Barbra Streisand with President Bill Clinton on Monday night at Lincoln Center. Photo: © Walter McBride

“Movies are very relevant at this time,” Barbra Streisand proclaimed on Monday night as she stood on the Avery Fisher Hall stage at Film Society's 40th Anniversary Chaplin Award Gala. The event was held just a week after a tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon that was clearly on Streisand mind as spoke to a hall packed with 2,700 people.

“(Movies) allow us to escape our reality for awhile by taking us outside of ourselves,” Streisand elaborated. “They enable us to access our deepest emotions of elation and sorrow and give us the ability to connect with each other through a common medium.”

Streisand—one of Hollywood's great multi-hyphenates—praised the award's namesake Charlie Chaplin, a man who also wore many hats. She noted that, during a down moment in history, he made the world laugh. “He lifted the spirits of people living through the Great Depression and so I'm very honored to be given an award bearing his name,” Streisand said. “He was a trailblazer who exemplified the idea that true creativity has no limits.”

Click here to read Streisand's full speech.

Living legends abounded on Monday night at Lincoln Center. The program featured a mix of speeches, film clips and music. Fellow EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner Liza Minnelli ushered in the night's performances, singing a rendition of Streisand tune “What Did I Have That I Don't Have Now” from the film On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, directed by her father Vicente Minnelli. Not surprisingly, it brought down the house. Tributes followed with a taped message from Omar Sharif and a joint stage appearance by 2010 and 2012 Chaplin Award recipients Michael Douglas and Catherine Deneuve.

Liza Minnelli singing at the 40th Chaplin Award Gala. Photo: Jamie McCarthy/WireImage

Douglas, who will star as Liberace in Steven Soderbergh's upcoming Cannes premiere Behind the Candelabra, noted, “It’s been my joy over the years to watch you as an artist on stage and screen. It has been equally as meaningful to have you as my friend.”

Wynton Marsalis performed “Hello Dolly,” while more tributes followed from George Segal (her co-star in The Owl and the Pussycat) and Kris Kristofferson. Kristofferson shared anecdotes about his resistance to sing in Streisand's A Star is Born, which ruffled some feathers at the time. He added that, once production on the 1976 feature began, the dust had settled.

“Once the filming started, something magical happened. It was beautiful,” said Kristofferson. “We had so much fun in the scene in the bathtub together that it still puts a smile on my face. She's got the voice of an angel and the soul of an artist and we've been true friends ever since.”

Actress Amy Irving had some of the biggest laughs of the evening. She played the innocent Hadass in Streisand's Yentl, playing the wife of the title character. “In 1983, I married Barbra Streisand in her adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer's Yentl,” she said to laughs. Irving closed her tribute with a zinger that was one of the night's biggest laughs: “Over the years, since the release of Yentl, one of the questions I have been continuously asked is, 'What's she like, as a person, as a woman, as a kisser?' Well, all I can say is, she is without a doubt—in my albeit limited experience—the best girl on girl action one could hope for.”

Past Chaplin Award recipients Michael Douglas and Catherine Deneuve. Photo: Jamie McCarthy/WireImage

Ben Stiller recalled the time he tried to convince Streisand to appear in Meet The Fockers, sharing that he cold-called her and tried to charm his way into her good graces. “I finally resorted to bending the truth a bit and telling her I was the world’s biggest fan of Funny Girl,” Stiller explained. “I said I knew every song, had the posters on my wall as a kid, I even played Nate Arnstein in my high school play. She told me it was Nick…”

Stiller introduced former President Bill Clinton, who noted straightaway he was the evening's departure from a steady parade of actors, singers, directors and artists.

“What am I doing here?” Clinton wondered aloud, his wife Hillary Clinton in the audience laughing along with the adoring crowd. “I'm not a director or actor in a movie,” he quipped. “I am grateful to the Film Society of Lincoln Center for allowing me to give the Chaplin Award to my friend. She is not only one of the most gifted, but also one of the biggest-hearted people I know.”

President Clinton noted the many awards and honors that preceded Monday night's Chaplin, including her two Oscars and multiple nominations, Golden Globes, Emmys, and more. He reflected on Streisand's drive and thanked her for being instrumental in his own successful political career.

Jeremy Irons and FSLC Executive Director Rose Kuo hold a placecard for “Eric Clapton.” Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

“She got there not just because she's brilliant and talented but because she pushed herself,” Clinton said. “I am grateful she made the movies she produced, directed and starred in and I also thank her for every time she sang 'Evergreen' at my political rallies.”

Backstage after the program, which concluded with Tony Bennett serenading Barbra Streisand with a rending of Charlie Chaplin's song, “Smile,” Streisand, the Clintons and other guests gathered for a photo op and to sign a pair of commemorative posters that had been created for the evening. Celebrity guests who attended the evening and joined Streisand, her husband James Brolin and the Clintons, also included Katie Couric, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, director Paul Haggis, actor Jeremy Irons, actress Catherine Zeta Jones and designer Donna Karan.

Standing alongside former Secretary of State and U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton backstage during the photo session, Streisand inspired a round of applause from the A-list crowd by pointing to Ms. Clinton and exclaiming: “The next President of the United States!”

Barbra Streisand backstage with the Clintons after the program. Photo: Eugene Hernandez/Film Society of Lincoln Center