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Once Batman and now Birdman, Michael Keaton flew into the Arlington Theatre on Saturday night to receive the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Modern Master Award — the highest honor presented by the organization.

The 63-year-old Keaton, who grew up in Pittsburgh and now has a home in Montecito, was bestowed the honor based on his body of work and in recognition of his latest role in Birdman that has earned him an Oscar nomination for Actor in a Leading Role.

Birdman producer John Lesher and actress Andie McDowell, who starred with Keaton in Multiplicity, were also on hand for the tribute that was moderated by film critic and author Leonard Maltin.


“There is no actor more befitting of the Modern Master Award than the legendary Michael Keaton,” SBIFF executive director Roger Durling said.

“His performance in Birdman is tremendous, showing the range of decade’s long experience.”

Durling also proclaimed that from this evening forward that the Modern Master Award would be now be known as the  Maltin Modern Master Award.

A video montage of Keaton’s work included taped congratulatory messages from co-stars and friends, including Robert Duvall, Winona Ryder and Jeff Bridges.

Keaton began his career in television, on shows such as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Working Stiffs, with his film break coming in the 1982 Ron Howard comedy, Night Shift, playing the character Bill Blazejowski.

Other roles for Keaton have included Mr. Mom and Jackie Brown, and a stint with director Tim Burton in Beetlejuice before he played the caped crusader in Burton’s vision of Batman, with Jack Nicholson as the Joker, and Batman Returns.

In recent years Keaton has returned to television with the HBO series Live From Baghdad, and the TNT miniseries The Company.

But it’s the rave reviews for his portrayal of a fading Hollywood star, famous for his work as comic book superhero called Birdman, who is trying to resurrect his career with a Broadway play that has put Keaton back into the spotlight.

The role closely mirrors Keaton’s real-life trials in film, and on the red carpet he shared his feelings on the subject.

“I’m an actor and I’ve been through ups-and-downs like everybody you know,” Keaton said. “I’ve played Batman and he plays Birdman so there is a semblance of authenticity there.”

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s film, also known by the title The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, opened the Venice Film Festival and is also nominated by the Oscar Academy Awards for Best Picture, Directing, Cinematography, Actor in a Supporting Role, Edward Norton, and Actress in a Supporting Role, Emma Stone.

Inarritu’s film has been critically and commercially received and is lauded for that appears to be one continuous shot for a two-hour film shot primarily in and around Broadway’s St. James Theatre. Careful piecing together of long takes and limited cuts was carefully planned out in advance to provide a feeling of live theater and an experience from the perspective of Keaton’s character, Riggan.

Keaton shared with Noozhawk on the red carpet that the role of Riggan in Birdman was both challenging and emotionally draining at times.

“Every day you had to be prepared, every second of the day, and be willing to expose yourself and be naked emotionally all day long,” he said. “It’s kind of exhausting but kinda fun.”

Keaton has already won the Golden Globe for best actor in a musical or comedy for his performance in Birdman, joining a career of honors with 35 wins and 20 nominations from an international list.

Batman Returns co-star and surprise guest, Danny Devito, presented the newly named Maltin Modern Master Award to Keaton and remarked about the process of getting into character for the film.

“The two of us, me in pounds and pounds of makeup, drooling, and this guy in a rubber suit, barely breathing,” Devito said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Devito also elaborated on Keaton’s eclectic career before handing him the award.

“You’ve done everything, you’ve played a madman, you play a psychopath, you play a lover, you play a comic, you were on TV – that’s just amazing,” Devito exclaimed. “And, in Birdman that was a knockout performance, Michael plays one of the most difficult roles for an actor to play, an actor.”

Established in 1995, previous recipients of the Modern Master Award include Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Will Smith, James Cameron and Bruce Dern, who accepted the honor last year.

Also walking the red carpet on Saturday night were director Matthew Leutwyler and actors Mark Webber, Lucy Griffiths and David Clayton Rogers for Uncanny, and director Andrea Meller, with actors Marcela Bordes, Ivette Gonzalez, Marabina Jaimes and Natasha Perez.

The Tribute Awards continue Sunday night with the Virtuosos Award, Wednesday with the Outstanding Directors of the Year Tribute, Thursday with the American Riviera Award recognizing Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, and Friday with the Outstanding Performer of the Year Award honoring Steve Carell.

Click here for more information about the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at mwalker@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at mwalker@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.