The Santa Barbara International Film Festival folks hosted an earthy-feeling black tie tribute to icon and former Santa Barbaran Jane Fonda Saturday, October 3, at the Bacara. It was the 10th annual Kirk Douglas Award and the dominant mood was best captured by the ebullient Elizabeth Banks minutes after Roger Durling intoned elaborate gratitude to Fonda and showed abundant film clips. Initially Banks, who recently directed Pitch Perfect 2, protested (too much) that she had decided to be dignified mainly because, “I don’t want to bomb in front of Jane.” It was a ruse, though. She managed to “veer into inappropriate material” immediately, describing the first time she met Fonda in the flesh. “She had a smoking hot blouse on and I thought, unfuckingbelievable.” She looked up from the podium. “Wow, I meant to keep it classy.”
Banks went on to claim a deep love for Fonda that dated back to her childhood viewing of 9 to 5. “I mean they tied Dabney Coleman into a sex chair, it was great.” She proclaimed Fonda a “certified broad,” bragged about wild secret parties they had, but added seriously, folks, “She combines truth passion and grace,” Banks said, referring to both Fonda’s activism and her roles.
The film fest’s first clip montage package underlined the wilder side of Fonda’s early career, beginning in the 1960s with camp classics like Barbarella, but culminating in films with unusually independent women like Cat Ballou and Klute, where Fonda won her first Oscar playing a tough talking prostitute.
The racy mood shifted sharply when Diane Lane took the podium offering a softer view of Fonda. Lane was smitten when she first saw Fun with Dick and Jane as a teenager. “You will always have my 12-year-old heart,” said Lane, whose colloquy tended toward the mystic. Sort of. “Every offering of yourself is sacred,” she said. “You are not a star, you are a fucking constellation.” Lane also praised her friend as a feminist with a “big buttery heart.”
Fonda begins to look like a magus, wonder woman, and firebrand all at once, a study in crazy quilt contrasts. Indeed, I met a former Ted Turner personal assistant who described Fonda in terms of wifely perfection, sewing the media mogul’s buttons in a Las Vegas elevator. Fonda herself referred to Turner as her “favorite ex-husband.”
Fonda was poised and modest accepting her award, turning around all the glory to the film fest, which she commended for being a “community-based organization there to help people who might not be able to marinate themselves in cinema.” She also recalled her time in Santa Barbara at the home she shared with then-radical lawyer husband Tom Hayden. Their ranch doubled as a school for the arts that served the children of Hollywood folk like Mike Ovitz and children of Black Panthers, too. “I’m 78,” she told the crowd, “But I still feel like a student.”
But my favorite Fonda moment came on the red carpet before the show when I asked if she missed Santa Barbara:“Yes, always,” she said. And the early Summer Solstice kids who built floats in her front yard? “No. That I don’t miss. But I tell you what I miss. The 4th of July pranks we used to play on each other up on Painted Cave Road.” She smiled and walked into an adoring crowd.