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The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Tribute to Meryl Streep
Avery Fisher Hall
April 14, 2008

Written by Frank J. Avella

Opposite Photo Credit:
Janet Mayer / PR Photos


The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual gala tribute this year commenced, quite literally, with live trumpets heralding the fact that the attendees seated in Avery Fisher Hall were about to experience an unforgettable evening. That fact had everything to do with the honoree since Meryl Streep is considered by most folks (industry and otherwise) to be the best actress of her generation. She is also one of the smartest, sharpest and funniest. I caught a glimpse of her posing for paparazzi outside the event as if she were some Euro-glam superstar right out of a Fellini film! It was magnifico.

The Film Society has broken ground in this new millennium with their decision to fete’ as many female cinema artists as they have male. Prior to selecting Streep, they have honored: Diane Keaton; Jessica Lange; Susan Sarandon and Jane Fonda. But it is with the Streep gala that Program Director, Wendy Keyes (responsible for the last thirty years worth of celebrations), has decided to retire, marking this event with a bittersweet end-of-an-era feel.

At the outset Keyes spoke about how she has been wanting to honor Streep for years but was never given the okay. Last year, when Streep attended the Diane Keaton tribute, Keyes cornered her and convinced her.

One of the supreme joys of these Lincoln Center events that set them far above other galas like it are the generous amounts of pristine-quality film clips shown that help celebrate the artist’s career. We are able to experience, first hand, what makes the actor who he/she is via their work—and not thirty second blip-moments from the most popular movies, but nice, lengthy scenes that feature the full array of the actor’s body of work--from the best to the more obscure.

It was an absolute delight to watch a segments from the politically savvy, little seen The Seduction of Joe Tynan (still unavailable on DVD); the underrated gem Plenty, adapted from the David Hare play, and her rousing if deliberately deluded rendition of “He’s Me Pal” from Ironweed (also unavailable on DVD).

Sophie's Choice

Early classic Streep cinema was repped with powerful moments from: The Deer Hunter; Kramer vs. Kramer; The French Lieutenant’s Woman; Sophie’s Choice; and Silkwood (five Oscar nominations, two wins in a six year span.)

Angels in America

An entire segment was devoted to her work with master auteur Mike Nichols and the four films they made together: Silkwood; Heartburn; Postcards From the Edge and the HBO drama Angels in America. The Angels clip featured her tour de force Ethel Rosenberg at the deathbed of her executioner Roy Cohn (Al Pacino)—the stuff that Emmys are made of—literally!

The Devil Wears Prada

Modern day Streep saw film moments ranging from the heartbreaking Bridges of Madison County to the hilarious Devil Wears Prada to an odd moment from the upcoming Abba musical, Mamma Mia! Her vocals on “The Winner Takes It All” certainly prove she’s a potent songstress. I, for one, am damn curious about this one.

Mamma Mia (in production)

Among the A-list speakers honoring Streep were the elusive Robert Redford who eloquently spoke about her devotion to her craft before punctuating with: “when you get to know her you realize part of her is really out to lunch.”

Her Deer Hunter co-stars, Christopher Walken and Robert DeNiro were in attendance. Walken was his brief and nutty self. DeNiro, surprisingly, brought the house down with a side-splitting routine about trying to come up with proper anecdotes for the evening. He even poked fun at his recent departure from CAA.

Uma Thurman shared how she got the role in Prime opposite her “hero” only after Sandra Bullock pulled out. “All actors in this business know, there’s Meryl…and then there’s everybody else.”

Jonathan Demme rambled (imagine), Garrison Keiller waxed philosophical and invoked the genius Robert Altman before the adorable Amy Adams came onto the staged, gushed and presented Streep with her award. Adams just finished the film version of the Pulitzer Prize winning play, Doubt, with Streep and the buzz is already buzzing about Meryl finally winning that long overdue third Oscar! (after a record fourteen nominations)

“I was really dreading this…for so many reasons,” Streep began her speech, “The press, the speech…seating the relatives with the stars…so many minefields…” She proceeded to graciously thank the important people in her life, including her husband of thirty years and her four children. She also became visibly moved when discussing friends who were ‘no longer with us’ including Altman.

At the very end, Streep shared a verbose but terrific story about how forty years ago, almost to the date, she was an eighteen-year old freshman at Vassar and was asked to produce tears in an acting class. While other classmates were inventing new and exciting ways to kill loved ones and mourn, a young Meryl envisioned a different scenario: “I imagined I was really, really old, like sixty…and that I was the most celebrated actress of my time…” She explained how the audience was filled with colleagues and sophisticates—mirroring the Avery Fisher Hall group— and she received cheers and tremendous applause. “I said to them how grateful I was that they had supported me but the time had come for me to step away from performing…I had tears streaming down my face…” Streep then looked out at her fans and friends and punctuated the prophetic story: “I’m not crying tonight because I’m not retiring!”

More whoops and hollers as she gracefully made her exit.

Listening to the adulatory testaments from her fellow artists and watching the plethora of scenes from some of the best films of the last three decades, I was struck all over again by the amazing diversity of this film titan and also by how brilliantly discerning she has been with in her selection process. The fact that her career only spans thirty years is another tribute to her tremendous body of work. How exciting to anticipate the next thirty years of performances by Meryl Streep.

As a footnote: at a recent, unrelated, press screening, I overheard a male critic spouting forth misogynistic thoughts on how most female actors are “washed up” by the time they turn 39—because they begin to look their age. He went on to, ironically, spew wise (in his mind) about how too many actresses were ruining their faces with excessive work—never realizing that perhaps it’s because of men like him with superficial feelings about what a woman’s supposed to look like in her thirties—but I digress…

In this male-oriented industry (and country) where women are discarded after a certain age, it’s a comfort that Meryl Streep represents a shining beacon of defiant hope. She might just be the hardest working and best actor or actress working in cinema today with a craft consciousness that is unparalleled. She’s managed to have a family and sustain a thirty-year marriage. And she has not messed with her stunning features. As she grows closer to sixty--a time when most actresses who are lucky enough to still be working are relegated to wise grandma or camp monster parts—she is playing real women. She is still challenging audiences with performances that provoke and astonish. And to paraphrase Mike Nichols, she is still showing us a glimpse into each character’s soul.





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