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Premieres & Events

Woody, Streep, Martin Honor Diane Keaton

By S.T. VanAirsdale

The Film Society of Lincoln Center held its annual Gala Tribute Monday night, honoring Diane Keaton's career with a guest list including Woody Allen, Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Candice Bergen and a bundle of other stars and filmmakers who dropped by Avery Fisher Hall to pay their respects. The Tribute is always something of a love-in with streaks of a roast here or there -- thematically compiled clip montages followed by one-line zingers and lavish praise. This year wasn't much different, with Allen setting the pace following an assembly of scenes from his and Keaton's work together over two decades.

Not "that sad-faced girl": Diane Keaton near the end of her Gala Tribute on Monday night at Lincoln Center (Photo: STV)

"I'm sure you've all, at one time or another, heard the term 'passive-aggressive,' " he began, drawing the longest laugh of the night with his first utterance. "I only mention this because every film I did with Keaton, I always wrote all the good jokes and all the good stuff and all the good scenes for me. When the picture came out, she was the funny one -- she got all the reviews. So, you know, it's infuriating. ... She called and asked if I would say some nice things about here, and I asked, 'What the hell do you want to be honored for?' Because I could never see the point of being honored; you sit there and there's adulatory things... You get bathed in obsequious adulation and all that garbage. But she liked that idea, and then I heard the desperation in her voice. So I said OK. Keaton is..." Allen paused. "Punctual? And she's... thrifty? What else can I say about her?"

Allen added that he always shows rough cuts and scripts to her, eventually calling her one of the two or three greatest comediennes the country has ever seen. Streep followed. "What is it about Diane?" she asked. "Why does she own such a singular place in our culture? What makes here such an all-American girl, but still popular in France? What makes here more feminine than any of the sexpots half her age? Why can't I put together outfits like that? I mean, I try. There are many answers to these questions, but what is inescapable is her loveliness. She breaks men's hearts and mends women's."

Steve Martin had unearthed a program from a Santa Ana Community College production of Carousel in which Keaton (as Diane Hall) performed the lead role and on which Martin was a stagehand. The two never knew each other until years later, finally working together on two Father of the Bride films in the 1990s "This is what it's like to be married to Diane Keaton: At 5 o'clock every morning, an hour of make-up and hair. And the good-morning kiss? It's not like 'Hello,' or 'I love you.' It's six or seven times! And it's over nd over and over, and she'll say, 'Until we get it right!' Then we'll have an argument, but it won't be once or twice, but 27 times. From every angle! And it'll be the same exact argument over and over and over. And then? When it's all over? She'll say, 'Hey, what's new?' Let's go to lunch.' And I'll tell you about the sex, and I hope it won't leave this room: All sex was entirely simulated. And if we had a bed scene to do, I would get into bed, and I would hear a 'clink.' She would be wearing armor panties.

"And when there was a tribute to me several years ago, she flew to Washington D.C and sang a song for me onstage at the Kennedy Center. It was the wrong night, but it was the thought that counts. Tonight I would sort of like to return the favor." The video of his song is below; I have to sharpen it a bit later, but it was a great moment that hopefully comes through in the interim. I still don't know why all those people were laughing; the whole thing seemed pretty sincere.

Keaton arrived soon afterward to accept her award from Martin. Her speech was modest, measured and poetic, recalling her childhood aspirations to acting, but her first theater role at age 7 winding up with her running off the stage in tears. "The beautiful part of acting in movies is that I don't have to do it in front of an audience," she said. "I can do it in secret, with a small family called the crew. In our world, our goal is to transform a moment in time with the hope that it will live on in the hearts and minds of people. Now, maybe that's grandiose, but isn't that some of what acting's about?"

She was especially gracious in returning the tributes of her fellow actresses. "Even though I never thought of these encounters as particularly romantic," Keaton said, "watching us grapple with love and life on film reminded me that we had known this sublime journey to the depths of feeling as an intelligence. To me, this intelligence is a romance, too -- a romance nurtured on the best of what a human being can aspire to -- a romance in reality. So I still feel like little Diane, who wanted to be a movie star. I'm still that sad-faced girl, all knotted up in tears running off the stage only to revisit the terror of performing over and over again and again. And I guess the reason is that sometimes after the terror, you do reach a reach a beautiful plateau; you do discover a moment that feels like it will live on forever."

Posted at April 10, 2007 9:09 AM

Comments (2)

Thank you!

I was at the tribute and it was so great. Sarah Jessica Parker also sang a few bars of "Zing went the Strings of My Heart", an old Judy Garland tune. It was a night I'll never forget.

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