And so, tonight, a huge birthday cake was wheeled onto the stage of the main theatre for the opening night ceremony. The 40 candles were represented by scantily clad damsels carrying balloons with lit bulbs inside them. After a routine that was promptly described by an attending journalist as "Busby Berkeley-with-neon-condoms," the emcee emerged Bob-Fosse style from the cake and quickly dispensed with the opening night's acknowledgements ("We wish to thank our sponsors…"). The members of the juries were then introduced - among them British director Michael Radford ("Merchant of Venice"), actresses Ali McGraw and actress Zuzana Stivinova (a stunner, think of a Czech Cate Blanchett), as were the numerous international politicians: the Czech Republic's prime minister, former US State department head (and Czech-born) Madeleine Albright, former president Vaclav Havel (the longest and warmest applause, as usual) and finally actor-producer-director Robert Redford.
But the first true standing ovation, which brought the very same Albrights, Havels and Redfords, to their feet, went to Czech director Jiri Krejcik., who was given a Life Achievement Crystal Globe. Born in the year that Czechoslovakia came into being, a few months before the Republic was officially declared (June 1918), Krejick, throughout his career (or so we are told) and a body of work that comprises dramas, melodramas and most of all, comedies with a social awareness, came to embody the values of the First Republic — a sense of morality, a sense of responsibility - much as Frank Capra (at least his best-know films) embodied America during the Depression.
It was then Robert Redford's turn to receive the second Life Achievement Crystal Globe of the evening. After (almost) dropping the Award — "This is heavier than an Oscar!" — he quickly paid tribute to former-president and writer Vaclav Havel "whom I have always considered a wonderful symbol of how art and politics can work together, and that politics can be enormously improved by an artist's mind." And then, "I was told I had to… I mean, I was asked to say a few words about tonight's film", he reminisced about and introduced the opening night film, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid".
And what a treat it was to see it on a big screen, even if the print was less than pristine! The film (and its actors) have become such myths that one forgets how fast-paced and funny it is and how well they worked together. I am afraid, Virginia, very few movies nowadays can stand the comparison.
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