Cinematheque fetes career that dies hard

HOLLYWOOD — At the reception before Saturday’s American Cinematheque Moving Picture Ball at the BevHilton, co-chair Peter Dekom described the evening’s purpose this way: “Take an actor in the middle of their career and say, ‘Hey, here’s somebody who’s extraordinary. They’ve done great things, now watch what they’re going to do next.’ “

With that as a mission, Bruce Willis makes a great honoree.

The Willis tribute kicked off with remarks from board co-chairs Mike Medavoy and Dekom; a clip from “Forever Hollywood,” the Cinematheque’s hourlong documentary (written and directed by Daily Variety‘s Todd McCarthy and produced by his wife, Sasha Alpert); then a few words from event chairs Joe Roth and Arnold Rifkin, who said this year’s ball raised a record-breaking $625,000.

Emcee Alan Rickman took the stage in crutches and neck brace (the scene of him falling from the 33rd floor in “Die Hard” played as a lead-in) and got a laugh when he said, “If you’re going to launch a tribute to a Republican in Hollywood, get a left-wing Englishman to host it.”

Paul Reiser’s standup routine (regarding the honoree’s goatee phase: “You made popular a style of facial hair that had no business leaving Holland”) came before Glenn Gordon Caron spoke of considering 3,000 actors before casting Willis in “Moonlighting.” Co-star Cybill Shepherd ended her video tribute by saying, “I believe you are a predecessor to Cary Grant.” Which left the audience thinking, “Predecessor?”

That wouldn’t be the only time the audience was perplexed. There was a seven-minute, B&W film centering on a SAG agent searching for Willis in New York to deliver a $78 residual check that in terms of plot logic made “El Topo” look like “The Sound of Music.”

Crowd-pleasing segments included a look at the honoree’s singing career as “Bruno,” and his Japanese commercials for Mo Va cell phones. (Willis would later say, “They were never supposed to appear in America. It was contractual. Con-tract-u-al!”) It will be interesting to see if they’re shown when the tribute airs on TNT Wednesday.

High points of the vid tributes included David Letterman introducing a clip of Willis as a wig-wearing strip club dancer in a bikini; former President Bush (“I watched his films. I love this guy”); and George Clooney in an empty field remembering how he first met Willis at the Planet Hollywood that once stood on that very locale.

Live tributes came from Melanie Griffith, in a full-length low-cut gown that revealed the heart shaped tattoo on her right arm with “Antonio” in its center, as well as from Larry King, Matthew Perry, Haley Joel Osment, Amanda Peet, Cate Blanchett, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jennifer Aniston, Linda Fiorentino and Chris Tucker, who introduced a series of comedy clips that included “North” (when was the last time that film was been seen in a tribute?).

The evening culminated with Julia Roberts presenting the award, eschewing the TelePrompTer and getting the night’s biggest laugh when she said, “I didn’t know you were a Republican.”

Willis made a gracious acceptance speech in which he began by thanking Jesus Christ and, “skipping ahead 2,000 years,” Caron, Rifkin, Roth, his mother, the cast of “Friends” and many others.

He ended by calling the Cinematheque a “cool organization. They keep movies alive. Not in a technical way, they keep the heart of movies alive,” which is as insightful a description of the organization as anyone’s ever given.

Among those on hand to hear the speech were Ron Meyer, Tom Rothman, Gary Pudney, Rick Nicita, Dan Romanelli and Cinematheque president Henry Shields Jr.

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