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Sat Apr 29 @ 8:00PM
Cate Blanchett looked just like a movie star should. Elegant. Confident. Untouchable. On Friday night, dressed in a shimmering gold, silver and black dress, with the ease and grace of beauty queen, she waved hello to an excited crowd of onlookers and journalists; all desperate to get a glimpse of the Australian movie star. Blanchett walked the red carpet amongst an onslaught of camera flashes and microphones, as she entered The Arlington Theatre to receive the Outstanding Performer of the Year Award at the 2023 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
The Outstanding Performer award was “created to honor the actor or actress whose role in a film exceeds greatness.” This was not Blanchett's first time receiving the coveted award, and she is in good company. Having picked up the golden mini–Arlington Theatre statue in 2014 for her performance in Blue Jasmine, she shares the prestigious award with past recipients Will Smith, Jennifer Lawrence, Viola Davis, Heath Ledger, Kate Winslet and a long list of other much celebrated actors.
While several impressive reels highlighted Blanchett’s accomplished career, the night was all about her compelling portrayal of composer Lydia Tàr, in the oft praised and much celebrated film, Tàr. To the first sold-out crowd of the 2023 fest, Blanchett spoke, in her charming Melbourne accent, of portraying the film’s hot tempered and disgraced protagonist, “as the film goes on you realize that [Tàr] is one of the world’s great classical music performers,” Blanchett said, “but in a way her greatest performance is herself.” Blanchett learned German and studied composing to take on the role of Tàr. She said, while speaking to moderator Scott Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter, “it just didn't seem authentic that she would be working at the head of a German orchestra, being the principal conductor for seven years and then rehearse in English. It just didn’t feel right.” Blanchett did such an impressive job of learning the art of orchestra conducting, that Finberg noted there were several real-life musicians in the film who said they would have worked for Blanchett as a real-world composer. “I was absolutely terrified because we had to do all the music stuff up front,” Blanchett said. She was given some helpful advice on the film set: “remember to plant yourself on the podium, do not apologize for being there- work from your core, and I thought, ‘that’s exactly what I do on the stage.’” The instruction seemed to have worked well for the actress as she is a top contender for Best Actress Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards.
Blanchett spoke from the Arlington stage of her love of theater and film making. Clips were shown from many of her past films, including but not limited to Notes on a Scandal, Carol, Lord of The Rings, Elizabeth and The Talented Mr. Ripley. Blanchett craned her neck to watch herself on the big Arlington screen, “that’s quite a way to see yourself,” she said with a quiet laugh. She fidgeted with the stacked rings on her fingers as she spoke, delighting the audience with jokes as the night progressed. She greeted the crowd by telling Fienberg she was disappointed with the angle of her seat onstage because, “this dress is a bit revealing and I’m not wearing any knickers.” The light-heartedness of Blanchett helped to neutralize the often-serious nature of her roles. After watching a scene in which her character physically assaults Dame Judi Dench’s character in Notes on a Scandal, while calling her a bitter old virgin among many other colorful insults, Blanchett looked to the crowd with a hand over her mouth and said, “well, her character had just been VERY mean to mine.”
The director of Tàr. Todd Field presented The Outstanding Performance award to an emotional Blanchett. Seemingly uncomfortable with compliments, she looked to the ground as Field read praise after praise of her past performances from her acting peers. He went on to say, amongst many kind things, “how lucky the world is to live in a time where Cate Blanchett graces our stages and our screens and walks the earth for common good.” With tears welling in her eyes, Blanchett joined Field at the podium to accept her award. “Outstanding performance of the year,” Blanchett said, “it’s an honor in any year, but this year in particular when there have been so many outstanding, idiosyncratic performances, memorable performances, by women of wildly different shapes and sizes and artistic ambition, it’s an honor to me.” She went on to thank the crowd, the audiences that keep people like her acting. She thanked Field, and finally Roger Durling, the executive director of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. As Durling said, “Cate Blanchett has been honored at the festival three times before. And I told Cate, she’s welcome to come back any damn time she wants.” As someone with such broad talent, and someone who is so beloved by her peers and audiences alike, there is little doubt she will be back at The Arlington Theatre. Until that day arrives, one can only hope Blanchett keeps acting, keeps taking her audiences on wild, emotional rides, and keeps us all on the edge of our movie theater seats.
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