Robert De Niro Tribute

Robert De Niro at his Tribute (c) Ed Scheid

The recent Chaplin Award tribute to Robert De Niro from the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City was a memorable event. The notable guests gave personalized insights into their collaborations with De Niro. Extensive clips highlighted De Niro’s many indelible performances in films like “The Godfather, Part II” (1974), “Taxi Driver” (1976) and “Raging Bull” (1980).

Harvey Keitel (c) Ed Scheid

Harvey Keitel who appeared with De Niro in films from “Mean Streets” (1973) to “The Comedian” (2016) spoke of the “excellence” of De Niro’s work and told a highly amusing anecdote of a trip to Rome with De Niro. Paparazzi told police that De Niro and Keitel were members of the Red Brigades and the two were arrested. After De Niro was recognized, the two were released. Newspapers said that De Niro was in Rome with his “best friend Keith Carradine.”

Whoopi Goldberg (c) Ed Scheid

More humor followed. Whoopi Goldberg said that De Niro’s attraction to black women made her feel good about the way she looked. She added that she could tell studio executives “Robert De Niro likes me!” Ben Stiller who appeared in “Meet the Parents” (2000) and its sequels with De Niro, joked about how making “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” hurt De Niro’s reputation.

Meryl Streep (c) Ed Scheid

Meryl Streep who starred with De Niro in “The Deer Hunter” (1978), “Falling in Love” (1984) and “Marvin’s Room” (1996) said that when she was a young actress, the only person she knew with a film role was Michael Moriarty. She went to see him in “Bang the Drum Slowly” (1973) and thought that the man (De Niro) playing the naïve ballplayer from a rural background was so convincing he had to be a non-professional.

When Streep saw Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets”, she was shocked to see the man she thought was a “hillbilly” in “Bang the Drum” portraying an unstable small-time New York hood. With that acting versatility, Streep said she wanted De Niro to be “my teacher for most of my life.”

Both Sean Penn and Barry Levinson, who directed De Niro in films that include “Wag the Dog” (1997), spoke of their high regard for De Niro and his impressive career.

Martin Scorsese (c) Ed Scheid

The Chaplin Award was presented by Martin Scorsese who has directed De Niro in many of his most acclaimed films from “Mean Streets” early in both their careers, to “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull”, for which De Niro received the Best Actor Oscar, “Goodfellas” (1990), and “Casino” (1995). Scorsese spoke of the “lasting trust” between the two of them.

Martin Scorsese (c) Ed Scheid

Scorsese mentioned an anecdote that he said illustrates why De Niro is such an outstanding actor. He said that while both of them were preparing “Raging Bull”, they were visited by two United Artists executives. One of the executives asked De Niro in regard to the role of boxer Jake La Motta in the film, “Why do you want to play a cockroach?” De Niro forcefully replied “He’s not a cockroach”.

Scorsese later said the executives had planned to pull financing on the film until the encounter with De Niro. Scorsese added that De Niro “never looks down” on the characters he portrays.

Robert De Niro (c) Ed Scheid

In accepting the Award, and after thanking the previous speakers, Robert De Niro spoke of the importance of the arts and organizations that support the arts like the National Endowment of the Arts and the Public Broadcasting System, particularly in such a “divisive” time with “mean-spirited” government policies.

Robert De Niro (3rd from left) being congratulated by Ben Stiller, Barry Levinson, Meryl Streep and Harvey Keitel (c) Ed Scheid

De Niro joked to the audience that he doesn’t just make films for the “liberal elite”. “That’s what my restaurants are for” he added. He said he makes films “for all of you.”

Barry Levinson, Meryl Streep, Harvey Keitel and Sean Penn (c) Ed Scheid

Robert De Niro, Barry Levinson, Meryl Streep and Harvey Keitel (c) Ed Scheid

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Telluride 42: “Hitchcock/Truffaut”

“Cinefile porn” is how James Grey, one of the directors (“The Immigrant”) appearing in the documentary “Hitchcock/Truffaut”, accurately described the film to its director Kent Jones, as related at the Telluride Film Festival.

In 1962, French director Francois Truffaut, a 30-year-old former film critic, had directed three films, including being chosen Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for “The 400 Blows”. He interviewed celebrated director Alfred Hitchcock who was finishing his 48th feature film “The Birds”. The conversations became a well-received book “Hitchcock/Truffaut”.

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Very skillfully edited, this fascinating film covers both directors and the enduring appeal of Hitchcock’s films. The audio tapes of the Hitchcock/Truffaut conversations give remarkable insight into Hitchcock’s creative process that created many memorable scenes in film history.

Hitchcock meticulously planned his films in advance for maximum impact. I remember that the book had extensive photos that documented the visual development of key sequences.

Hitchcock’s comments are skillfully combined with many clips of his films for an entertaining and insightful analysis. Excerpts of important scenes like THE shower scene in “Psycho” and the unique candle carried by Cary Grant in “Suspicion” visualize the discussion.

Francois Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock

Francois Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock also gives some personal anecdotes as when Montgomery Clift clashed with the director by refusing to follow the director’s plan for a scene in “I Confess”.

Besides Grey, directors including Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, and Wes Anderson discuss Hitchcock and their experiences with “Hitchcock/Truffaut”. Hitchcock is described as an artist who wrote with the camera, and, more than anyone, concerned with the psychological underpinning of his characters.

The film covers the lasting effect of the book “Hitchcock/Truffaut” that changed the reputation of Hitchcock from entertainer to artist.

At a reception at the Telluride Film Festival, I told the film’s director Kent Jones, also an author, how impressed I was with how much was covered in the 80 minute running time. Jones said he likes to work compactly. I also told Jones that his film was the first time I got to see parts of my favorite Hitchcock “Notorious” on the big screen.