Late last week, I was invited by a local fraternal organization to speak at their monthly lunch meeting. Such invitations come my way quite often, actually, because, as you have probably guessed, I am an exciting and dynamic speaker with a broad range of knowledge, including such subjects as awesome mac and cheese recipes, German Batman translations, the complete works of Duran Duran, dinosaurs, the relative merits of monkeys and robots, and movies where cars jump onto barges (apparently a favorite subject among Google users).
On Thursday, a message appeared in my office voicemail that went something like, "Dr. K, this is so-and-so, and I hear from our mutual friend, Bob Loblaw, that you are an excellent speaker on the subject of movies, and we'd like to invite you to come speak at our organization's monthly lunch meeting." ("Bob Loblaw" is a close approximation of what I heard in the message--I couldn't identify the name of our mutual friend at all. I actually do not know anyone with the same name as Scott Baio's character on Arrested Development.)
I then called the gentleman back and told him that I would be glad to speak at their meeting. "But 'movies' is a pretty broad topic," I added. "Is there anything in particular that your group would want to hear about?"
"No," he responded, "nothing in particular. But most of the members of our organization are 'senior,' if you know what I mean. Our speakers usually speak for about 20 minutes, so try to do something you can cover in that time."
So, I began to brainstorm possible topics for which I could put together a presentation on short notice. I considered drawing together some of the stuff on the blog--perhaps a presentation on the complete works of Burt Reynolds? The genius of William Shatner? I even sought the advice of fellow bloggers Kevin Church and Chris Sims. However, their suggestions, on either a Takashi Miike or Sonny Chiba retrospective--respectively-- were unfortunately not very helpful.
I decided, instead, on a two-part plan: I would start out by asking questions of the group to see what movies, actors, and actresses they liked, and so on, with the possibility of running with that for a while; but if the questioning didn't generate anything to go on, I would prepare an outline for a presentation on Alfred Hitchcock, which should be pretty easy to segue into.
At the meeting, the organization had to go through it's normal agenda before getting to the guest speaker. At one point, an elderly gentleman, who I later found out was 90 years old, got up and told a joke. I'll summarize the joke for you here, but it's safe to say that the telling of it took about 20 minutes:
"A priest, who is dying in a hospital, asks the nurse to summon Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton to his bedside. They both arrive, and ask the priest why he has afforded them this great honor. The priest calls them each to either side of the bed and responds, 'I have always tried to pattern my life after Jesus Christ. And since Jesus died between two lying thieves, I wanted to make sure that I died the same way.'"
The audience cheered uproariously.
That was, essentially, my opening act. So, after being introduced, I got up and said, "You know, I've heard that joke before. But instead of a priest, it was an American soldier in Iraq with half his skull missing because his vehicle didn't have the proper armor when it got hit by an IED, and instead of Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton, it was Dick Cheney and George Bush. But the punchline is exactly the same, and it's just as funny."
Actually, I said that with my inside voice. My outside voice said, "Thank you for inviting me here to speak with you--it is a great honor. I'm sorry to say that my presentation will not have any jokes that are quite as funny as the one we just heard."
I then began with some background on how I got into teaching film, and then moved to my questions for the audience. The questions didn't really go anywhere, though I did get enough responses to provide a nice segue into the discussion of Hitchcock that I had prepared. I handed out a list of Hitchcock's films, telling little personal anecdotes about a few of them, like the story of how I got to see a rare screening of his first film, The Pleasure Garden. I then talked about Hitchcock's theory of suspense vs. shock, the concept of the "macguffin" (even telling the joke from which the term derives, though it was met with blank stares, obviously because it did not feature the necessary political bias), the use of national landmarks as sites of danger, the "innocent man" plot, and so on. After a little over 20 minutes, I stopped and opened the floor to questions.
From the back of the room, I heard something that sounded like, "What about token?" I wasn't quite sure what was being asked--was this some part of the organization's lingo that I didn't understand?
I paused for a second and then asked, "Are you talking about The Lord of the Rings movies?"
I wondered, at that moment, what in my presentation had led to this question, but I came up with nothing. I suspected that this was some kind of delayed reaction--the questioner had taken twenty minutes to respond to my initial question. Whatever the case, it was a bizarre nonsequitor, and I quickly answered that I thought the movies were great, and that they used special effects well in service of the story.
And then I thanked everyone again for inviting me and took my seat. I did receive several compliments following the meeting, along with an invitation to return.
In a recent news story on Alan Greenspan, it was reported that the former Fed chair receives a speaking fee of $100,000 per engagement. At the time, I thought that sum excessive, but I don't think that way anymore. I think that Greenspan got a few too many "What about token?" questions and decided that he wasn't going to deal with that crap unless he was going to get PAID. So, the next time an invitation like this comes my way, I'll have to tell them that I won't be doing it for less than Greenspan bucks.