The crowds packed the Arlington Theatre last night to honor actor Michael Keaton, this year’s recipient of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Modern Master’s Award.
“I remember sitting in a Lowes theater on 83rd in New York with my wife in 1982 watching a movie called Night Shift,” said Leonard Maltin by way of introduction to the evening with Michael Keaton. “Onto the screen burst this extraordinary comedic performer. Who is this guy? We know who he is now. And Birdman is a reaffirmation of [his] enormous talent.”
Then Keaton’s costar in Multiplicity, Andie MacDowell, took the podium. “He’s been an inspiration and a friend. He is nothing like the character in Birdman. And at the age of 63 he was brave enough to go running through Times Square in his underwear. He has balls.”
And then one more introductory element—quick interviews with his Birdman costars and director talking about what a treat it was to work with Keaton—before the man himself was called to the stage. “I think I’m going to pass out,” he when he finally took a seat. “This is overwhelming. It’s a lot to take in. I’m a fortunate man.”
For the next two hours the audience watched clips from Keaton’s formidable filmic repertoire and heard behind-the-scenes stories about his work and his life from the charming, quick-witted actor.
Born Michael John Daniel Douglas, Keaton revealed he wasn’t a theater kid but his large Scotts-Irish family—he’s the youngest of seven kids—spent their time entertaining each other. “My brothers and sisters are funny and good with language so I had a built in audience,” Keaton said.
Maltin guided the conversation chronologically introducing clips from Keaton’s movies and then asking questions about them. Memorable scenes from Night Shift, Mr. Mom, Beetlejuice, Clean and Sober, Batman Returns, Pacific Heights, Multiplicity, The Paper, and The Other Guys flickered onscreen throughout the night.
Of Beetlejuice, Keaton said, “Tim is unique, original, an artist. He saw the bigger picture but couldn’t [describe] Beetlejuice.” So he set about creating a mad-as-a-hatter character, which now stands as one of the most memorable in contemporary movie history.
When asked if he made a specific decision to do the heavy drama Clean and Sober after Beetlejuice Keaton replied: “I didn’t think [now] “I want to be taken seriously.’ That’s making the assumption people are even thinking about you at all.”
Regarding the controversy of a comedian being cast as Batman, Keaton said: “It baffled me why people were even thinking about it. I was on the concord and I had the Wall Street Journal. I saw a picture and thought it looked like me. I read about the outrage. Why would this get print? I thought it was half funny and half the pressure was on.”
Throughout the night, shout outs from Keaton’s co-stars Winona Ryder and Robert DuVall, his friend Jeff Bridges, and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu were shown on-screen, all of them congratulating the actor on his work in Birdman and the well-deserved accolades that he’s receiving.
The delightful evening wound down with SBIFF executive director Roger Durling honoring Keaton: “Michael Keaton in Birdman is the fucking best performance of the the 21st century.” Durling described meeting Keaton years ago when Durling was a barista at the Bulldog café in Summerland. Keaton and he would talk about movies and “he didn’t care who I was. You are such a real man,” Durling continued through tears. “I feel crystallized that the 12 years I’ve been director of the [festival] was all to honor you tonight.”
Finally, During said the award was now to be called the Maltin Modern Masters award, in honor of Leonard Maltin, who has been with the festival for 25 years.
Danny Devito came on stage then to give Keaton his award. “You’ve had an eclectic career. You’ve done everything. It’s amazing,” he said. “I am so honored to present—holy shit [this award is heavy]—you with this very first Maltin Modern Masters award.”
“I can’t tell you how moved I am by all of this,” Keaton said in his acceptance speech. “It’s too much. I’ll take it. I’m knocked out by this attendance and all my pals who came and family.”