Documenting another era in time

I just watched Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, a documentary about the 1968 football Game between Harvard and Yale. The game is one of the more infamous comeback stories from college football, with Harvard tying the score in the final seconds. Yale was heavily favored to win, and led for most of the game but then everything fell apart. “It was as if some spirit came into the stadium and turned everything around,” says one of the players interviewed in the film.

I enjoyed the film, which is very nicely done, but watching it felt very strange, as though a moment in time had been captured in celluloid amber. I think most of this feeling is due to the brilliance of the director who only uses interview footage, a kinescope of the game, and a few still photographs for the entire visual experience of the film. It creates an insulated feel to the whole experience, just these old men talking about a time in their lives when they were part of sporting history. Some of them talk about their brushes with celebrity, such as dating Meryl Streep or George W. Bush being arrested for tearing down the goalposts after the Princeton game. Tommie Lee Jones is a film celebrity today and he roomed with Al Gore during his years at Harvard. But none of the men talk about themselves, or about the later events of their lives. The material is focused completely on the game. Side comments come out through the course of the film about the changes happening during the 1960s: birth control, the Vietnam war, the riots in Chicago, riots on campuses, and more. Another filmmaker might have chosen to illustrate these moments with archival footage or even still photographs, but Kevin Rafferty just lasers in on the game footage and the men remembering that time in their lives. It is really well done.

I sometimes wished for a larger focus but in the end I think I understand why Rafferty chose to tell his story with such focus on the Game. He wanted to show how memory makes some events significant to our own consciousnesses and other events sort of fade into the background. Significance is not always under our control.