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In Manifesto, a multi-screen video artwork by Berlin artist Julian Rosefeldt, Cate Blanchett becomes 13 different people, including a news anchor, a factory worker, a ballet dancer and a homeless man.
“When shooting, it became an homage to your incredible talent — the talent to transform yourself into whomever you want to be,” Rosefeldt said, addressing Blanchett from the podium at the MoMA Annual Film benefit held in her honor on Tuesday night. After further praise from co-chair Ralph Fiennes the lights dimmed and a reel of Blanchett’s work played. Onscreen she was, alternatively, Queen Elizabeth (Elizabeth), Bob Dylan (I’m Not Here), an Australian heiress (Oscar and Lucinda), Elizabeth Hepburn (The Aviator) and a socialite on the brink of a meltdown (Blue Jasmine), among other roles.
The two-time Oscar winner (and six-time nominee) may add a third trophy to her collection this award season thanks to her work in Carol, a Cannes Film Festival hit. “It’s almost impossible to find words for it — she’s just completely her own creature, and so conscious about what she does,” said Todd Haynes, the film’s director. “She is so versatile.”
After posing for photos on the event’s black carpet and before heading downstairs for the screening, attendees — including Rooney Mara, Diane Kruger, Sarah Paulson, co-chair Martin Scorsese, Jane Krakowski and Bee Shaffer — sipped champagne by candlelight.
Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale arrived together. Cannavale, who co-starred with Blanchett in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, has followed her career since he saw Elizabeth. “She is one of those actresses that, if you love acting, you don’t miss anything that they do,” he said. “It’s like Gary Oldman. When Gary Oldman came out, I didn’t miss anything Gary Oldman did, and I’m the same with Cate Blanchett.”
Talent aside, Cannavale was impressed by Blanchett’s on-set work ethic. “She is ready to go at all times. I really appreciate that because I’m not there to waste time. I’m not there to f— around and get sociable, I’m there to work and she’s there to work,” he said. While Blanchett didn’t remain in character between takes, she didn’t entirely break character, either. “If we had a little break we’d go off into a corner and have a cigarette and sort of stay in it. She has an amazing focus, a real intelligence that radiates on and off camera.”
Byrne, who singled out Blanchett’s performance as Blanche DuBois in the Sydney Theater Company’s adaption of A Street Car Named Desire, kept her praise simple and to the point: “She’s the best there is,” she said.
In her acceptance speech, while recognizing art’s intrinsic value, Blanchett put the importance of her own work into context.
“All my efforts and endeavors do feel very insignificant in view of what’s going on in the world at the moment, in Europe and the Middle East and the thousands of refugees who travel across the borders,” she told the audience. “Their plight, their peril has become even more precarious and difficult.”
“But,” she continued, “and this is going to sound like a massive justification — perhaps it is in the face of what’s going on in the world — but sometimes you’re presented with the opportunity of working on projects that perhaps might last and perhaps have something interesting and important to say.”
After the screening, guests headed upstairs to the Agnes Gund Garden Lobby, where tables were set with pale pink roses and white candles in crystal holders. Over roasted rainbow cauliflower salad, designer Rachel Roy explained Blanchett’s status as a fashion icon. “She is one of the few actresses that designers are proud and encouraged and inspired by,” she said. “She is brave enough to wear designs the way they were actually designed. For her, we don’t have to chop, tighten or make it into something that wasn’t intended. She wears a design with dignity and integrity, as it should be. Looking beautiful, but foremost looking equal parts strong, chic and intelligent.”
This is MoMA’s eighth annual film benefit. Previous honorees include Tilda Swinton, Quentin Tarantino, Pedro Almodovar, Kathryn Bigelow, Tim Burton and Baz Luhrmann.
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