You're supposed to analyze the assignment after you get there, not before.
But this was really too much: the Harvard Club of D.C. putting on a film called "John Harvard: Movie Star." It was to be a compilation of all the films that ever showed Harvard University, from an old Valentino silent to Bob Hope in "Son of Paleface" to "Love Story" and "The Paper Chase."
And a reception after. Well, one knew what that was going to be, a roomful of Brahmins standing around with the small smile of the Power Elite flickering on their neat-featured Anglo-Saxon faces.
Listen to this guy. Hey mister, you're a Harvard yourself. Deerfield, Hasty Pudding, the whole operetta.
Nonsense, that was 32 years ago. Besides, one only went into the Pudding three or four times. One couldn't stand the place. If you must know, one would have been put up for a final club (that is, the last word in clubs) if they hadn't been shut down by the war. One had all those football-hero uncles.
I knew it. Inside every liberal is a Louis XIV screaming to get out.
Anyway, the film was put together by Paul Killiam, '37, who spent five years digging out Harvard scenes from the strangest places. One had forgotten that William Powell, the derelict-turned-butler in "My Man Godfrey," was a Harvard club man. And that Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom once appeared in a comedy about the anthropology department of Harvard (he wasn't a student; they were studying him).
Killiam drew at least 900 Harvards and their consorts Friday night at Lisner Auditorium in a scholarship fund benefit. With Robert A. Humphreville, '80, at the piano, he gave them their money's worth: delightfully ironic running commentary salted with arcane facts about the scenes we were watching.
Some priceless shots of the '03 Penn game, first seen as a newsreel, kept turning up in other films, disguised as other games, other years. Scullers on the Charles River would glance to shore -- there to see a studio vista of weeping willows. Even "Love Story," for all its authentic settings, occasionally slipped away to Hanover, N.H., for the odd winter shot.
The biggest laughs, of course, were reserved for any mention of Yale. When the Elis filled the stadium in some early epic with their "Breck-kek-kek-kek" cheer, Killiam gave it a two-second pause, then muttered dryly, "Yale was going through an intellectual phase at the time." He brought down the house.
Well, it was taken from Aristophanes, you know.
Yes, yes. In any case, even the loftiest of old grads seemed to be enjoying these glances at the past (a flash of Theodore Roosevelt at a commencement; Memorial Hall in its prime; dear old Harvard Square Back When) though much of the color stock had faded sadly.
Killiam said he would have loved to climax the show with the opening scenes of the original version of Michael Cimino's derided "Heaven's Gate," seen only by a handful of lucky or alert filmgoers, but he couldn't get the rights.
Lucky or alert, huh. Here it comes. He works this into every film piece he writes.
Do shut up. The first sequence is supposed to be Harvard Yard, but it looks more like Oxford. You'd think they could have shot it on location, since they could surely assume that it would be seen by thousands of alumni all over the world.
The sun never sets. Yeah, I know.
Now, as for the reception, one was hardly looking forward to a cafeteria politely crowded with those classic, unlined, protected New England faces and the coolly patronizing stares that went with them. Yet one wondered, down deep: Would one come around? Would the past catch up? Would one find an old pal from '49 and . . . revert?
Revert. Someone help us.
Reader, it was not that way at all. Combing the crowd with plastic wineglass and cheese cube, one found maybe three Brahmins for sure and two possibles. A lot of lawyers, too. But that's Washington, isn't it? You can't blame lawyers on Harvard, for goodness' sake. You know, it's an amazing thing. One has made a major discovery. Harvard alumni look just like everybody else.