogue.
Reiner also has a long list of acting credits, and Douglas mentioned that side of his career. They appeared together in an early film called “Summertree” in 1971. Douglas read the review of the New York Times critic who said, “’Summertree is a bad film, but it’s badness proceeds not from its intentions, which seem honorable. The badness exists rather, moment by moment, in the insufficiency of each acted scene.”
Douglas went on to say that “I think one of the reasons Rob and I got along from day one was that we had something unique in common: We were the sons of very special fathers, something we never really talked a lot about until recently, but the fact that we are two of the few second generation of Hollywood members who have succeeded.” He noted how their fathers cast “giant shadows” they felt they had to live up to.
They worked together on “The American President” in 1995, and nearly two decades later, they are shooting a new film, “And So It Goes.” The tribute included a sneak look at a scene from the film in which Douglas’s character seduces Diane Keaton.
Douglas ended his praise of Reiner by noting the director’s political activism. “I’m so proud of you,” Douglas said. “Yours is not just been a movie career, but a life dedicated to changing the world for the better.”
Scorsese, who cast Reiner as Leonard DiCaprio’s character’s father in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” presented the honoree with his award. Scorsese noted how Reiner came out of the tradition of the Golden Age of Television during the 1950’s, the highlight being “Your Show of Shows,” which starred Sid Caesar, and was created by legendary writers and performers who included Caesar, Imogene Coca, Woody Allen, Neil Simon and of course, Reiner’s father Carl.
“For me this is and was and still is entertainment,” Scorsese said. “Rob grew up in that world and did not simply become the next generation. They made their own way. They evolved into something which is founded in a timelessness that touches all of us and will continue to be relevant and important for generations to come,” and which began “from what their parents had given them and [then they] shaped the culture themselves.”
Scorsese went on to mention that Reiner made history with “Stand By Me,” “Misery,” “When Harry Met Sally,” The Princess Bride” and of course, “This is Spinal Tap.” “These pictures occupy a very, very special place in our history and culture.”
Scorsese also spoke of how he realized “This is Spinal Tap,” which Reiner directed in 1984, was a parody of his documentary “The Last Waltz,” about the rock group The Band’s final concert performance. Scorsese said when he saw “Spinal Tap” in the theater he thought it was “great, wonderful” and then realized Reiner’s character in the film, the earnest director who interviewed the clueless band members, was named Marty and his last name, DiBergi, was vaguely Italian. Scorsese laughed, “’Spinal Tap,’ quite honestly was so prescient, that many people seeing it today think its’ a straight documentary.”
Scorsese went on to say that when they shot “The Wolf of Wall Street,” he jumped at the opportunity to have Reiner in the film. “I knew he was going to surprise me, but l just liked the inspiration of having him around. Also, I must say he was a great comfort to me during that final shoot.” Scorsese added, “So Rob, it’s really been wonderful to watch you evolve over the years. I salute you as an actor, as a director, as a creator and as a friend, and I’m very pleased to present you with the Chaplin Award.”
Reiner took the stage and said, “The thing about being honored is it’s nerve wracking because who likes everybody to sing Happy Birthday? It’s embarrassing,” but also, he added, “an incredible honor.”
Reiner thanked his wife, Michelle, “who basically raised three kids and me” and transformed him into a “more formed person.”
“Now that I’m in this stage of my life,” he added, he was so happy that his three kids and wife were there with him. “I’d rather be with them, spend time with them than anything. It means so much to me that you guys are here. We love to make the movies but, ultimately, this is more important, and I learned that along with other things, Michelle taught me about how to be a real person.”