There's an arc for those in public life, created mostly by the media: An artist (or athlete or politician) is heaped with praise as they ascend, become subject to nit-picking criticism as they work at the height of their powers, praised again if they make a comeback, and then--if they have been around long enough and been successful enough--deified as a "living legend" or a "national treasure."
The root of this phenomenon is in the ego of reporters and reviewers. They want to be seen as discerning and hip enough to discover a great new talent. Then they want to be seen as discerning and hip enough to criticize the same performer if he or she doesn't live up to the writer's exalted expectations in every way and at all times. And finally the performer, by sheer dint of staying power, wins over (most) critics, who come to realize that they are in fact among the greats of all time.
No one of her generation illustrates this phenomenon better than Barbra Streisand. Has anyone ever been praised by the press so highly early in her career or criticized so viciously by many of the same men and women later on? It's hard to think of one. Barbra got through all the harping, all the sexist Oscar snubs, and continued to work at an almost preternatural level of excellence.
And now she is at the National Treasure stage. Never was this more apparent than during her appearance at the Academy Awards last night. No introduction was necessary. She walked out in shadow humming the opening bars of "The Way We Were," the audience clapping and abuzz because they all knew exactly who it was. Looking lovely for any age, she gave unquestionably the most emotional rendition of the title song from one of her most popular movies. For the first time ever, after the lyrics, "If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me would we?," Barbra interjected "of course we would," a poignant sentiment anyone over fifty could understand.
The appearance was a highlight of an uneven Oscar show. But then, all of Barbra's public appearances have been highlights, have they not?