First impressions: 18 thoughts and questions I had about Wong while watching ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ (2022)

It’s the WongVerse, and we’re just living in it.

This is another post in my “first impressions” series of posts, which focus on current films that include reel librarians and/or library or archives scenes that I have watched in theaters. The resulting “first impressions” posts are necessarily less detailed, as I don’t have the luxury of rewatching scenes and taking notes in the movie theater, but I do take notes as soon as I can after watching the film.

This spring, I was able to watch Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness at our nearby drive-in theater, Rodeo Drive-In. Sorry it has taken me so long to get this post together; real-life complications got in the way, y’all, and as my husband advised, “Multiverse of mind, embrace the chaos.” 😉 And it is interesting to note that it is actually good timing this “first impressions” post got delayed because this movie will soon be available for streaming via Disney+, on June 22, so you can watch (or re-watch) the movie very soon!

Below again is the trailer for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, to set the stage for the film’s plot and main characters of Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Wong (Benedict Wong), Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), and Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor).

Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness | Official Trailer” video uploaded by Marvel Entertainment, Standard YouTube License

***SPOILER ALERTS BELOW***

1. Did Wong ever get invited to Tony Stark’s wedding?

Hear me out, I swear this random question will make soon make sense. Near the beginning of the movie, Strange attends Christine’s wedding, without Wong by his side. That made me wonder if Wong ever got invited to Tony Stark’s wedding? This connects back to a scene in Avengers: Infinity War (2018):

Wong then ultimately defeats Cull Obsidian by transporting him to a snowy region/planet and then severs off the villain’s arm when closing the portal. It’s nice to see Wong victorious in battle in this movie, especially considering his previous battle at the end of Doctor Strangewhich I went into detail in last week’s post. Stark is so impressed with Wong’s quick thinking and magical skillz that he shouts, “Wong, you’re invited to the wedding!” (We had learned earlier that Tony and Pepper are recently engaged.)

Jennifer Snoek-Brown, “First impressions: ‘Avengers: Infinity War’,” Reel Librarians, 2 May 2018

We never did learn that cliffhanger question in that movie, if Wong ever got to go to Tony and Pepper’s wedding. And why wasn’t Wong invited to this wedding? Obviously, as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) showed, Wong would make an excellent guest. 😉

2. Wong looks bad-ass wielding a sword.

Wong is ALWAYS a bad-ass, of course, but it was cool to get to see him literally in action. In the initial fight scene with Wong, Strange, and America Chavez battling Gargantos (a big eyeball, squid-like monster variant of Shuma-Gorath), Wong wields a lasso and a sword. Plus, we get a closeup view of Wong’s costume, which we had gotten a sneak peek of when his action figure came out earlier this year:

Left: Screenshot of Wong fighting Gargantos in Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness (2022) ; Right: Photo of the Wong action figure I purchased this spring, which shows the costume and sword that Wong has in the movie.

3. There are books kept secret from the Kamar-Taj librarian?!

When Wong and Strange debrief with Chavez after they dispatch Gargantos, they start talking about the Book of Vishanti. Wong explains how he found out about this book:

You find out there’s a secret book you get when you become Sorcerer Supreme.

So that means that when Wong was the Kamar-Taj librarian, back in 2016’s Doctor Strange, he DID NOT yet know about all the books in that library’s collection!

4. How many languages can Wong speak?

There was also a brief bit in this scene with Chavez where she and Wong start speaking Spanish to each other, much to the annoyance of Strange. (But everything seems to annoy Strange, doesn’t it?) It just makes me wonder how many languages Wong speaks… and how good he is at everything he does! #TeamWong #WongVerse

You can see the clip of their Spanish conversation here.

5. Once again, Wong is the Supreme Researcher.

Wong invites Chavez to Kamar-Taj to help keep her safe from Wanda, the Scarlet Witch. And once again, Wong proves how he is the Supreme Researcher, as he then provides the exposition about the Scarlet Witch and the prophecy:

The Scarlet Witch is a being of unfathomable magic. She can re-write Reality as she chooses, and is prophesied to either rule or annihilate the cosmos.

Wong also explains about the Darkhold vs. the Book of Vishanti. Essentially, it’s the story of good vs. evil, embodied within books. Darkhold contains spells of black magic and represents the evil, whereas the Book of Vishanti contains spells of white magic and represents the good.

And who better than to explain about books than Wong, the Sorcerer Supreme and (former? current?) Kamar-Taj librarian?! He also was on exposition duty in previous Marvel movies, including Doctor Strange (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Shang-Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings (2021).

Wong primarily serves the role of an Information Provider, but at this point you could argue he’s grown into an Atypical character, which are reel librarian “portrayals [that] go beyond stereotypical constraints.”

6. Are we seeing the missing book from the Kamar-Taj library in this movie?

Could either the Book of Vishanti or the Darkhold be the missing library book from the Kamar-Taj library’s “forbidden section,” as glimpsed in Doctor Strange (2016)? I would suspect it is likely the Darkhold, rather than the Book of Vishanti, because Wong only found out about the latter when he became Sorcerer Supreme (see #3 above).

Ryan Arey from ScreenCrush also theorizes it’s the Darkhold that went missing from the Kamar-Taj library:

DOCTOR STRANGE in the Multiverse of Madness: EASTER EGGS and Breakdown: Every Marvel Cameo” video uploaded by ScreenCrush, Standard YouTube License.

7. Wong is also a man of action.

When Wanda the Scarlet Witch attacks Kamar-Taj, Wong wastes no time in snapping into commander-in-chief mode — he IS the Sorcerer Supreme, after all! — and shouting orders to the students:

Kamar-Taj must now become a fortress. Stop the teaching, arm the students.

[…]

Defensive positions, now!

[…]

Fortify your minds!

8. Reel librarian Wong helps destroy a book!

Yep, (former?) reel librarian Wong helps destroy a book. But not just any book. The Darkhold, the book of dark magic, the book of evil. Do the ends justify the means?

Wong tries to save Chavez from the Scarlet Witch, but he ends up getting blasted by Wanda and banging his head and passing out. When he wakes to finds himself tied up, he spies one of the students, Sara (Sheila Atim), sneaking her way into the room. He tries to stop Sara.

Sara: I need to destroy the book.

Wong: No, it cannot be you!

The Darkhold does gets destroyed in this scene. I know that the Darkhold and the Book of Vishanti serve as this movie’s MacGuffins, but if we’re not going to get to see the Kamar-Taj library again, then at least we’re getting a Wong story focused around books!

9. Did the Kamar-Taj library get destroyed?

We see Kamar-Taj in rubble after the Scarlet Witch blasts it to pieces. Did the Kamar-Taj library get destroyed, or is it still intact? Is there a new librarian? Where is the library located within the monastery? Inquiring minds want to know!

Here’s a quick look behind-the-scenes of destroying Kamar-Taj:

Doctor Strange multiverse of madness || Behind the scene of destroying Kamar-Taj” video uploaded by SilverLake Entertainment, Standard YouTube License

10. One of Wong’s superpowers is his humanity.

One of Wong’s greatest strengths, or superpowers — and a big reason why I think he’s become a fan favorite — is his humanity and belief in people. But this superpower can also be manipulated.

Although the Darkhold gets destroyed, Wanda figures out that Wong must know about more the Darkhold. (Because he’s the librarian and knows everything, right? Kinda slow there, eh, Wanda?!) Wong says that she will have to kill him to get that knowledge. But Wanda has also already figured out about Wong’s humanity — and that his humanity can be manipulated — so she threatens to kill the other students, including the Rintrah (a green-skinned minotaur that was part of Marvel’s Build-A-Figure marketing ploy with Wong’s action figure).

Of course, Wanda’s evil ploy works, and Wong confesses that the Darkhold that got destroyed was a copy, and the original is at Wundagore Mountain. (Did anyone else hear this first as Wandacore? Sorry, I don’t read the comics, so I was unfamiliar with it.)

Here’s a quick video that explains the significance of Wundagore Mountain:

Wundagore Mountain Is Pretty Significant | Doctor Strange 2” video uploaded by Geek Culture Clips, Standard YouTube License

11. A library of one?

So although we don’t get to see the Kamar-Taj library again — no, I’m NOT letting that go, such a wasted opportunity in a storyline about forbidden books! — we do get a scene of the Gap Junction, “a plane between universes” where Strange hid the Book of Vishanti.

Screenshot of the Book of Vishanti from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Screenshot of the Book of Vishanti from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, taken from this YouTube video

Essentially, this serves as a library of one, right? Riiiiiiiiiight. 😉

12. Wong still has his sense of humor.

After Wanda throws Wong off a cliff on Wundagore (RUDE!), he uses his lasso to climb back up. He also picks off one of the guard monsters to help distract them for Zombie Strange.

When Zombie Strange shows up, Wong quips:

I don’t even want to know.

Never change, Wong. Never change. 😀

13. Wong is wrong!

Wong is… wrong?! I know. I was shocked, too.

When Zombie Strange is trying to rescue America Chavez while simultaneously battling Wanda, Wong conjures up a cage to contain Wanda (ever helpful, our Wong). Zombie Strange hesitates between untying Chavez or usurping her magical powers (and therefore killing her) in order to beat Wanda once and for all.

Wong urges him to do the latter:

It’s the only way!

But Wong is wrong.

The only way forward is for Strange to save Chavez, so she can finally believe in her true power and and wield it to save herself.

Honestly, I thought this was a pretty cheap and manipulative use of Wong in this movie. (And don’t get me started with the cheap and manipulative use of Wanda and her motivations and lack of agency in this movie!) They showed Wong’s humanity when he gave up the secret of the Darkhold to help save the Kamar-Taj students, but then they flipped the script — and Wong’s personality — at the end in order to make room for Zombie Strange to show his ultimate humanity and character growth. (That was an odd sentence to write. It’s a weird storyline with lots of characters, y’all!) It didn’t have to be either/or; both Wong and Zombie Strange could have had cinematic space to show their humanity.

14. Strange is finally Wong’s right-hand man.

There’s a running gag throughout the movie that Strange can’t be bothered to bow to Wong, even though Wong is the Sorcerer Supreme. (Shades of White supremacy, anyone?) But at the end, Strange finally does bow to Wong, showing his respect. About time!

Throughout my analysis post of Doctor Strange (2016), I kept pointing out how many times Wong is visually shown to be Strange’s right-hand man (note: he stands on Strange’s right side, which reflects opposite onscreen), which fits his role in that movie as a supporting player. But Wong has grown as a character — and as a fan favorite! — and is now the Sorcerer Supreme, at least in this universe. Therefore, Strange is now Wong’s right-hand man, and it’s fitting that he finally accepts that. Again, about time! 🙂

Strange bows to Wong in this screenshot from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, taken from this YouTube video

15. Is Wong a Nexus being?

At the end of the movie, Strange asks Wong a question.

Strange: Are you happy?

Wong: That’s an interesting question. Sometimes I do wonder about my other lives. But I’m still grateful of this one. Even with its own tribulations.

Wong sounds very wise here, being grateful and content for this life in this universe. But although we see many variants of Dr. Strange in this movie, we never see variants of Wong, even though Wong references “my other lives” in this brief exchange. In the other universes we see, the Dr. Strange variant is also the one serving as Sorcerer Supreme. But in this reality, Wong serves as Sorcerer Supreme, not Strange.

That got me thinking… could Wong be a Nexus Being?

A Nexus Being is someone who exists in all parallel worlds of the Multiverse, serving as anchors to that reality. America Chavez proves to be a Nexus Being in this movie, because she can travel between worlds, and she always remains herself. It is my understanding that the Scarlet Witch is a Nexus Being in the comics… but because this movie’s plot depended on there being variants of Wanda, doesn’t that mean that she isn’t a Nexus Being in the movie versions? If I have misunderstood this, leave a comment!

This Screen Rant article ponders the question of Wong being a Nexus Being:

As his appearances have grown more frequent, Wong has also become more powerful than audiences had ever seen him before, perhaps indicating that the sorcerer is dealing with a larger power that he is perhaps unaware of. Given that he will no doubt accompany Dr. Strange on his multiversal exploits, it may be revealed that the beloved character has been a Nexus being all along.

Jordan Iacobucci, “MCU: 10 Characters That Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness Could Reveal To Be Nexus Beings,” ScreenRant.com, 29 April 2022

If Wong does end up being a Nexus Being, that would be AWESOME. And befitting one of the most beloved reel librarian characters ever.

16. Wong shows up when you need him.

The opposite of a bad penny (turning up when no one wants you), Wong turns up exactly when you need him. Or rather… when the plot needs him! That’s why he’s often used for exposition, to explain things in order to move the plot forward.

Here’s the way my husband put it:

Wong shows up when you need him. Not like “deus ex machina,” but like “sorcerer and the script.” It’s like plot armor!

Wong, the true hero of the MCU, in a screenshot from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Wong, the true hero of the MCU, in a screenshot from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, taken from this YouTube video

I agree with this article that argues that Wong is “the real one holding it all together” in this movie:

Despite what you may have been led to believe, the hero of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is not Benedict Cumberbatch’s [Stephen] Strange. At least, he isn’t the real one holding it all together. Sure, he may get top billing on all the posters where he towers above everyone else. However, the real protector of all that is good across the various multiverses has proven time and time again to actually be the reliable Wong. He is the true Sorcerer Supreme, the protector of the New York Sanctum, and the dedicated librarian of Kamar-Taj.

Chase Hutchinson, “Benedict Wong Is the Real Hero of ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’,” Collider, 6 May 2022

17. Why is Wong so popular?

Obviously, I am just one of millions of fans who love Wong. I think the way Wong’s character was rewritten for the screen (which I go into more detail here in this “Perspectives about Wong’s reel librarian character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe” post); Wong’s humanity; and also, actor Benedict Wong’s humor and screen presence, have all helped make Wong a firm fan favorite.

Below are a couple of other perspectives on why Wong is so popular.

The secret is probably Benedict Wong, the actor chosen to portray the character. Fans seem to love this character, one that was once a dull stereotype and a reminder of a more unpleasant age. Thanks to a new take and a stellar casting choice, Wong has become the universe-hopping fixed point of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Wong is everywhere and nobody is complaining, in fact, they want more. Let this once-minor character continue to outgrow his start and become as important and iconic to the MCU as Steve or Tony. He’s earned it.

Joshua Kristian McCoy, “MCU: Why Is Wong In Everything?,” GameRant.com, 4 June 2022

And straight from Benedict Wong himself:

So, we created this no-nonsense, midfield general librarian with hints of Roy Keane [former Manchester United player] in there. This character has progressed now, and I found out when [director] Sam Raimi was on a conference call and talking me through the story. Here was this legend. He said, ‘Of course, you’re going to be the Sorcerer Supreme,’ and as this geek, it’s so great what they’ve done with the character and how he stands toe-to-toe with Doctor Strange.

Benedict Wong, as quoted in “Marvel Fans Are Loving Wong’s Dominance in Phase 4” by Aaron Perine, ComicBook.com, 18 May 2022

18. It’s the WongVerse, and we’re just living in it.

Wong has so rapidly become a fan favorite, it’s really the #WongVerse now! Benedict Wong has appeared thus far in 7 MCU movies and series… and counting:

Plus, Benedict Wong is credited to appear in at least one episode of the upcoming TV series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. So we will see Wong again… and not a moment too soon!


So there’s my round-up of random thoughts, questions, and first impressions I had while watching Wong and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022). What other thoughts, questions, theories, and observations did you have? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used

A research quest in ‘Winter’s Tale’ (2014) + how to tell the difference between microfilm vs. microfiche

And when you have a research quest, where do you go? The library, OF COURSE.

Happy (almost) Valentine’s Day — or Galentine’s Day, whichever you prefer! ❤ And of course, I had to analyze a romantic movie for this post, and I chose Winter’s Tale (2014), starring Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe, and Jennifer Connelly. The movie was adapted from Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel of the same name. (And if you were confused about this movie and thought it might be an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play “The Winter’s Tale,” then please know that you are not alone!)

This movie’s plot is impossible to describe — or follow that well, if you’re unfamiliar with the source novel, like me. The most straightforward way to describe it is that it is a time-bending fantasy romance that flashes between 1916 and 2014. The central romance is between Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) and Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay).

Spoiler alert: This movie is NOT GOOD. And I also get super CAPSY (which means cranky) throughout the following analysis.

Here was my reaction while watching this movie:

I do kind of love that the official trailer includes Jennifer Connelly asking, “What’s happening here?” (at 1:49 mins), which really does sum up this movie:

Winter’s Tale – Official Trailer [HD]” video uploaded by Warner Bros. Pictures, Standard YouTube License

Like I said, this movie is BONKERS. I can’t decide what’s worse… Colin Farrell’s haircut? Russell Crowe’s Irish accent? The endless parade of really good actors inexplicably popping up in minor or bit parts? (See my shout-out to legendary Broadway actor Norm Lewis in my tweet above.)

I have to imagine that the original novel is better able to capture the sweeping scale of the tale, right?! For example, the pop culture site Pajiba includes a review of the book (“I’m not sure if it’s the best… book I’ve ever read, but it’s pretty… close”), contrasted with a review of the movie adaptation (“The worst movie ever made can’t even touch this”).

If you have read Helprin’s book, please leave a comment and share.

Step 1 in the research quest: The New York Public Library scene

At 80 minutes into this 118-minute long movie, Peter is walking around with amnesia in 2014 but finds what he thinks is a clue to regaining his memory, a token that reads: “Coheeries Chocolates, Happy New Year!”

And when you have a research quest, where do you go? The library, OF COURSE. And not just any library. He heads straight for the central branch of the New York Public Library, with the iconic lion statues that are visible in the screenshot below. (I’m relieved that knowing about the NYPL withstands time-bending amnesia.)

The iconic lion statue(s) outside the New  York Public Library
The iconic lion statue(s) outside the New York Public Library

In a scene that lasts only a few seconds, we glimpse the famous Reading Room of the NYPL behind a White woman with long, straight blonde hair. She is wearing glasses and is sitting behind a tall counter with a laptop in front of her. The librarian doesn’t say anything — not even a greeting! — and doesn’t even look up at him until Peter comes up to the counter. Her facial expression is quite stern. (This is not realistic, from my experience. It’s almost Pavlovian for librarians to smile and say something encouraging like, “Hello, how can I help you?” when a patron comes anywhere near the reference desk.)

The NYPL librarian
The NYPL librarian

Peter hands her the token, and we get a closeup of the librarian picking it up.

A Coheeries clue
A Coheeries clue

The character is listed in the credits as simply “Librarian,” and is played by Caitlin Dulany. That’s all we see of this reel librarian, which lands this portrayal in the Class IV category, with librarian cameos.

Based on the next scene, the librarian is clearly successful in having found something useful and providing enough information for Peter to move to the next step. My guess is that she would have looked for any records of a company called “Coheeries Chocolates” and/or possibly just searched for “Coheeries” as a keyword; that is the research route that I would have taken in this situation.

Therefore, although we never hear the librarian speak or see any more of her, she serves as a successful Information Provider.

Step #2 in the research quest: The NY Sun’s Reading Room and newspaper archives

Next, at 1 hour and 22 minutes into the movie, we follow Peter to The Sun newspaper headquarters.

Next stop: The Sun's newspaper archives
Next stop: The Sun’s newspaper archives

As Peter walks up to another reference counter, we see the sign along the side wall that reads “Isaac Penn Reading Room.” Who is Isaac Penn? He’s played by William Hurt, and he is the father of Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), the woman Peter fell in love with back in 1916.

A view of the (fictional) Isaac Penn Reading Room
A view of the (fictional) Isaac Penn Reading Room

At the reference desk — and in the screenshot below, you can see a small brown sign on the wall that reads “Reference Desk” above the fire escape floor plan — is Norm Lewis. The Norm Lewis, who was the first Black American actor to play Javert in a production of the musical Les Misérables (in 2006) and the first Black American actor to play the title role in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway (in 2014; Robert Guillaume was the first Black American actor to play the Phantom regionally, in 1990). The Norm Lewis, who has also starred in productions of Miss Saigon, Sweeney Todd, Dreamgirls, Chicago, Hair, The Little Mermaid, The Music Man, and Porgy and Bess. The Norm Lewis, who has been nominated for a Tony, a Drama Desk award, a Grammy, and a SAG award. (Can you tell I’m a fan? This man’s skill is undeniable.)

And in this movie, Norm Lewis gets stuck playing a bit character called “Custodian” (WTF?!!!), with his natural charisma muted to being a cardigan-wearing obstructionist to Colin Farrell’s floppy hair. Norm Lewis deserved better; we all deserved better. (To be clear, playing a reel librarian or reel archivist is not the problem here; the way this character is written and used in this scene is the problem.)

Norm Lewis in 'Winter's Tale' (2014)
Hi, I’m the Norm Lewis. Show some respect!

Let’s listen in as Peter walks up to the desk and asks to meet with Isaac Penn.

Custodian: This is the Isaac Penn Reading Room.

Peter: I’d like to speak to him if I could.

Custodian: Be a neat trick … Penn’s been dead 90 years. [He’s so deadpan! Peter is unamused.]

Peter: There’s a theater on Hudson Street, called the Theater of the Coheeries. Can you tell me if you have any information on it please? Isaac Penn donated it.

He taps on his computer, and as he leans forward, we also glimpse two more workers behind him, a Black woman at a desk and another shadow-y figure (a man?) seated at another desk behind a column. These two roles are uncredited in the cast list.

Three reel librarians in one screenshot!
Three reel librarians in one screenshot!

Custodian: I see it here. But the information on it hasn’t been cataloged from the microfiche.

Peter: Ok, might I see them please? These “micro fish.”

Custodian: Sure. Two forms of ID .[He reaches for a form.] Fill this out. Two-week approval period, and you can search back there til your heart’s delight.

Peter: Can I just —

Custodian: I’m sorry, can’t help you.

Let’s pause for the EPIC “I don’t give a f—” facial expression that Norm Lewis is giving Colin Farrell here. You can just tell the weariness behind trying to explain policies to a person — especially a White man? — who doesn’t want to listen and thinks those policies don’t apply to them. (For what it’s worth, the policies above sound pretty standard to me, for access to a private newspaper’s specialized collection of archives. It’s not a public library. Or am I just used to policies like these? Leave a comment and share what you think.)

That is also ALL OF US as we are forced to gaze upon Farrell’s haircut in this movie.

A closeup of Norm Lewis in 'Winter's Tale' (2014)
Dude, don’t give me attitude with that haircut.

At this point, Virginia Gamely (Jennifer Connelly) — the one who says, “What’s happening here?” in the trailer — walks over. I guess because reasons of PLOT, but also because I guess White-presenting people gotta stick together when a Black man is explaining the rules to a White man who doesn’t want to listen? It’s not a good look, y’all. 😦

Virginia: There are so many regulations these days. 

ROLLING MY EYES HERE. Ok, Karen.

After Virginia introduces herself and asks if she knows him from somewhere, Peter shares that he’s lost his memory but is starting to remember things again.

Peter: I’ve become convinced that if i can just learn what this Coheeries is, it may help jog my memory. And now they’re telling me [he gestures to Norm] I have to wait two weeks, and I have to have two forms of ID that I don’t have, just to even get back there. Although I have a growing suspicion that I may be able to get to what I need faster as soon as everybody goes home for the night… if only I knew what a “micro fish” looked like. 

Virginia: You know, places like this have all sorts of security systems.

Peter: Well, somehow I find myself undaunted.

Jennifer Connelly in 'Winter's Tale' (2014)
What are you even saying right in front of Norm Lewis?!

Ok, just to point out the obvious… so Peter is talking about breaking into a place of business, and he doesn’t even know what he’s looking for. Pause to point out that Peter is also saying all of this RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE PROFESSIONAL AT THE REFERENCE DESK. We’re not invisible, y’all! The Black man at the counter right next to you is not invisible! The White privilege rolling off Peter is so palpable it’s like its own character.

This is deeply disturbing and condescending behavior. Regardless, Virginia — inexplicably, because EVERYTHING IN THIS MOVIE IS INEXPLICABLE — decides to help him out.

Virginia: You’re in luck. I work here, so I don’t need any approval. Isn’t that right, Jack?

Jack: Reporters come and go as they please, Miss Gamely.

Pause to recognize that the “Custodian” listed in the credits gets a first name in the movie: Jack! Not a full name, just a first name. Still not enough to earn him that name in the credits. And Jack still calls her “Miss Gamely.” So it’s clear that they’re not on equal footing in this scene, and this scene is written to emphasize that. She is giving favors and bending the rules for a strange White man who just threatened to break into the place, after which she tells the Black man to step aside. Again, NOT A GOOD LOOK.

Norm Lewis, Jennifer Connelly, and Colin Farrell in 'Winter's Tale (2014)
#TeamNormLewis

But let’s applaud the fact that Norm Lewis is giving another “I don’t give a f—” facial expression to Virginia, similar to the expression that he gave earlier to Peter. How much of the resigned weariness in his face is informed by his own experiences as a Black man dealing with people who seem to have, and act upon, a sense of entitlement? Am I reading too much into this? Maybe, but that’s how I’m reading the scene at this point in time.

This scene ends at 1 hour and 24 minutes into the movie, so this newspaper reading room scene lasts two-and-a-half minutes.

What role does Norm Lewis play?

I struggled with how to classify the role that Norm Lewis plays in this film. He’s a staff member at a newspaper’s reading room reference desk, so it’s not a typical library. Or you could argue that this is an archives rather than a library.

I asked this on Twitter, if his role would be considered an archivist or a librarian working in an archives, or something else.

If you follow the tweet thread embedded above, you’ll see that Burkely Hermann (the real-life archivist behind the Pop Culture Library Review site) replied that “Maybe they’d be a records clerk or something? It might be a bit of a stretch to call them an archivist” but also that a “recordkeeper… is basically equivalent to archivist from what I’ve read.

So this role seems to fall more on the reel archivist side of the scale than a reel librarian, and I am also going to land more on the reel archivist side for Jack the Custodian, especially in contrast with the reel librarian role shown earlier at the New York Public Library scene.

The library and archives scenes last only a few minutes total, and only a few lines of dialogue for the reel librarians/archivists, so I would argue this lands the movie in the Class IV category, with cameo roles.

One final note to sum up this very odd scene in a very odd movie: I’ve NEVER heard of the term “custodian” being used before in our respective fields. A “custodian” is a more common term for a facilities worker who does the (often dirty but absolutely vital) work of cleaning and maintaining buildings. This is NOT THE SAME WORK as a librarian or an archivist or any kind of records keeper. They are different jobs. Yet one more tone-deaf strike against director/screenwriter Akiva Goldsman.

Or is this how this character was referred to in the source novel? (I hope not.) Is this newspaper reading room scene in the novel? Please leave a comment and share!

Archives scene: How to tell the difference between microfilm vs. microfiche

And now, for my final rant regarding this film. I also tweeted about this, that NO ONE in this movie seems to understand the difference between microfiche and microfilm.

Yes, fair warning, this is a personal pet peeve. I’m going to continue getting all CAPSY in this post.

So let’s do this.

Most of this stack of archival materials includes cardboard boxes of microfilm
Most of this stack of archival materials includes cardboard boxes of microfilm

After Virginia gets Peter past Jack, we next we see a stack of archival materials labeled “Coheeries.” Almost everything in this stack of materials is microfilm. You can tell by the boxes.

Then we see Virginia rolling a spool of microfilm (NOT microfiche, although that’s the word everyone used in the prior scene) into a microfilm reader.

That is a spool of microfilm, NOT microfiche

Something’s not working, so Peter fixes the machine with his magical power of feeling and fixing things with his mind and hands, because SURE WHY NOT.

“What’s happening here?” indeed.

Virginia: But you didn’t even know what microfiche was.

Peter: I’ve just got a knack with machines.

[Insert my real-life librarian’s scream here: Maybe the problem is that NO ONE knows what microfiche is… because THERE IS NO MICROFICHE IN THIS SCENE.]

We learn what Coheeries is — it doesn’t matter, because nothing in this movie matters, but I’m a completist, so I will share that Coheeries is a town — and the photos of Isaac Penn and his daughter, Beverly, help Peter’s memory restore itself.

So this archival research was vital to the plot, after all! Hurray???

This scene lasts less than a minute and a half total, but it is rage-inducing — to me, at least — for showcasing a careless mix-up of microfilm vs. microfiche. I guess they just wanted the verbal comedy (?) of Peter saying “micro fish” instead of “microfiche,” like the, uh, fish out of water (sorry, terrible pun) he is in the year 2014? Y’all, microfilm and microfiche are still important in the field of research. Many primary sources, such as newspaper articles, have been converted into microfilm or microfiche over the past century (for preservation and storage purposes), and there are soooooooooo many of these resources that have not yet been digitized and are not accessible online. I know I’m a librarian, so I’m biased, but it’s true: Not. Everything. Is. Online. It’s good to know that these microform formats still exist, and why they’re still important.

So, to clear up any confusion for an issue you have probably never thought about twice, or even once ( 😉 ), here are the major differences between microfilm vs. microfiche, which are both types of microforms:

Microform:

  • Microform is the umbrella term used to describe scaled-down reproductions of documents for the purposes of easier storage.
  • Microform images are commonly reduced to about 4% or 1/25 of the original document size.
  • Microforms are commonly used to store newspaper archives in library and archival collections, because newspapers are bulky and take up a lot of space, and the material used to print newspapers easily decomposes.

Microfilm:

  • Microfilm” is a type of microform is that is printed on reels or spools, often referred to as cartridges.
  • Microfilm is stored in a cardboard box because of the circular shape of the cartridge (this is how I instantly knew that most of the archival materials in the screenshot above were microfilm, because of the cardboard boxes).
  • Microfilm is not as easy to use, as the spool of film has to be looped carefully into a microfilm reader, as demonstrated in this movie.
  • Microfilm is older technology, and reader machines have often been adapted to read both microfilm and microfiche. So you’ll often hear librarians say “microfilm reader” even when the machine can read, or project, both microfilm and microfiche. (Maybe that helps explain where the confusion between the two stems?)

Microfiche:

  • Microfiche” is another type of microform that is printed on flat cards.
  • Microfiche is stored in a paper sleeve that is open along the top.
  • Microfiche is easier to use, as it slides easily under a projector, similar to how you slide things under a microscope.
  • Microfiche is newer technology and developed from microcards, which are no longer produced but were similar to microfiche but printed on cardboard.

It’s REALLY EASY to visually tell the difference between microfilm vs. microfiche, as seen in the comparison graphic below. Use the slider on the graphic below to compare the microfilm, on the left, which looks like a miniature film reel, versus the microfiche, on the right, which is a flat sheet seen stored in a paper sleeve.

Microfilm vs. microfiche. Image credits: Microfilm image (left) by Ianaré Sévi for Lorien Technologies via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY SA 2.5 / Microfiche sleeve image (right) by SCARC via Flicker, CC BY NC SA 2.0

It’s NOT HARD, y’all, to tell the difference. Right? And honestly, just ASK A LIBRARIAN. Propmasters and screenwriters of the world, please just ask a librarian.

And that’s just good life advice in general, y’all. Ask a librarian. We answer questions for a living! And I promise not to get all capsy on you in real life if you ask me how to tell the differences between microfilm and microfiche. But I WILL get capsy on you if you ask me to watch Winter’s Tale again. 😉

Continuing the spool of microfilm?

You’ve made it through my rant about microfilm vs. microfiche — congrats! — and while it is a pet peeve, it’s not quite on the same level for me as getting call numbers wrong onscreen. But would you like me to write a longer post about how and when movies get it wrong about microfilm vs. microfiche, similar to what I did in this epic post about call numbers? Leave a comment and let me know!

In the meantime, if you’re jonesing for more library or archives scenes with microfilm or microfiche — and why wouldn’t you be?! — here are some past posts to enjoy:

Sources used

Librarians make their mark in ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ (1987)

“I can’t see how we’re ever going to make our mark… defacing library books.”

During the month of June, LGBTQ+ Pride Month celebrations take place in the United States and worldwide, commemorating the June 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan, New York, a turning point in gay rights and liberation movements. As the U.S. Proclamation on LGBTQ+ Pride Month 2021 states:

Pride is a time to recall the trials the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) community has endured and to rejoice in the triumphs of trailblazing individuals who have bravely fought — and continue to fight — for full equality.  Pride is both a jubilant communal celebration of visibility and a personal celebration of self-worth and dignity.

A Proclamation on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Pride Month, 2021,” The White House, 1 June 2021

It can be a tricky thing to recognize the dangerous and often-deadly discrimination that the LGBTQ+ community has endured — and continue to endure — at the same time that you are celebrating the wide-ranging contributions and impact of the LGBTQ+ community. This means holding space for two extremes together at the same time, and hopefully, this is a time of deep reflection and grace for us all, including allies. I feel that the movie Prick Up Your Ears (1987), which is based on the real-life events of British playwright Joe Orton (born John Orton, 1933-1967), exemplifies this dynamic quite well.

Prick Up Your Ears (1987) Trailer | Stephen Frears” video uploaded by Ryan Saunders, Standard YouTube License

Directed by Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette, Dangerous Liaisons, The Queen), Prick Up Your Ears stars Gary Oldman as Orton; Alfred Molina as Orton’s mentor, collaborator, and lover Kenneth Halliwell; and Vanessa Redgrave as Orton’s literary agent, Peggy Ramsay. The movie, written by Alan Bennett, was adapted from the 1978 biography of the same title by John Lahr, and Wallace Shawn plays Lahr in this film adaptation.

Joe Orton’s plays (most notably, Entertaining Mr. Sloane and Loot) and writing style continue to be highly influential (e.g. the term “Ortonesque” is used to describe the witty and dark comedic style he specialized in), even though his public career lasted only a few short years, from 1964 to 1967. Orton’s and Halliwell’s 15-year relationship came to a violent end in August 1967, when Halliwell murdered Orton and then killed himself. It could be easy to dismiss the film as focusing too much on the sensational aspects of this true tale. The film trailer, embedded above, focuses primarily on the murder/suicide, and the film itself begins with Halliwell covered in blood after murdering Orton and ends with Orton’s funeral. But in-between, we follow along with the flashbacks and flash-forwards as Lahr researches Orton and reads his diaries and pieces together Orton’s and Halliwell’s life together. (You really cannot separate the two men, in life or in death.) We viewers identify with Lahr in his research quest, as we want to know more about Orton’s art and about Halliwell’s motivations, and how and why their relationship and collaborations soured and turned deadly. It’s not a straightforward film, but Frears does an excellent job of highlighting recurring themes and lines that call back to earlier scenes or other characters.

A few years ago, The Guardian highlighted Lahr’s biography of Orton as a “book to give you hope.”

“John Lahr’s 1978 biography of the playwright Joe Orton may seem an unlikely choice for a book to give you hope. After all, Orton’s success was not only a long time coming (a decade of abject failure was crowned by a six-month spell in prison for defacing library books), but when it did finally arrive in 1964 (with the West End production of Entertaining Mr Sloane) it lasted only until 9 August 1967. It was brought to a bloody and premature end by his long-term lover, Kenneth Halliwell, who bludgeoned Orton to death with a hammer before taking his own life. Orton was only 34 years old. Yet, it is these early years of struggle and anonymity that make Orton’s life story such a fascinating and, yes, inspirational read.

… [T]he ending is desperately sad. But what remains is the work. And ultimately, Prick Up Your Ears is a celebration of Orton’s work and a brilliantly illuminating account of the writing life. And even when that life is cut horribly short, it still remains a testament to the enduring power of hope, and of triumph over adversity.”

W.B. Gooderham, “Books to Give You Hope: Prick Up Your Ears by John Lahr,” The Guardian, 22 Aug. 2016

For me, this review captures the juxtaposition of recognizing the sadness of Orton’s shortened life as well as celebrating the hope and creativity of his artistry. And this dichotomy is reflected in Frears’s cinematic adaptation.

The library scenes and why they matter

So where does the library come into it? Although the main library scene and scenes with the librarians last less than 5 minutes total, this scene in the movie — and in real life — changed the course of Orton’s and Halliwell’s lives. It seems appropriate then that the library scenes occurs almost exactly halfway through the movie.

Here’s the general background: Around 1959, while collaborating on novels and getting rejected from publishers, Orton and Halliwell started defacing covers of library books and typing naughty passages into them. In the movie, two librarians at the Islington public library finally set a trap for them and turned them into the police. In 1962, the two men were sentenced to 6 months in prison and were sent to different facilities. While in prison, Orton started writing his own work and flourished, while Halliwell became depressed and attempted suicide.

The library book scenes are foreshadowed a bit earlier in the film, when at 44 minutes, Halliwell and Orton are collaborating on a book. While Kenneth types on the typewriter, Joe is cutting up a library book.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Kenneth: That’s a library book. You should respect books.

Joe: I respect them more than you. You just take them for granted.

This short scene accomplishes a lot with a little. They are supposedly collaborating, but Joe seems a bit bored and stifled with his side of the collaboration. This foreshadows his breaking free and writing his own works later. Their dialog also reinforces their class differences, with working-class Joe calling out Kenneth and his upper-class upbringing and privilege. It also, as my writer husband pointed out, places the act of defacing the library books in the context of writing and as a creative act and form of expression. They are writing and creating in different ways in this scene, and again, it foreshadows how they will collaborate on the library books.

Next, at 45 1/2 minutes into the film, Halliwell and Orton are talking about that collaborative novel, titled Boy Hairdresser, to a publisher. When it’s clear that the publisher has no intention of publishing their work, Orton roams around the office and steals a book from the publisher’s shelves, The Art of Culture. Although it isn’t explicitly shown in the movie, Orton revealed in later interviews that he used to steal library books in order to deface them and then smuggle them back into the library to shock patrons who came across the altered works.

So all these short, seemingly throwaway scenes do provide clues; nothing is wasted in this movie.

At almost 53 minutes into the film, Kenneth is working on the collage on the walls, while Joe is reading on the bed. Then, as Kenneth prepares lunch, Joe roams around their bedroom and places library books along the back of their desk.

Joe: I can’t see how we’re ever going to make our mark… defacing library books. 

Making his mark in defacing library books

Next stop? The public library!

The two men check out books at the front library counter, and a woman librarian in grey suit stamps their books. We can also spy a younger White woman walk past behind the desk, and she appears to be filing cards. In the background, we can see a “Fiction” label along the back bookshelves, and the library seems filled with patrons. Halliwell and Orton leave the library, and the words on the exit door — “Way Out” in big letters printed on both sides of the glass door — feature prominently in this scene. That doesn’t feel like an accident. (In fact, the phrase “coming out” was in use during the mid-20th century to describe gay identity and sense of community, but the phrase was undergoing a change in usage during this time period, explained here.)

Two librarians — the middle-aged White woman who stamped their books, Miss Battersby (Selina Cadell), and a White middle-aged man, Mr. Cunliffe (Charles McKeown) — follow them out and watch them leave.

Their brief conversation reveals their discrimination and homophobia toward the pair and the gay community at large, and Mr. Cunliffe rattles off several homophobic slurs without batting an eye.

Mr. Cunliffe: You didn’t tell me one of them was a nancy.

Miss Battersby: I’m sorry, Mr. Cunliffe?

Mr. Cunliffe: The bald one, Miss Battersby. A homosexual. A shirt lifter.

Miss Battersby: In Islington?

Mr. Cunliffe: Haven’t you noticed? Large areas of the borough are being restored and painted Thames green. [He grabs their library card from Miss Battersby] Noel Road. This calls for a little detective work, Miss Battersby.

And their detective work involves props! Miss Battersby smokes a cigarette, and Mr. Cunliffe brandishes a magnifying glass.

The librarians then set up a trap for Halliwell and Orton. Mr. Cunliffe finds an abandoned car on the road, writes down the license plate, and then dictates a letter to Miss Battersby. They appear to be in a back office in the library, as the walls are lined with bookshelves and filled with books and magazines, and the desk includes a pile of library stamps, and a rolling cart is visible beside the desk.

Librarians type up a letter

Mr. Cunliffe: Registration: K-Y-R-4-5-0. The above-mentioned vehicle appears to be derelict and abandoned in Noel Road, and I have been given to understand you are the owner thereof. 

We then see Kenneth reading aloud the rest of the letter, and he then dictates a response to Joe, although their letter is a more collaborative process than the librarians’ letter.

Kenneth: “But before enforcing remedies, I give you the opportunity to remove the vehicle from the highway.” The little prick. [pauses] Unzip our trusty Remington, John. We will piss on this person from a great height. “Dear sir, thank you for your dreary little letter.

Joe: ‘Dismal’ is better.

Kenneth: Dismal, then. I should like to know who provided you with this mysterious information. 

Joe: ‘Furnished’ is better than ‘provided.’ It’s more municipal in tone. 

Cue more librarian detective work!

Mr. Cunliffe: You will note the typing, Miss Battersby, is the same. Our book jacket… their letter. Got you, my beauties.

We then cut to the courtroom, where we see a magistrate being handed a mystery novel, Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers. We see a stack of books on the table, which are recognizable as some of the ones we saw earlier on Joe’s desk. This scene is devastatingly efficient, as the camera pans over the courtroom, where we spy the librarians, who have come to see the results of their detective work!

Magistrate: This is the novel Clouds of Witness by the noted authoress Dorothy L. Sayers. Could you read what the accused have written on the flap of the jacket?

Policeman: “… This is one of the most enthralling stories ever written by Miss Sayers. Read it behind closed doors and have a good shit while you’re reading it.”

Magistrate: The probation officer has suggested that you are both frustrated authors. Well, if you’re so clever at making fun of what more talented people have written, you should have a shot at writing books yourselves. You won’t find that such a pushover. Sheer malice and destruction, the pair of you. I sentence you both to six months. 

Joe [to Kenneth]: Fucking A. 

Kenneth [to Joe]: It was your idea. 

The librarians vs. the lovers

As I mentioned before, this entire scene in the library and with the librarians lasts less than 5 minutes, but it is crucial to the rest of the narrative. I also found it interesting to note how many times the director chose to mirror the pair of librarians with the pair of lovers, Orton and Halliwell.

Here is a compare-and-contrast of how Orton and Halliwell exit the library and the librarians re-enter the library. The librarians serve as gatekeepers — literally as well as visually — in this scene.

Click the bar in the middle to compare and contrast the two images

Here we can compare-and-contrast the profiles of the librarians as they watch in judgment as Orton and Halliwell leave the library, and the profiles of Joe and Kenneth as they receive the magistrate’s prison judgment.

Click the bar in the middle to compare and contrast the two images

The librarians sit in court in front of a policeman, while Orton and Halliwell sit in court in front of a member of the public. Again, no detail is wasted in this film. The librarians side with order (more visual gatekeeping), while the creative lovers side with the public.

Click the bar in the middle to compare and contrast the two images

And below we can compare the mirroring of dictating the library letter and its response. Both of the sets are filled with books, but one is a public library while the other is a private library. Also, notice how the librarians are always dressed in the same clothing, the same buttoned-up grey suits? Kenneth and Joe are also dressed in neutrals, grey and tan, but are dressed much more casually and less buttoned-down.

Click the bar in the middle to compare and contrast the two images

The library scene ends at 58 minutes into the film, and we hear Vanessa Redgrave’s voiceover as she efficiently sums up the effect of their prison sentence: “Prison worked wonders for Joe.”

Librarian roles

As I’ve mentioned, the two main librarians we see — Mr. Cunliffe and Miss Battersby — are visually seen as gatekeepers throughout their scenes. Their grey suits come off as much of a uniform as the uniforms that the police officers wear. The librarians even attend court to witness the prison sentencing! Above and beyond their librarian duties, surely. 😦 Needless to say, these reel librarians are NOT role models; rather, they demonstrate the destructive effects of homophobia and anti-LGBTQ+ actions.

In that way, Miss Battersby serves the role of an Information Provider, as she is providing information to the audience and reflecting society’s limited views and judgment of the LGBTQ+ community. (See also my post about the law librarian failure in Philadelphia). The third librarian, the younger White woman, also serves as an Information Provider, but only in the sense of establishing the library setting.

I have categorized the role of Mr. Cunliffe, who appears to be the senior librarian in their scenes, as an Anti-Social Librarian. He wears conservative clothing, hoards knowledge, dislikes the public (particularly the LGBTQ+ members of the public), and exhibits elitism in his view of the library and society in general. He goes beyond his librarian duties and engages in detective work — outside the library and off hours, I’m sure — in order to personally trap library patrons. He also relishes in his handiwork (“Got you, my beauties!“). Honestly, it comes off as the librarian’s personal vendetta.

And these two reel librarians made my Hall of Shame list! On that page, I wrote that:

This Class III film made me sit up and yell at the screen! It includes the completely unethical behavior of two librarians, who set a trap — using information from circulation records, no less! — to turn two frustrated writers into the police. Yes, the writers had typed obscene passages onto book covers, but that does not justify a mean-spirited librarian’s actions.

Reel life vs. real life

As I mentioned above, the film shows the librarians — and particularly Mr. Cunliffe — as the ones who personally trap Orton and Halliwell. I’m sure the screenwriter did this to condense characters and tell the story more efficiently — and of course, isn’t it shocking what an overzealous librarian would do?! Most unexpected. And it is unexpected, because the real-life librarians did not actually go as far as their onscreen counterparts did. But not for lack of trying!

The Joe Orton Online site states that Orton and Halliwell “had been suspected for some time and extra [library] staff had been drafted to catch the culprits, but with no success. They were eventually caught by the careful detective work of Sydney Porrett, a senior clerk with Islington Council. A letter was sent to Halliwell asking him to remove an illegally parked car. Their typed reply matched typeface irregularities in the defaced books and the men were caught.” And an article in The Guardian reveals more details, that “When the library authorities cottoned on to what was happening, they brought in undercover staff from other libraries to try to catch whomever was doing it, and when that failed, Porrett had the idea of writing to his number one suspects, Halliwell and Orton.”

The Movie Locations site reveals that the library scenes were not filmed in the Islington public library. Instead, the library scenes were filmed at Chelsea Library in Chelsea Old Town Hall, located about 6 miles southwest of Islington Central Library.

It does appear the the library books highlighted in the film were among the ones that Orton and Halliwell defaced in real life. The British Library site even highlights “The Joe Orton Collection” of book covers on their site, stating that, “Since 2003, the book covers have been preserved by the Islington Local History Centre where they form the Joe Orton Collection. After the trial, the surviving covers were kept within Islington Public Library Service by the special collections librarian. Today, this totals 41 examples. An additional 31 doctored books are believed to be lost, stolen or destroyed.

You can also view a more extensive gallery of the book covers on the Joe Orton Online site. And in 2011, the Islington Local History Centre displayed their collection of book covers because of “international interest” and that the book covers “shined a light on two fascinating lives and characters” (Brown).

Why library books?

The movie doesn’t really delve deep into the reasons Orton and Halliwell defaced the library books — beyond the line that Joe says about “mak[ing] our mark” — but Orton did address this in an April 1967 television interview with Eamon Andrews:

“Joe Orton Television Interview 1967” video, uploaded by THEORTONCOLLECTIVE, Standard YouTube License

Orton does not mention Halliwell at all during this interview and states that his motive was “just a joke.” But then he reveals a little more about his personal feelings about the library and its collections:

Orton: Also, I didn’t like libraries anyway. I mean, I thought they spent far too much public money on rubbish. I mean, I didn’t like the books. I don’t think people need books on etiquette anyway.

Andrews: So this was a kind of protest of the kinds of books in the library?

Orton: Oh, yes, it really was.

Andrews: Do you have any regrets now for having done this?

Orton: No regrets at all. No, I had a marvelous time in prison. It just meant that instead of annoying a few old ladies, you see, that opened the book, I now annoy hundreds of old ladies by writing plays.

The Joe Orton Online site muses that “these acts of guerrilla artwork were an early indication of Orton’s desire to shock and provoke. His targets were the genteel middle classes, authority and defenders of ‘morality’, against whom much of Orton’s later written work would rail against.”

In a 30th anniversary retrospective interview about the film, Alfred Molina (who portrayed Halliwell) reflected that, “Living in that small room, living in a sense completely isolated from the world, writing and defacing those books, and decorating their home, it was probably like a little cocoon where they felt safe. With Joe’s success, the world broke into that room and that shattered everything.”

I also appreciated blogger and historian John Levin’s thoughts about how these book covers should be viewed today:

“It is worth considering these works without hindsight and in their own moment. Had Orton not been successful, what would have been made of these works? Would they have been less interesting, less intelligent, the work of a vandal rather than a critic?

I think not. Even if Orton hadn’t been successful – and such a way of framing it underplays the equal contribution of the unrecognized Halliwell – these collages would still embody a contempt for boredom, a queer ‘in your face’ aesthetic, and a provocation outside the art gallery, executed with quite some skill. And as at the time, they were a couple of unknown, pre-1967 gays, constrained by and pushing against the mores and the policing of the time, it is in that light they should be appreciated.”

John Levin, “Gorilla in the Roses: The Collages of Halliwell and Orton,” Anterotesis, 21 Feb. 2012

And on a final note, Orton also included cheeky references to libraries and librarians in his play Entertaining Mr. Sloane, which I highlighted in my analysis of the 1970 film adaptation of his play.

What are your thoughts on Prick Up Your Ears? Have you seen the 1987 movie, or read Lahr’s biography? Have you read any of Orton’s plays? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used

A closer look at the library scene in ‘Hidden Figures’ (2016)

Dorothy Vaughan doesn’t let an obstructionist librarian get in the way of her future.

Four years ago (!), I wrote about my first impressions of the library scene in Hidden Figures, which I watched in theaters. (That feels like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it, actually going to movie theaters? #PandemicLife). That post has remained one of the most popular posts on this Reel Librarians blog, so it felt time to revisit the Oscar-nominated Hidden Figures film and take a closer look at its library scene. March is also Women’s History Month, and it feels fitting to focus on a movie that champions Black American women in STEM, including:

  • Katherine G. Johnson, mathematician and one of the first Black women scientists at NASA (played by Taraji P. Henson)
  • Dorothy Vaughan, mathematician and computer programmer and first Black female supervisor at NASA’s West Area Computers division (played by Octavia Spencer, in an Oscar-nominated performance)
  • Mary Jackson, NASA’s first Black female engineer (played by Janelle Monáe)

As I said in my 2017 post:

These are stories of American heroes that need to be shared and experienced.

A closer look at the public library scene

In that original first impressions post, I recalled the library scene clocking in about 2/3 of the way through the film. I can now say that my memory was totally off-base! The library scene begins at 49 1/2 minutes through this 126-minute film, which means this scene happens a little over 1/3 of the way through.

“Library Scene-Dorothy Vaughn Hidden Figures” video uploaded by Natalie Pedrianes, Standard YouTube License

But first, some context before we visit the library: Dorothy Vaughan has learned that NASA has installed an IBM electronic computer, and she realizes that this machine threatens to replace “human computers,” particularly the West Area Computer division of Black women computers she supervises. She realizes she needs to learn the language of this electronic computer. And where do you go for information? The public library, of course!

On their way to the library, Vaughan and her sons, Kenneth (Alkoya Brunson) and Leonard (Ashton Tyler), pass by an anti-segregation demonstration. We can hear calls for “Segregation must go,” and we see signs that read “Segregation hurts us all” and “The presence of segregation is the absence of democracy!” We also witness, along with the Vaughans, a couple of White policemen running to the scene of the protest. Vaughan says to her boys, “Don’t pay attention to all that. We’re not part of that trouble.

Protest scene in Hidden Figures (2016)

We then see the Vaughans walking up the side entrance to the public library, which I have to assume was the “Colored” entrance at that time. In the next frame, Vaughan is browsing through bookshelves as the two boys read to each other on the floor. (Props to the propmaster — I appreciated all the call number stickers on the books!)

Dorothy Vaughan and her sons walk up the side entrance to the public library
Dorothy Vaughan and her sons walk up the side entrance to the public library
Dorothy Vaughan browses the bookshelves as her sons read to each other
Dorothy Vaughan browses the bookshelves as her sons read to each other

We then spy a reel librarian — a middle-aged White woman with shoulder-length, reddish hair, no glasses — peeking through the bookshelves. Her character is listed in the credits as White Librarian, played by Rhoda Griffis. What follows is a brief but devastating exchange (and one of the worst reference interviews I’ve ever seen onscreen).

White Librarian: We don’t want any trouble in here.

Dorothy Vaughan: I’m not here for any trouble, ma’am.

White Librarian: What are you here for?

Dorothy Vaughan: A book.

White Librarian: You have books in the colored section.

Dorothy Vaughan: It doesn’t have what I’m looking for.

White Librarian [shrugging]: That’s just the way it is.

A closeup of the White Librarian
A closeup of the White Librarian
Dorothy Vaughan and the White Librarian speak through the stacks
Dorothy Vaughan and the White Librarian speak through the stacks

Side note: I noticed in the cast list on IMDb.com an uncredited stunt double for the White Librarian (Ruth Dalton). Why would this reel librarian character need a stunt double? Was this library scene originally going to be a bigger scene? Also, does anyone else notice the blurry figure in the background behind the White Librarian in the screenshot in the gallery above? Is that blurry figure in the background an uncredited library user in the “Colored” section of the library? Or a Black librarian? Was there originally going to be a “Black Librarian” character to contrast with the “White Librarian” character? It’s a detail in the background I had never noticed before. Am I overthinking it? What are your thoughts?

In the very next clip in this library scene, a White security guard (listed in the credits as “Library Security Guard,” played by Howie Johnson) escorts Dorothy Vaughan and her sons out of the front door of the library. We see a prominent sign on the front pillar that reads Hampton Public Library.

Library Security Guard [shoving the boys through the doors]: Go on now. You know better than this.

Vaughan: Get your hands off my boys! Don’t touch them. [Straightens up and adjusts her coat] You have a blessed day.

Dorothy Vaughan then walks past a White woman and her two boys. The two women exchange looks. Both have much in common in that moment — taking their two sons to the public library — and yet are worlds apart. There is so much said in that wordless glance between the two women.

The Vaughans are kicked out of the Hampton Public Library
The Vaughans are kicked out of the Hampton Public Library
A Black mother and a White mother exchange glances in and out of the library
A Black mother and a White mother exchange glances in and out of the library

The scene in the library itself lasts 30 seconds. But then we get to see the effects of that library scene, as Dorothy Vaughan and her boys ride the bus home, seated in the back.

Dorothy Vaughan: Separate and equal are two different things. Just ‘cause it’s the way, doesn’t make it right. Understand? […] You act right, you are right. That’s for certain. Understand?

She then takes a library book out of her handbag. We get a closeup of the cover, the word “Fortran” visible in large letters, and a smaller line of indistinguishable text above.

Kenneth Vaughan [in a shocked tone]: You took that book, Mama?

Dorothy Vaughan: Son, I pay taxes. And taxes pay for everything in that library. You can’t take something you already paid for.

She then starts reading the book, “Fortran is a new and exciting language used by programmers to communicate with computers. It is exciting, as it is the wave of the future.” (Also, did y’all know that the word “Fortran” is derived from the phrase “Formula Translation”?! #WordNerd)

Dorothy Vaughan explains "good trouble" to her sons
Dorothy Vaughan explains “good trouble” to her sons
Dorothy Vaughan reads from the Fortran book she took from the library
Dorothy Vaughan reads from the Fortran book she took from the library

This scene on the bus lasts about a minute long.

Although Dorothy Vaughan was not interested in exposing her boys to “that trouble” at the rally, she does demonstrate to them the value of “good trouble” (RIP, John Lewis). And what are the effects of Dorothy Vaughan’s good trouble act of taking that Fortran book from the “Whites” section of the public library? She teaches herself the Fortran language, and she pays that knowledge forward when she teaches her staff. She not only saves her job; she also saves the jobs of many other Black women mathematicians and computer scientists at NASA.

A closer look at the library book

Closeup of the Fortran book in Hidden Figures (2016)
Closeup of the Fortran book in Hidden Figures (2016)

Here is the best close-up I could get of the book Dorothy Vaughan takes from the public library, a relatively slim volume with a cover of multi-colored stripes. Although the word “FORTRAN” is visible on the cover, there seems to be a blurrier line of text right above. Dorothy’s hand is obscuring most of the author’s name at the bottom of the book, but it looks like a shorter surname. Was this book a real book — or at least based on a real book? Y’all know I looked that up, right?! OF COURSE I DID. 😉 So here was my process:

  • The film is set in 1961. First, I needed to see if there were any books published about Fortran in 1961 (or a year or two earlier).
  • Next stop: WorldCat, a world catalog of library holdings. I did an Advanced Search, typing in the keyword “Fortran” in the Title field and limiting my results to books published from 1960 to 1961. Here’s a link to those initial search results.
  • The first result was a Fortran manual published by IBM in 1961. Useful info, but I doubted that any public library would be snapping up brand-new technical computer manuals. In fact, of the 9 libraries that still have a copy of this title (!), almost all are college or university libraries.
  • I scanned down the results, looking for anything that had a title that looked similar to the one on the book prop. Bingo! Result #7 was a book entitled Introduction to Fortran, by S. C. Plumb, first published in 1961. And it is STILL available in over 200 libraries! Looking back at the blurry title and the shorter-looking surname in that book closeup, I am absolutely convinced that this book prop is based on — or is a really good original copy of? — Plumb’s book. (I was mistaken — see the update below for details!)

What do y’all think? Do you think it’s the same book? Do y’all enjoy reading about the details of my WorldCat sleuthing? I’m a college librarian, so I feel compelled to make my research process transparent. 😉

UPDATE 7/2021:

Eagle-eyed reader R.D. Sylva spotted a later scene that showed the title of the book more clearly and left a comment letting me know that the title is actually Understanding Fortran. Thank you, R.D.!!!

I went back to review the film, and yes indeed, this scene comes at 58 minutes into the film. Dorothy Vaughan goes to the IBM room and sets down her Fortran book on the table beside the IBM Manual:

A closer look at the Fortran book cover, which reveals the title of it is Understanding Fortran
A closer look at the Fortran book cover, which reveals the title of it is Understanding Fortran

Going back to Worldcat, here is a link to the results that have the Understanding Fortran book title. The earliest edition seems to have been published in 1968, by Mary McCammon. The publication timing of that book still doesn’t quite fit in with the timeline for this film (it’s possible that there was an earlier edition published?, or perhaps the propmasters simply wanted a Fortran book written by a woman for this woman-centered film?). But I did find out that Mary McCammon’s book was highlighted as “among the most comprehensive” in this 1973 article about “Introductory FORTRAN Textbooks” in the Computers and the Humanities journal. Neat! The more you learn… 😉 thanks again for the comment and update, R.D. Sylva!

A closer look at the library’s filming location

I also wondered where this library scene was filmed. The “Hampton Public Library” sign was so prominent in the scene — was this a real library? Although the film is set in Virginia, I knew it was filmed mostly in Georgia. The IMDb.com’s Filming & Production page for this film states that the library scene (or at least, the exterior of the library) was filmed in Canton, Georgia.

I started by looking at public libraries or branches in Canton, to determine if any were named Hampton. No dice. Then I looked up the public libraries near where the NASA Langley Research Center is located, and bingo! Hampton, Virginia, is where that Center is located, and there is a Hampton Public Library, which began as the first free county library in Virginia in 1926, according to their library website. I also learned that Valerie Gardner, who is a Black woman, is the current library director of the Hampton Public Library! Although they did not film in Hampton, Virginia, I was so pleased that this film got that detail right, the name of the local public library.

So where did they film the exterior for the library scene? That’s when I searched online for filming locations for Hidden Figures, and the Movie Maps site provided details, that the library exterior was the Cherokee County Board of Education building, specifically the old Canton Grammar School, which you can see below in this historical image from the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. As you can tell by the white pillars in front and the side entrances, that’s definitely the location!

Also, when I searched for info about the old Canton Grammar School, which was built in 1914, I learned that the Cherokee County School Board postponed demolition of the old Canton Grammar School historic building in 2015. That was a good decision, because they filmed there for this movie the very next year! This building is also included on the Cherokee County Historical Society’s “Historic Sites Worth Saving” site.

A closer look at what this scene represents

I love the tangents that research takes me on this site, but I want to revisit what this scene and reel librarian character represent. The reel librarian is only onscreen for a few seconds, so she lands in the Class IV category, but the impact of what she says and does (getting the Vaughan family kicked out for being in the “Whites” section of the library) is far-reaching. I think it’s clear that the reel librarian character — with the not-subtle moniker of “White Librarian” — is named to indicate her role in perpetuating White supremacy. It’s not subtle, and it shouldn’t be. This librarian is a gatekeeper personified, literally keeping Black and Brown library users from knowledge and resources available to White members of the public. Why? Because “That’s just the way it is.” But Dorothy Vaughan doesn’t accept that circular logic or the librarian’s resigned shrug. She doesn’t let an obstructionist librarian get in the way of her future.

I wrote in my first impressions post of Hidden Figures that the “White Librarian” character serves the role of Information Provider. However, she is there not to provide information to any characters, but rather to inform the audience about and to reflect the societal rules that librarians were also participating in a system to unjustly segregate citizens.

After rewatching this film, my husband asked me about what I thought, from my perspective as a librarian, about Dorothy Vaughan taking that library book. Did I feel conflict within myself, being both a librarian and a White woman trying to better understand my White privilege and work for social justice. My answer was immediate: I support Dorothy Vaughan in this scene. In general, sure, I do not advocate taking library books out on the sly — and certainly not because of the “I pay taxes” excuse — because I believe resources in a public library are for the community. But as this movie demonstrates, those books were not there at this time for the community’s inclusive use at large; they were there for exclusive communities. Dorothy is breaking rules that were perpetuating White supremacy and restricting access and resources to people of color in their community. The rules were unjust; Dorothy’s personal act of civil disobedience was, therefore, just. That’s what matters in this scene, and in my opinion, that’s the bigger lesson that this scene represents.

A closer look at film reviews and analyses

I also sought out additional perspectives and commentary about this library scene in Hidden Figures and what it represents, then and now.

Leesa Renee Hall, a Black writer and anti-bias facilitator, called out the importance of this scene and how it is key to showcasing Dorothy Vaughan’s forward-thinking flexibility and professional resiliency:

“Dorothy Vaughan taught herself FORTRAN back in the 1960s to stay relevant. […] Spotting trends and adapting to them is the key to survivability in today’s job market.”

Leesa Renée Hall, What a Scene From #HiddenFigures Can Teach Us About #Automation #Disruption and Staying #Employable, 2 March 2017

Janell Hobson focused on Black women’s hidden labor in a review of the film and spotlighted the library scene:

With keen insight as one of the human “computers” at NASA, she understands how quickly her role—and that of her team of black women computers—will be replaced by this daunting object. Having already suffered the humiliation of being ejected from the “white” section of her local library in Virginia—and displaying eloquent rage when she warns the police officer throwing her out to not touch her sons while catching herself suddenly as she code-switches to polite dialogue lest she be manhandled and arrested—Dorothy puts to the test her newfound knowledge of Fortran, the early computer-programming language she must master and which she learned from the book she smuggled out of the library.

Janell Hobson, “Honoring the Legacy of Katherine Johnson, Hidden Figures and Black Women’s Historic Hidden Labor,” Ms., 17 Jan. 2017

In a 2019 undergraduate thesis for Sanata Dharma University in Indonesia, Bertha Uli Fransiska Pasaribu argues that this library scene demonstrates Dorothy Vaughan’s persistence:

The persistence of Dorothy also can be seen as Dorothy and her children go to the public library. […] Dorothy is a persistent person since she does not like to accept something unfair or unequal right away even though it is acceptable in that era.

Bertha Uli Fransiska Pasaribu, “The Struggles Against Multiple Discrimination in Hidden Figures” undergraduate thesis, 2019

Christina Vasilevski, a Toronto-based writer, delves into how the film illustrates different ways that White characters in the film participate in systemic racism:

The movie illustrates how systemic these barriers are by showing that nearly every white person in the film is complicit in their maintenance. A white librarian tries to shoo Dorothy away from the math and computer books in the library because those are in the “whites only” section. […] One of the movie’s chief virtues is that it doesn’t hide that truth. Everyone takes part in racism, even if no one explicitly uses the N-word.

Christina Vasilevski, “Hidden Figures, Not-So-Hidden Meaning,” 5 Jan. 2017

In a commentary piece in the Austin American-Statesman, Maya Payne Smart wrote about how this scene illustrates barriers — barriers that continue today:

“As a book lover and community advocate for literacy and libraries, this scene got me thinking about today’s hidden figures. It distills so many dimensions of the enduring obstacles to equality in America, from restricted access to career-propelling information to the threat of rebuke for daring to challenge the social order. And to think that Dorothy was one of the lucky ones — a college-educated NASA employee.

Today, incredible barriers to adult education and career advancement continue to persist. And there’s not necessarily a villainous gatekeeper standing between workers and the information they need. Complex systems of discrimination and segregation conspire to limit opportunity for many.”

Maya Payne Smart, “Commentary: ‘Hidden Figures’ illustrates barriers to advancement,” Austin American-Statesman, 25 Jan. 2017

A closer look at library segregation in the South

We already learned last month from Dr. Aisha Johnson and her lecture on the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program that some rural counties in the South started desegregating in the 1930s in order to secure library funding. But it wasn’t until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — three years after this film is set — that discrimination in public spaces like public libraries was officially outlawed.

I also learned about how in 1939, five Black teenagers protested at the all-White Alexandria Public Library in Virginia, two months after the American Library Association (ALA) first adopted the “Library Bill of Rights” which included a statement that “Library meeting rooms should be available on equal terms to all groups in the community” (Weigand). On the Digital Public Library of America’s online exhibit about the desegregation of public libraries, I also watched a 1962 news clip of Black students demonstrating civil disobedience at the public library in Albany, Georgia. From this article on the Granville County Library System site, I read about the Greenville Eight, the Tougaloo Nine, and the St. Helen Four, and the impacts of their actions to desegregate public libraries.

And this article from the American Libraries magazine highlights additional untold stories of heroes who participated in sit-ins and protests at public libraries during the Civil Rights era, including Teri Moncure Mojganiwho participated in a public library protest in 1964 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and became a librarian herself, at Xavier University of Louisiana.

Here are some additional resources that explore segregation, past and present, in our public libraries:

It feels natural that in taking a closer look at this library scene in Hidden Figures, we end up taking a closer look in general at public library segregation in the U.S. It was devastating, but necessary, to read about the harmful effects of actions and non-actions of librarians and library organizations during this painful — and painfully enduring — time period. As I wrote earlier, “These are stories of American heroes that need to be shared and experienced.” We must not forget, and films like Hidden Figures are one vital way to help us remember.

Sources used

‘Scent of a’ student library worker

A rare example of a reel librarian character in a Thanksgiving-themed movie. Hoo-ah!

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers! Although there are many horror films featuring reel librarians to help celebrate the Halloween holiday — as well as many holiday-themed films featuring reel librarians for the Christmas holiday season — there remains a scarcity of Thanksgiving-themed films featuring reel librarians. In fact, I have come across only ONE example in my 20+ years of researching librarians in film. That film is 1992’s Oscar-winning film Scent of a Woman, starring Al Pacino as Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade and Chris O’Donnell as Charlie Simms.

Scent of a plot

Has it been awhile since you’ve seen Scent of a Woman? Catch up by watching the trailer:

“Scent of a Woman Official Trailer #1 – Al Pacino Movie (1992) Movie HD” video uploaded by Movieclips Classic Trailers, Standard YouTube License

This coming-of-age story focuses on a young, clean-cut prep school boy, Charlie (Chris O’Donnell), who attends a New England private school on a merit scholarship and works as a student worker at the school library. To pay for a flight home to Oregon for Christmas, he agrees to be temporary caretaker for an alcoholic blind man, Lt. Col. Frank Slade (Al Pacino), who takes Charlie on an adventure-filled Thanksgiving weekend in New York City.

Charlie Simms looks at the school's job board for Thanksgiving weekend jobs
Looking at the school’s job board

Scent of a school library scene

A little over 17 minutes into this 156-minute-long (!) film, we see Charlie working as a student assistant in the school library. While standing behind a high desk, he’s stamping and checking out a book to another student. The library is in the classic style, with lots of wood tones and tall bookcases, befitting a private prep school.

A classmate, George Willis, Jr. (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) then rushes up to the library desk with an armful of books. George has already been introduced in earlier scenes, as one of a group of rich, elite boys, so we know that he likes to mess around and make fun of those who are not elites like himself.

George:  Chas, Chas, hold up. [Puts books on counter] How ya doing’?

Charlie: I’m good.

George: That’s great.

Charlie: [looks at one of the books] This can’t go out. This is on reserve.

Charlie notices one of the library books is on reserve
Charlie notices one of the library books is on reserve

Their conversation continues:

George: Here’s the thing. I need the book tonight for a Thanksgiving quiz with big-shit Preston in the morning.

Charlie: Yeah I know. That’s why he put it on reserve. This is our only copy.

George: Chas, I’m pulling an all-nighter. Without that book I’m dead, okay?

Philip Seymour Hoffman in an early breakout role in Scent of a Woman
Philip Seymour Hoffman said this role changed everything for his career. RIP, PSH.

Charlie, as the one working behind the elevated library desk, is standing above George, ostensibly the one in the power position, at least visually. He also has the power of rules supporting him, the rules that the school instructor set for the book on reserve. The camera mimics the angle of Charlie’s perspective, as he’s looking down at George, who is pleading with him to bend the rules. However, we also know that Charlie is the “poor” kid, the one on merit scholarship, and George is the “rich” kid. Therefore, George is the one who really holds the power in this situation.

It’s no wonder that Charlie is the one who relents. You can see it on his face, as evident in the screenshot below. He knows the score.

Charlie: If it’s not back by 7:30, it’s gonna be my ass.

George: Oh, I promise. I promise.

They then leave the library together. Charlie tells George to wait because he’s “gotta lock up.”


Side note: As a self-respecting, professional librarian, I gotta interject and say, this is NOT realistic. I do not believe for one second that any library would allow a student worker to be solely in charge of the library — especially a library at a private school that surely has lots of expensive materials and collections — and be allowed to lock up the library by themselves. Nope. Not happening. Librarians usually take turns working a night shift during the week, or there are specific librarian positions designated for evening services. In my personal experience, student workers usually help with closing up the library — tasks like announcing when the library is about to close, checking group study rooms, etc. — but the professional staff is ALWAYS ultimately responsible for locking up.

Student library worker Charlie locks up the school library
Leaving a student library worker to lock up the library?! I don’t think so.

SIGH. Okay, soap box moment over. Please continue. 😉


The library scene lasts about 40 seconds in total. As they walk away from the library, Charlie and George see George’s friends setting up some kind of prank. This will prove pivotal to the rest of the film plot, as this prank later humiliates the head master, Mr. Trask (James Rebhorn). Trask then tries to get the two boys to reveal who pulled the prank, but neither Charlie nor George cooperate. Trask then puts the screws on Charlie — the vulnerable one on merit scholarship, natch — and gives him the Thanksgiving weekend to think about cooperating; otherwise, Trask will hold a discipline hearing in front of the whole school right after the Thanksgiving holiday.

After the holiday weekend with Lt. Col Slade and lots of “white male bonding” adventures — eating fancy dinners! dancing the tango with a beautiful woman! endangering the lives of others by encouraging a blind man to drive a sports car! — Charlie faces judgment at that discipline hearing. Lt. Col. Slade joins Charlie at the hearing and defends the young man.

Scent of a Liberated Librarian

So what role does Charlie fulfill? I believe he fulfills the role of a Liberated Librarian, a character who “discovers” himself — and what he’s capable of — during an adventure or crisis. These characters are usually younger (check!), become more “masculine” or “assertive” after the liberation (check!), and usually need an external force to aid or instigate the “liberation” (check!).

It’s important to note that in the case of this Liberated Librarian character, Charlie is not liberated from being a librarian or working in a library like some others (e.g. Joe Versus the Volcano). Rather, he is liberated from his own fear and self-doubt.

I place this role and this film into the Class II category, films in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, but the librarian’s occupation does not directly affect the plot.

Charlie is a not an actual librarian, of course, since he is a student worker in the school library, but he is considered a “reel librarian” for the purposes of this research and blog post. He is the only one we see in any kind of authoritative role in a library, using that authority to break the rules about reserve books as well as lock up the library. However, the fact that he works in the library does not directly affect the plot. He could have worked elsewhere on the campus; his job as a student library worker is used primarily to demonstrate that he needs a job. (Clearly, the salary for a student library job is not enough to pay for a plane ticket to Oregon.) And the library setting itself is not essential because it’s a library and serving as a center of knowledge or access to information; instead, it’s used as a convenient locale and reason for the boys to be out late at night on campus. But there could have been other locales chosen on campus, like a tutoring center or student center or even a dormitory, which would have worked just as well for reasons of plot.

Charlie is one of the two leads, but he’s not really the main character. After all, Al Pacino is the one who chews up the scenery throughout the film and won an Oscar for Best Actor for yelling out “Hoo-ah!” a lot. We learn a lot more about Pacino’s character, Lt. Col. Slade, than we do about Charlie.

So how is Charlie described in the film, and what do we learn about him?

Here’s how he describes himself:

I’m not a squealer.

Here’s how Lt. Col. Slade first describes Charlie, at the beginning of the film:

You little snail darter from the Pacific Northwest.

And then toward the end of the film, he recognizes Charlie’s worth:

You got integrity, Charlie.

When the shit hits the fan, some guys run and some guys stay. Here’s Charlie facing the fire.

Scent of an award

As I mentioned, Al Pacino won an Oscar for Best Actor for this role (he had previously been nominated 6 times, and was also nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category for Glengarry Glen Ross the year he won for this film). Scent of a Woman was also nominated in the Best Writing, Best Picture, and Best Director Oscar categories but didn’t win.

The film also won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama, and Pacino won the Golden Globe for Best Actor.

And in a rare example of a reel librarian character resulting in major acting awards: Chris O’Donnell was also nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category for the Golden Globes and won the Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Most Promising Actor that year. Hoo-ah!

Scent of a comment

Have you seen Scent of a Woman lately? Did you remember that it’s a Thanksgiving movie?! Like me, are you left wondering if George ever returned that reserves book?

Please leave a comment and share… and then get back to your turkey and pumpkin pie! 😉 Happy Thanksgiving!

Sources used

%d bloggers like this: