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NEW YORK — As one of the very few artists ever to be featured both on the big screen and in the exhibit space of a single museum, The Museum of Modern Art Film Benefit paid tribute to the enigmatic and ethereal Tilda Swinton on Tuesday — a special night in more ways than one.
“It’s my birthday!” Swinton, wearing a tweed beige and cream jacket and white trousers by Chanel, told The Hollywood Reporter of the cleverly scheduled event in New York. “MoMA is giving me a birthday party, and they’ve invited some of my great friends, so I’m very happy and very grateful.”
Benefit guests tried their best to identify intangible yet intriguing Swinton characteristics throughout the evening. “I admire the ease and the grace in which she carries her talent,” praised Ralph Fiennes, event co-chair and Swinton’s co-star in The Grand Budapest Hotel. He cited Orlando and Michael Clayton specifically. “She’s a great actress, but it’s her quality of person herself, her soul — it’s her that I think is unique. It shines through in a way that’s very rare.” Designer Zac Posen also remarked that Swinton “has an elegant, alien-like quality” and that “her sensitivity and vibrato really resonates.”
Anna Wintour praised her sensibilities for both film and fashion. “Her range is extraordinary — it’s quite unusual in an actress of her relatively young years to have done so many different things so brilliantly,” she told THR alongside daughter Bee Shaffer. “She is prepared to go out of what might be traditionally thought of as her comfort zone. I think a lot of actresses today, they may be talented, but they tend to accept — or maybe it’s what they’re offered — similar roles. She just always surprises me with her choices. The same goes for her fashion.” The Vogue editor-in-chief cited her looks in Viktor & Rolf, Lanvin and, of course, Chanel as standouts.
After posing for photos in front of a bespoke backdrop of white roses and lush greenery and sipping cocktails beside candlelight, attendees applauded Swinton after watching a reel of her work in MoMA’s Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters, just floors below where she staged her performance-art piece The Maybe earlier this year. Her Snowpiercer director Bong Joon-Ho joked onstage, “Perhaps you’re an alien who landed in Scotland … not just a regular alien, but a guardian angel.” And Fiennes told the audience that Swinton is, “in the words of one dead poet, ‘alas, unparalleled.’ ”
Fiennes also read the remarks of absent event co-chair Wes Anderson, Swinton’s Moonrise Kingdom and Grand Budapest Hotel director. “Sometimes she is elaborate and theatrical, sometimes she is austere and heartbreakingly emotional, sometimes she is asleep in a box. She is her own category, and though she is very fair — almost the color of a cloud — I think we can safely say nearly everything in life pales when viewed alongside her.”
To a standing ovation, Swinton humbly reflected that the reel of her career thus far feels like a fun and random flipbook or family photo album. “What I hope you cannot fail to see is what fun I’ve been having all these years and what companions are my playmates,” she said, thanking her colleagues by name. She humorously concluded, “My last birthday party was when I was 9 and we had a trampoline, but who knew that 53 would top even that!” (She also told reporters of Joon-Ho and Harvey Weinstein‘s reported 20-minute Snowpiercer cut for U.S. release: “They know that America and everywhere in the world deserves that director’s cut.”)
The Chanel-sponsored benefit also brought event co-chairs Karl Lagerfeld and David Bowie, as well as mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (on NYC’s election night), Sofia Coppola, Luca Guadagnino, Isaac Julien, Imogen Poots, Jessica Biel, Lupita Nyong’o, Alexa Chung, Brit Marling, Rachel Roy, Grace Coddington, Stephen Gan, Hamish Bowles, Karlie Kloss, Cory Kennedy, Andre Leon Talley and Lizzie Tisch, among others. Guests then sat down on suede blue sofas for seared tuna salad, grilled lamb chops, baked red snapper and lemon drizzle cake and a live performance by Lorde.
Previous MoMA Film Benefit honorees include Quentin Tarantino, Pedro Almodovar, Kathryn Bigelow, Tim Burton and Baz Luhrmann.