Robert Redford, actor, director, Sundance Institute founder and political activist, was honored with the Film Society of Lincoln Center 42d Chaplin Award Monday night. Barbra Streisand, Redford’s co-star in the classic 1973 film “The Way We Were,” presented Redford with the honor.
A-listers who introduced clips from Redford’s films and saluted his achievements included Jane Fonda, J.C. Chandor, John Turturro, Laura Poitras, Elisabeth Moss, and via pre-recorded video, George Lucas and Quentin Tarantino. The evening featured film clips from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Downhill Racer,” “All the President’s Men,” “Three Days of the Condor,” “Barefoot in the Park,” and his more recent films, “All Is Lost,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” and the yet to be released, “A Walk in the Woods.” A special treat was a clip from his upcoming film, “Truth,” about the final days of Dan Rather as a news anchor at CBS News.
The gala began with a walk down memory lane as Jane Fonda recalled working with Redford on three films, including “Barefoot in the Park.” Their talk never revolved around work but instead was about their mutual love of horses and nature.
George Lucas called Redford “a beacon for all independent filmmakers,” while Tarantino recalled back in 1991, at age 28 – before he had ever seen snow up close – he was accepted into the Sundance Directors Workshop with a script for a film that was to become “Reservoir Dogs.”
Elisabeth Moss paid tribute to Redford as “one of the kindest, most generous, most talented people in the world.” When the “Mad Men” actress told her mother that Redford asked if she’d like to be in “Truth,” her mother texted back, “very enthusiastically, with many exclamation points and more than one expletive” it would not be “appropriate to repeat.”
Chandor spoke of shooting “All Is Lost” in Mexico and how Redford insisted on doing many of the action scenes without a stunt double. He added, “What sticks out for me in that summer, is why would someone who has accomplished as much as he has continue to take such creative and physical and emotional risks?”
Redford saw the film for the first time when it premiered at Cannes. “I looked over and realized he was probably more nervous than I was,” said Chandor. “One scene involved him doing a particularly dangerous stunt that he demanded that he had to do himself.’’ As the image came across the scene, the director said, “I reached out and gave his knee a little squeeze,” something unimaginable to a kid from New Jersey. “I looked up at him and he knew exactly what I was signaling… that risk, that jumping was worth it.”
Chandor added, “Bob, I thank you for believing in me personally,” and for “the great performances that we’ve seen and that you’ve directed and the thousands of filmmakers around that you have inspired and lifted up through Sundance, all those things existed because you never gave in and you still haven’t.”
Barbra Streisand, who received the Chaplin Award two years earlier, handed off the glass award to Redford in a reunion that was the highlight of the evening.
She reminisced about filming “The Way We Were,” a part that Redford initially turned down because he thought the script by Arthur Laurents portrayed his character, a wasp with political aspirations, as too “one dimensional.” Streisand was determined he was to be her co-star when she first saw him in “Inside Daisy Clover” and thought, “Who is this man?” She added, “I realized there’s a lot going on behind those crystal-blue eyes.”
After a rewrite, Redford finally agreed to co-star in the film. “He influenced the script by making Hubbell a richer, more interesting character.” She added, “What intrigues me most about Bob is his complexity, you never quite know what he’s really thinking and that makes him fascinating to watch on screen. Bob understands the power of restraint. You’re never going to get it all, and that’s the secret, I think, that’s the mystery, that’s what makes you want to keep looking at him.”
Their characters were polar opposites: “He was the blond, taciturn wasp with no particular, political bent and she was the outspoken, Jewish girl with strong anti-war opinions.”
In reality, their politics were similar even as their backgrounds were so different. “He kept asking me about Brooklyn, some foreign country over there,” quipped Streisand. “I guess he thought I was kind of exotic, but he was the exotic one to me, growing up in sunny California. He’d surfed, fished and swam in the ocean… they were all the things that my mother told me would kill me.”
Streisand added, “I knew he did daredevil things like skiing… coming down a mountain on thin rails, very fast. That’s not one of the skills you pick up on the streets of Brooklyn.”
Taking a line from “The Way We Were” that defined Redford’s character, Streisand said, “Katie says to Hubbell ‘people are their principals’… Hubbell may not have believed it, but Robert has lived every day of his life by that creed, so tonight, some 40 years after we first met on that soundstage, I’d like to say, Dear Bob, it was such fun being married to you for a while. Too bad it didn’t work out, but we made something that will last much longer than many real marriages.”
Redford took the stage to a standing ovation as Streisand embraced him and stroked his famous hair.
Redford said, “This honor tonight leaves me grateful, humbled and a bit shy. I’ve never been one to look back, but sitting here tonight and confronting my history, I can’t help but reflect on the journey that brought me here.” He spoke of his upbringing in California and how he became an actor in New York.
“This city is where I found my center, and as with most actors, my journey began with square one at the theater, sitting at a long row of chairs waiting for my audition … I learned how important craft was to work… that was a huge step forward in my early life.”
Redford went on to say he was brought up with the axiom that it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. “I found this not to be so,” said Redford. “Winning at any cost seemed to somehow be tied to success,” a concept he rejected. “Success is relative. It can be a double-edged sword. For some it’s the endgame. But for me, it’s the step along the way, not to be fully embraced but maybe to be shadowboxed with.”
“Putting something back” felt right to him, he said. “Money isn’t everything. It helps, but it’s not everything.”
The Sundance founder said the Institute was designed as “a nonprofit mechanism… to help new filmmakers and playwrights develop their skills who might otherwise not have a chance to do so, and do it in a place that’s free from the urban environment of L.A., but in a place of nature.”
Redford surmised that “something surprising or good might happen” or maybe even “horrible.” As a risk taker, the bigger risk was not going for it. He took the land he purchased in the 1960’s in Utah and built what is now considered to be the center of independent filmmaking.
“All in all, I guess doing this is really the climb up the mountain, not so much standing at the top because at that point there’s nowhere to go, just the journey and the work, that’s what means the most to me… the climbing.”