"Harvard Beats Yale 29-29" *** 1/2 (105 minutes)

Sunday January 11, 2009

Back to Cinema Sundays at The Charles and the latest documentary by Kevin Rafferty, whose best known doc was 27 years ago: 1982's critically acclaimed cult classic "The Atomic Cafe" (any one remember "duck and cover" in pre-school?). Cinematographer on Michael Moore's "Roger and Me", Kevin moves from the subject of government nuclear propaganda to the sports arena. However, don't think this is your usual and customary sports documentary.

The date is November 23, 1968 and the event is the final football game of the year between the 2 Ivy League schools named in the title. The significance is that both schools went into the battle undefeated. Oh, and it took place in 1968 when the country was also embattled-both within and outside its boundaries. The analogy between the game and the spirit and climate of the times is constantly referred to throughout-be it the Vietnam War, student protests, or birth control. You have players who have served and returned from Vietnam speaking about how negative the American populace was towards their role in the war. You have one of the Harvard players, who happens to be actor Tommy Lee Jones, talking about his roommate, Al Gore; while another player from Yale talks about his roommate: outgoing Pres George Bush (Harvard grad Rafferty's mom is Barbara Bush's elder sister). At Yale, a young Gary Trudeau was writing a comic strip name "Doonesbury" and included a character named B.D. who looked amazingly like the the school's quarterback, Brian Dowling.

As if these tidbits weren't interesting enough, you then are presented with one of the most amazing collegiate footballs games ever played! Presented sans narration and score (how unusual is that for ANY documentary!), you have talking heads galore-but they are the actual participants in this incredible contest-most of whom are now in their 60's detailing (and some details are more accurate than others) the unbelievable drama as it unfolds on the screen.

The bottom line is that you really don't have to be a football fan to relate to the significance of the game as it related to the time it occurred. However, you do have the added bonus of a game that, although it ended in a tie (and this isn't a spoiler if you read the title), it really was a win for each of the participants.

A fine example of how a sporting event can transcend its mundane meaning and become something much larger and more meaningful in the end.