Every year during award season the Santa Barbara International Film Festival gives the Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film to a deserving Oscar contender. And they always show up, partly because the local crowds are so enthusiastic, among them many Oscar voters.
Thursday night Carol Burnett made her way over to greet this year’s recipient, Martin Scorsese, his “The Irishman” star Al Pacino, who gave a rousing speech including an extraordinary riff on the drumming of Buddy Rich — yes, he was comparing the jazz legend to the Maestro — and Scorsese muse and alter-ego Leonardo DiCaprio, who sat between Scorsese and his father George (who bears a striking resemblance to Pacino).
“As an actor you feel safe,” said Pacino of Scorsese. “He is so easy to trust because he is in control of his craft. He sets the stage for you, like a tightrope walker. Marty is a net. He sets it up, and then he’s there. Things come out of you because he is there. He gets some of the greatest performances to film.”
DiCaprio also gave a heartfelt speech, remembering his first day on the set of “Gangs of New York” at age 25. After that experience shooting at Cinecitta in Rome, he said, “My life and work would never be the same.”
DiCaprio described “The Irishman” as playing “like an elegy,” he said, “an exploration of our own universally shared mortality.”
The clips, ah, the clips! It’s hard not to agree, watching Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel in “Mean Streets” and “Taxi Driver” and De Niro and Joe Pesci in “Goodfellas,” “Casino,” and “The Irishman,” and DiCaprio in “The Aviator,” “The Departed” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” that Scorsese is the greatest director of our time.
In his acceptance speech, Scorsese praised Kirk Douglas, who “had a profound influence on me when I was young,” he said. In fact, for decades Scorsese tried to fashion a remake of “The Bad and the Beautiful,” which in many ways ended up in “The Irishman,” he said. That poster has been sitting behind his desk for the last 30 years.
It was De Niro who urged Scorsese to check out his “This Boy’s Life” costar DiCaprio. “You’ve got to work with this kid,” he said. Scorsese did, and cast DiCaprio in “Gangs of New York,” 20 years ago. The director credits DiCaprio with giving him “a new lease on life,” he said.
It was fun for me to sit at the head table with these chums as they watched themselves in the clips, cheered each other on, and savored each other’s company. DiCaprio videoed Pacino’s speech, edited photos for “The Irishman” and “Joker” producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff, and told me about his discussions with the Academy Museum about showing some of his extraordinary poster collection, especially some of his rare one-sheets from the Silent Era.
The always-busy Scorsese has been prepping his latest in Oklahoma, the 1920s-set Osage tribe drama “Killers of the Flower Moon.” And manager Rick Yorn, who urged the theater owners and Netflix to come to a deal, believes that the major chains that refused to book “The Irishman” will break down, inevitably, to give consumers the access they want to the movies they want when they want.
Meanwhile, I hear, Netflix may reach a more permanent arrangement with New York arthouse showcase The Paris Theatre, which is currently showing “Marriage Story.”
See video of the speeches below.