Robert Redford, iconic movie star, Oscar-winning director and godfather of independent film, was honored with the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Chaplin Award on Monday night, and two of his favorite leading ladies were among the artists who toasted him. Jane Fonda called Redford a “complicated visionary” and Barbra Streisand opted for “intellectual cowboy,” both apt descriptions of the man whose thoughtful films, mainstream appeal and commitment to independent thinkers and storytellers through the Sundance Film Festival have made him one of the most important Hollywood figures of the last 50 years.
“You never quite know what he’s really thinking, and that makes him fascinating to watch on screen,” said Streisand, who presented the award to her The Way We Were co-star. “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.”
Looking at Redford was never difficult, as Streisand pointed out during her fond “misty water-color memories” of their on-screen pairing in Sydney Pollack’s 1973 film. “[On the set the first day] I could hear the crew shouting out my opening lines from Funny Girl: ‘Hello, gorgeous.’ I was thrilled, I was flattered… and then I was very upset because they were talking to Bob.”
Fonda, who co-starred opposite Redford in three films, including Barefoot in the Park, admitted that Redford was her kindred spirit. “Of course, I fell in love with Bob,” she admitted. “I was in love with him for every movie that we did together. But we were both always married. … It was good that we were married. It wouldn’t have worked. We’re too much alike. We’re basically people whose preference is being alone, away from it all.”
Other friends and colleagues, including Elisabeth Moss, J.C. Chandor, John Turturro and Laura Poitras, also honored Redford in between a montage of clips from his most famous films—from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which made him an international star, to Out of Africa, to his 2013 one-man epic, All is Lost. Guests were also treated to a first look at Redford’s next film, Truth, in which he plays Dan Rather during the controversial CBS news story claiming President George W. Bush received preferential treatment to avoid the Vietnam War.
When it was time to accept his award from Streisand, herself a 2013 Chaplin honoree, Redford reluctantly reflected on his achievements and expressed his satisfaction in accepting the award in New York, where he experienced his first taste of professional success on the stage. “I was born at the end of the rainbow, so to speak,” said the native of southern California. “Los Angeles was a place that so many yearned to get to. But for me, my rainbow ended here, in New York City. … This city is where I found my center.”
True to form, the shy Redford seemed slightly embarrassed by the attention, and he argued that success has often been a double-edged sword. “For me, it’s really the climb up the mountain,” he said, in closing. “Not so much standing at the top because at that point, there’s nowhere to go. It’s the journey, and the work. That’s what means the most to me. It’s the trying. As T.S. Eliot says, ‘There’s only the trying. The rest is not our business.'”