Halftime: Five Yale Men at Midlife

Year: 1989

Length: 90 minutes

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"A rare and absorbing look at how men feel."
Overview

For many men, midlife transition is a period of emotional turmoil rooted in the disparity between what they have become and what they had dreamed of becoming. Halftime takes a candid look into the lives and emotions of five Yale graduate men at midlife.

The program, profiles five men (seen on the left) from the Yale University class of 1963. The five men--a Hollywood producer, a psychotherapist, a prosecutor, a former executive of a large upstate New York corporation and a Nebraska bank president--struggle against the taboo of males openly discussing their emotions as they confront such turbulent issues as career failure, infidelity, virility and homosexuality.

Halftime emerged from a questionnaire sent to all members of the Yale Class of 1963 in preparation for its 25th reunion. From 800 questionnaires mailed, 500 were returned. Some 200 classmates agreed to be taped for national television, and from those the final five were selected.

David Sutherland says, "The program focuses on what these men are feeling in this current chapter of their lives." Each of the five men was videotaped at home, at work and at play, among family and friends. Each then individually came to New Haven, Connecticut, for in-depth, eight-to-nine-hour interviews by Dr. Daniel J Levinson, whose pioneering study of the male life cycle was reported in his best seller, The Seasons of a Man's Life. All of the interviews were taped. Finally, the five returned to New Haven, met for the first time and spent the weekend talking openly with each other about their emotions.

There, they candidly discussed issues that they never shared with their friends, spouses, and sometimes even themselves.

Broadcast nationally as a PBS special program

Awards & Press

Praise for "Halftime"

"A relentlessly stunning film. With the possible exception of 'The Thin Blue Line,' no documentary in recent memory delivers more psychological insight -- or emotional wallop. The pacing is flawless, the editing superb."

-Joseph Kahn, BOSTON GLOBE

"A remarkably absorbing confessional documentary."

-USA TODAY

"Watching the emotional layers peel away is fascinating."

-NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

"An insightful and continually interesting exploration of five men examining their lives about halfway through the journey."

-KING FEATURES SYNDICATE

"A rare and absorbing look at how men feel."

-PARADE

"These confessionals add up to a dramatic, intimate, slice-of-life revelation, a seldom-seen side of the male psyche."

-HOUSTON CHRONICLE

"The participants' often painful honesty makes it compelling viewing."

-NEW YORK NEWSDAY

"A rare, revealing and unprecedented experience: men actually talking about their feelings."

-Diane Ouding, NEW YORK OBSERVER

"Director David Sutherland has made HALFTIME easy to watch." 

-Don Shirley, LOS ANGELES TIMES

Awards

CINE Golden Eagle, 1988

Silver Award, Houston International Film Festival, 1989

Silver Apple, National Educational Film & Video Festival, 1989

The Chris Plaque Award, Columbus International Film Festival, 1989

Full Length Reviews

HALFTIME: FIVE YALE MEN AT MIDLIFE

"The five Yale grads, class of 1963, who courageously bare their souls in the docu "Halftime" emerge as vividly as any fictional characters in a first-rate feature film. That is a tribute to the iconoclastic intelligence brought to this project by filmmakers David W. Keller and David Sutherland, who explore the male midlife crisis without settling for clichés or easy answers.

The five subjects -- chosen from a questionnaire sent to all grads for their class -- are in some respects a cross-section of American life, but they were wisely chosen more as individuals than as types.

The result, paradoxically, approaches a comprehensive criticism of the unsatisfactory values inculcated by Yale and other American institutions in that period, yet the film avoids mounting the soapbox or over-generalizing.

Members of the last college class to graduate before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy forever removed the luxury of innocence from American life, these men (with one exception) still exhibit signs of the lingering naivete of their generation being unable to comprehend the larger social issues behind their disillusionment.

It's obvious from the interviews conducted by Dr. Daniel J. Levinson that the materialistic, business-oriented ethic with which they have emerged from New Haven has served them badly later in life. They all speak disparagingly of the shallow, wasteful goals they pursued until the process of self-examination really began in mid-life.

Perhaps the most socially aware of the five is, ironically, the most reticent, Nebraska banker Bob Knight, who is reminiscent of James Stewart's George Bailey in "It's A Wonderful Life" in his profound estrangement from his small town existence and his desire to escape from the burden of running the family business.

There's a stunning scene of Knight sitting dejectedly at the dining room table as his wife and mother argue whether his life has any value to his community. "The area is dying," he argues back to his traditionalist mother. "Who's going to be the last one to turn out the lights? Should it be the banker after everyone else has deserted?"

The glitzy lifestyle of Hollywood producer and novelist Steve Sohmer seems equally empty although Sohmer attempts no direct critique of Hollywood beyond recalling "the silliness of the aspiration" he felt in wanting to run a film studio. "My God, it's the worst job in the world," observes the former president of Columbia Pictures.

Beneath his self-described "vulgar and pretentious," façade -- the Rolls, the Rolex, the omnipresent cigar -- Sohmer comes across as a witty and complex man with sharp self-knowledge in the midst of destructive materialism, and a wry contempt for social hypocrisy.

The most turbulent of the five is Mike Redman, a Bronze Star recipient in Vietnam who later became a prosecutor in the state of Washington before quitting when he found himself contemplating the murder of a suspect he couldn't nail through the legal system.

Exploding with rage and pain, Redman gives extraordinarily candid interviews about his chaotic personal life and his disillusion over the Vietnam experience.

His reduction of the Vietnam War to a failure of American will shows a confused emotional perspective that is echoed in his inability to articulate solutions to his personal problems.

But the show makes it clear that even such a state of noisy desperation as his can be the first step toward healing, if a man has Redman's intelligence and resilience to weather the torment. "So much of what I thought of as reality," he admits, "turns out to have been bull----."

The most resolved men on the program are psychotherapist Richard Snodgrass, who speaks of the "exhilarating" result of abandoning his false married existence, and Geoffrey Noyes, the scion of a prominent upstate N.Y. family who chucked it all to play jazz piano.

These men may not have any larger social prescriptions to offer others to ease them through the male midlife crisis, but they share a sense of personal fulfillment brought about through the rejection of traditions they found to be sterile.

The only grating note on the show comes near the end, when Levinson feels he has to drop his admirably self-effacing inquisitive method to engage in some crude confrontational tactics.

They aren't necessary, since the men have been so honest in sharing their feelings with each other and the TV audience.

Sohmer sums up the themes of the show best at the end when he says he has come to feel that his purpose now is "not to understand my life but to take it up in my arms and embrace it."

-DAILY VARIETY

LOST ILLUSIONS AND OTHER TRAVAILS

"The five men made an attractive group. The banker was tall and fair, his face as open as the sky above his small-town Nebraska home. The only one who was bigger than the banker was the fellow from Washington, D.C., whose broad shoulders and well-trimmed moustache made him look more like a professional athlete than the psychotherapist he was. The lobbyist from the Pacific Northwest got on my nerves some, but his overdirect manner was the price one paid for his gasp-evoking candor. The Hollywood producer and the businessman from upstate New York couldn't have been more dissimilar -- the first brimming with a sort of ironic bravado, the other almost apologetic in his manner -- but both seemed good-natured men.

For ninety minutes I listened to them talk about what was on their minds. For instance: Marriage. Divorce. Infidelity. Infertility. Homosexuality. Failure. The lobbyist, who related how he had once found himself plotting to kill someone, cried. The movie producer chewed his cigar into a near pulp as he nervously listened to the therapist talk about leaving his wife for a man. The banker turned icily on his mother as she tried to convince him that his life was worthwhile. The businessman, recalling his dismissal from what had once been the family business, averted his eyes as he talked about being fired.

Welcome to the twenty-fifth reunion, Yale College, Class of 1963.

Notice: the circumstances and opinions of these men are not meant to represent Yale University or the Yale Class of 1963. Words to this effect will be among those you will encounter if you happen to be watching public television this summer and come across a ninety-minute show called HALFTIME, directed by the gifted Boston documentarist David Sutherland. "I wouldn't do anything to hurt Yale," says David Keller, a '63 alumnus who is the film's executive producer. Keller points out that when the eight hundred members of the class of '63 received a questionnaire about their innermost lives two years ago, three hundred didn't even respond.

But of the remaining five hundred, two hundred volunteered to bare their guts on national television. Think of it! Two hundred men in their mid-forties, all well-educated, most of the probably fairly circumspect in public discourse, volunteering to share with each other (and with millions more) the darkened thoughts of their sleepless nights. Keller says he wanted to do something for his twenty-fifth reunion last spring. HALFTIME was the gift he presented to his classmates, products of the last class to graduate before John F. Kennedy's murder.

I didn't write fast enough to get the words precisely correct, but here are some of the things these sons of Yale have to say in HALFTIME.

"My ideal life was always a house in the suburbs with a perfect lawn and a perfect wife and two perfect kids, and coming home at five-fifteen and meeting my wife at the door in her cocktail dress, high heels, and pearls, my drink in her hand … Now I've got the memory of my children (who live with their mother) looking through the venetian blinds as I drive away."

"I was one of the few Jews at Yale, and we were sitting in the dining hall one day, and this guy across the table said to me, 'You're one of those Jews us southerners have always hated.' As I tell that story to others, I say that I punched him in the nose. But I didn't -- I just sat there and endured it."

"My wife said she wanted a divorce because she wanted to have children. Eight years earlier we'd decided I should have a vasectomy -- and now she's forty, and wants kids! ... Well, it turned out that she'd been working a deal with the old boyfriend from twenty years ago ... Then (after she and the old boyfriend broke up) she's coming back to me, telling me what a wonderful thing we had. And I'm saying I'm moving ahead, so get lost, I may be crawling, but I'm moving ahead."

"Someday, I hope, someone will hang a sign around my neck that reads, 'Grown-Up.'"

Henry Higdon, who lives in Greenwich, Connecticut, was chairman of the reunion committee, and he lobbied heavily for the film's inclusion in the program. "The Class Council arranged to preview the film," he told me, "and we reserved the right not to show it at the reunion. This was right after The Wall Street Journal published that article about Yale's being a haven for gays, and some people were concerned that because one of the five men in HALFTIME was gay that this would be bad for Yale. There were also some complaints about the way women are discussed in the film. And some people thought that none of these guys was a normal, conventional graduate, the happily married head of some corporation living in a nice house in the suburbs, because people like that wouldn't volunteer to take part.

"We don't say they are representative of anything," Higdon concluded. "We just wanted people to leave New Haven after the reunion with something to remember and think about."

The confessional impulse in culture isn't so hard to comprehend. The publicity-seekers who salt the diet of "Donahue" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show" with their tales of addiction, victimization, and male pattern baldness are throwbacks, really, circus performers in the electronic sideshow. But the protagonists of HALFTIME are different. Each of them is wounded in some way, and they come to the rest of us looking for bandages. In their honesty though, they end up administering care to the viewers.

The members of the class of '63 who argued that this handful of volunteers contains no "normal" graduates missed the point. Equally rare are the courage that led these men to denude themselves before a nation of strangers is the life that has no shadows in it. Those who didn't volunteer have probably traveled roads no less rocky than those in HALFTIME -- they simply chose (as I would have) to remain silent about it.

But after Keller and Sutherland presented their ninety minutes on reunion weekend, the audience in the Yale Art Gallery stood up and applauded, and applauded, and applauded some more. If HALFTIME isn't representative of the class, then how does one explain that?

-Daniel Okrent, NEW ENGLAND MONTHLY

YALE MENOPAUSE

"In 1963, about six months before the door slammed on Camelot, 1000 white males graduated from Yale University. Twenty-five years later, one of their number decided that, rather than make the knee-jerk alumni contribution, he'd fund a "televised tribute" to the last Yalies to go forth, and presumably prosper, before the national innocence went up in a whiffenpoof of smoke. The result, HALFTIME: FIVE YALE MEN AT MIDLIFE, was shown to an enthusiastic audience of 600 at the 1988 class reunion and will air this week on PBS. However, the documentary will end with a disclaimer by the university, which wished it known that it contributed not one red cent to this pruning of the myth of Ivy League invulnerability. For HALFTIME is less a BIG CHILL than a big thaw.

Of course, when its five middle-aged subjects were growing up, during what filmmaker David Sutherland calls "the Eishenhower/Leave it to Beaver years," guys weren't supposed to have feelings--at least not above the waist. HALFTIME is rooted in the conviction that men have not only emotions but seasons. The show emanated from a questionnaire compiled by Yale psychology professor Dr. Daniel Levinson, whose tome The Seasons of a Man's Life was given the pop treatment in Passages.

The questionnaire -- chock with queries about family and feelings -- was mailed to 800 members of the class of '63, 500 of whom responded, and 200 of whom indicated their willingness to soul-strip on national television. The five eventually selected may be less typical of Yale than of their generation; certainly they personify the theories of Dr. Levinson about what happens to a male between the ages of 40 and 46, when "men must deal with the disparity between what they are and what they have dreamed of becoming." In other words, Yale '63 or not, if you weren't in the throes -- or at least in the wake -- of a midlife crisis, you could forget being in this TV docudrama.

The men who made the team -- excuse me if I get carried away by the sports metaphor of the title, which is further fueled by the football fight song under the credits -- include a Hollywood producer, a lobbyist, a psychotherapist, a banker, and the owner of a computer company, virtually all of whom have weathered career cataclysm, most of whom have weathered a divorce, and one of whom has weathered a sexual sea change. Not that the documentary's executive producer and director were to be outdone in the midstream-horse-changing department. David Keller, the fellow who contributed HALFTIME to his class's 25th reunion, had been an investment banker, Lehman Brother, and 'round-the-world sailor before becoming a cable-television producer. And the Newton-based Sutherland, best knows for his documentaries on the artists Paul Cadmus and Jack Levine, was in the family tire business until lightning fried it, thus conveniently precipitating his move to full-time filmmaking.

Sutherland has done his Loud-family best to make what could have been a talking-head set visually interesting, following the subjects into their real lives with his camera. But HALFTIME remains most fascinating from a sociological standpoint. Its perpetrators make no claim to have produced the "median" early-'60s Yalie, as if from a computer print-out. Rather, the participants were chosen on the basis of candor, followed by life experience and geographical diversity.

As Sutherland himself drolly points out, you know candor's the trump since it's mentioned three times in the introductory remarks by one Mike Redman, the least refined and most obviously seething of the now balding and paunching Yalies on which we're to focus. His breath coming in cold blasts, his ruddy features scrunched, his brows like Michael Keatonesque exclamation points, Redman faces the camera before a Gothic Yale facade and explains how, at age 44, with his defunct marriage a still smoking minefield, he received this questionnaire and decided to give it a go. "No guts, no glory -- and maybe no answers," he opines.

The combative Redman is HALFTIME's only Vietnam vet -- which isn't surprising, since in the early '60s, scions of Yale went only if they wanted to. In one scene, he stands in front of a memorial to that conflict and sobs about how we "pissed it away." And he tends to regard life, particularly his failed second marriage, in wartime terms. Currently a "gunslinger" for the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys of Washington State, he was himself a prosecutor -- until, as he wryly tells us, he found himself contemplating murder.

Well, it's never too late, and Redman, a self-described "wild man," at first seems the likeliest HALFTIME candidate for the hatchet killer of the future (the ex-wife who talked him into a vasectomy, then divorced him because she wanted to have kids, would be particularly well advised to invest in a sharp-blade-prof vest). But what grips you, as you watch these five articulate remnants of the best and the brightest air their psychic laundry, is how close to the edge even the calmest of them are.

Maybe not all of them. If Hollywood's Steve Sohmer, himself an axed Columbia Pictures president (as well as the author of the novel Favorite Son, which was made into a mini-series), is teetering on the brink, at least it's the brink of the top -- and the void between is lined with ermine. Clearly, and quite rightly, he likes being able to thumb his nose at the WASP whelps who called him "Jew boy" at Yale -- an insult he admits, an uncharacteristic tightness coming to his laid-back countenance, he "endured" at the time. And lawyer-turned-psychotherapist Richard Snodgrass is triumphant about breaking free of what he came to see an upper-middle-class heterosexual trap. Now living in a gay marriage, he may be the most settled of the crew (though his estrangement from his two sons is glossed over in the effort to present him a self-satisfied escapee).

Geoffrey Noyes was recently fired from the family firm -- the not immodest Oneida Lts. (proving that even indigo blood can be let when a company goes public). He worries about the cash flow of his start-up computer business, about what his three small children will think of him, and about breaking the familial chain of success: "It's the old father-son thing." And he takes comfort in his talent as a blues and bluegrass musician.

But perhaps the documentary's most poignant figure is its most seemingly solid and middle-American. Sad-eyed, baby-faced Bob Knight, who left the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City to run the family one in Alliance, Nebraska, has a deep religious faith, a longtime wife, an interfering and platitudinous mom, a low sperm count, and a lowdown job foreclosing on farmers. When it comes to crack-up potential, he gets my vote as Most Likely To Succumb.

Goodness knows, these guys have been through sturm und drang at the office, what with two out of five being all but pushed from the company plane by major corporations. But what they most likely talk about in HALFTIME is their personal lives. And one of the things that's most striking about this quintet of 47-year-olds is their attitude toward women -- one that, blatant or implicit, might be considered Cro-Magnon by men even 10 years their juniors.

The gay Snodgrass, who was married for 13 years, lays out at least twice his fantasy of the wife as a thing in pearls, bearing a martini. Redman's bitterness toward women (though he's now involved with one) seems accumulative and irreparable: responding to Snodgrass's account of his deceit-free current relationship, he actually snorts, "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" And the Rolex bedecked, Rolls-cruising Sohmer, God bless him, should be in a Hollywood mogul museum -- with a babe on each arm, the erect and ubiquitous cigar crooked between two fingers (a woman is only a woman, etc.).

"I like women," he tells the fuming Redman at the Levinson-led group therapy session that is HALFTIME's culmination (and which Sutherland wisely illumines by shooting the reactors rather than the speakers). "I like to touch them, and watch them walk around, and buy them clothes." Indeed, he bought a diamond -- and sapphire "cocktail ring" for Wife Number Two the very night she surprised him with the shaft. And, admitting a predilection for glitz, he's been through a few beautiful blondes since then -- one of whom we see him courting over a dinner at home, behind a candelabra so elaborate you think the house is on fire.

Of course, the relationship of the sexes is just one of the things that have changed since these guys were read the rules at Yale. Says Redman, "So much of what I thought was reality turned out to be bullshit." And as Sutherland sees it, HALFTIME's subjects may have been more profoundly affected by what's happened to America, indeed the world, than those of us born into the age of disillusion, because they were not led to expect upheaval. They were led to expect "insulation" -- by means of wealth, intelligence, birthright. (Sohmer was "determined to be president of something," as, perhaps, was fellow Yalie George Bush.) Thus their midlife crises may have been compounded by national ones. In any event, the reverberations are both entertaining and ominous. The only gaffe is that they're being aired on PBS -- when clearly HALFTIME should come to us courtesy of the Old Boy Network."

-Carolyn Clay, BOSTON PHOENIX