Reader poll write-up, Spring 2022 | A reel librarian gets shushed in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ (1961)

“There you are, right in the public library!”

As per the winning entry in the most recent reader poll — thanks again to everyone who voted in the poll! — I am analyzing Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and its library scenes set in the New York Public Library. The Oscar-winning film, based on Truman Capote’s classic 1958 novella, was directed by Blake Edwards and written by screenwriter George Axelrod. The film stars Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, a New York “society gal” and free spirit who started out as Lulamae, a “wild thing” from Tulip, Texas. George Peppard co-stars as Paul Varjak, a once promising writer who now idles away his time as a “kept man” of married socialite Mrs. Emily Eustace “2E” Failenson, played by Patricia Neal. Buddy Ebsen and Martin Balsam also shine in supporting roles.

The film’s original trailer focuses primarily on Hepburn’s charm and style, which have helped make this movie a cultural and sartorial touchstone (especially Hepburn’s iconic “little black dress”).

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers” uploaded by Movieclips Classic Trailers, Standard YouTube License.

But this movie is dark, y’all. It has its issues, which I will get into, and every character has flaws. Beneath the glitter and parties, there’s an undercurrent of sadness and self-doubt; this is also reflective of the source novella’s tone. When I was a teenager, I remember a friend of mine couldn’t stand this movie because of how the cat was treated at the end of the movie. (Orangey, who played the no-name cat, has his own Wikipedia page!) The film’s saddest and most truthful moments are the ones I personally relate to and remember the most (e.g., “the mean reds“).

And I cannot write about this movie without mentioning that it features one of the most racist portrayals of an Asian character ever onscreen, with Mickey Rooney, a White actor, portraying Mr. Yunioshi, a Japanese photographer. Rooney reportedly wore false teeth, used tape for his eyelids, and wore “yellow face” makeup for this role. SO NOT OK. TV networks now showing this movie have either cut out the Mr. Yunioshi scenes altogether or inserted trigger warnings or context cards before showing the movie.

And I don’t think pointing out this film’s flaws and racism is unfairly holding up this 1961 film to 2022 standards. “It was considered a crude caricature even at the time of the film’s 1961 release,” and critics expressed qualms about Rooney’s portrayal from the beginning. For example, in 1961, the movie reporter in Variety called the film “whitewashed” and that “Mickey Rooney’s participation as a much-harassed upstairs Japanese photographer adds an unnecessarily incongruous note to the proceedings.” Rooney’s personal assertion in a 2008 interview that “Never in all the more than 40 years after we made it – not one complaint” is revisionist history.

So… do the library scenes fare any better? Let’s investigate.

Library scene #1

Let’s set the stage for the events that lead to the first library scene, seen in the video clip below.

At 1 hour and 8 minutes into the 114-minute film, Holly and Paul decide to go out and “spend the whole day doing things we’ve never done before.” Holly muses that “Of course I can’t really think of anything I’ve never done” — but she’s wrong!

Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Paul and Holly Go to the Library (13) – Audrey Hepburn” video uploaded by EverythingAudrey.com, Standard YouTube License

Five minutes later into the film — after a trip to Tiffany’s, as you do — Paul takes Holly… to the New York Public Library!

The lobby to the New York Public Library's central branch in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). Note the Black male reel librarian at the right-hand counter.
The lobby to the New York Public Library’s central branch. Note the Black male reel librarian at the right-hand counter.

Holly: What is this place, anyway?

Paul: You said you wanted to sit down. It’s the public library. You’ve never been here?

Holly: No. That makes two for me. I don’t see any books.

Paul: They’re in there.

They take a peek into the Reading Room.

Peeking into the Reading Room at the NYPL Central Branch
Peeking into the Reading Room at the NYPL Central Branch

Then Paul takes her to the wall of card catalog drawers. (So dreamy! Happy sigh. 🙂 )

Paul then explain the basics about card catalogs and library organization.

Paul: Each one of these little drawers is stuffed with little cards, and each little card is a book or an author.

Holly: It’s fascinating.

Paul: V-A-R-J-A-K.

Holly: Really?! [flips through the cards] Look! Isn’t it marvelous? There you are, right in the public library. “Varjak, Paul. Nine Lives.” Then a lot of numbers. You think they really have the book itself, live?

Paul: Sure. Follow me. [He takes the drawer out]

They walk across the room to the desk, where a Black man, dressed in a brown suit and tie, stands beneath a sign that reads “File call slips here.” Holly and the man share polite smiles. This reel librarian is not included in the credits list.

Holly Golightly and the Black male reel librarian politely smile at each other at the "File Call Slips Here" desk
Holly Golightly and the Black male reel librarian politely smile at each other at the “File Call Slips Here” desk

A moment later, then a board lights up with the number 57 — it’s like waiting at the doctor’s office or at the DMW, hah! — and Holly and Paul walk up to another desk, where a middle-aged, auburn-haired White woman stands. She is also dressed in a suit, this one a dark blue plaid. This reel librarian is credited in the cast list, and was played by Elvia Allman.

The visual introduction to the female librarian in this scene is from the back and over her shoulder — a common visual introduction to minor reel librarian characters in movies

Holly [in a loud voice]: 57, please. Nine Lives by Varjak, Paul.

Librarian: Shhhhhh.

Holly: Did you ever read it? It’s simply marvelous.

Librarian: No, I’m afraid I haven’t. [Goes back to filing or typing cards.]

Holly: Well, you should. He wrote it. He’s Varjak, Paul in person. [To Paul] She doesn’t believe me. Show her your driver’s license or your diner’s club card or something. [To the librarian] Honest, he is the author. Cross my heart and kiss my elbow.

Librarian: Would you kindly lower your voice, miss?

Here is the reel librarian’s EPIC shushing face:

The librarian's shushing face
The librarian’s shushing face

Holly: [To Paul] Why don’t you autograph it for her, Paul? [To the librarian] Don’t you think that would be nice? Sort of make it more personal?

Librarian: Really, miss. [whispers something unintelligible]

Holly: [To Paul] Go on, then. Don’t be so stuck-up. Autograph it to her.

Paul: All right. What shall I say?

Holly: Something sentimental, I think.

Librarian: What are you doing? Stop that!

Paul: [To the librarian] Shhhhh!

Librarian [in a quieter tone]: You’re defacing public property!

Holly: Well, all right, if that’s the way you feel. Come on, Fred darling, let’s get out of here. I don’t think this place is half as nice as Tiffany’s.

And here’s the reel librarian getting shushed herself!

The librarian gets shushed!
The librarian gets shushed!

This first scene lasts 2 minutes total.

Here was my initial summation of this scene from my undergraduate thesis over 20 years ago:

“The films that provide glimpses of librarians for humorous purposes only also are the films that exhibit probably the crudest portrayals of librarian stereotypes. … George Peppard and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) harass a middle-aged librarian (played by Elvia Allman) in the New York Public Library by signing a book, thereby “defacing public property.” (p.13)

Jennifer Snoek-Brown, “A Glimpse Through the Glasses: Portrayals of Librarians in Film.” Thesis, West Texas A&M U, 2001.

I think my initial view was a bit harsh and more than a little biased. Maybe I’ve mellowed as I’ve gotten older. 😉 I certainly don’t condone the dismissive and flippant attitude that Holly displays, but I also think that the librarian could have been a LOT friendlier and shown some basic human kindness to them with a greeting and small talk. I mean, she greeted Holly with a shush! NOT COOL. I realize that this script is played for laughs, and stereotypical portrayals of minor characters help set the foundation for easy laughs, but it still kind of irks me that the librarian character is written so stereotypically. The point is definitely to laugh AT this uptight, prissy librarian.

I do kind of love that the librarian gets shushed by Paul, though! That made me laugh. But honestly, these kinds of shushing scenes perpetuate the myth that libraries are these tomb-like, quiet places. Libraries DO often have designated quiet zones, but libraries also serve as community spaces where small groups and friends and family gather, so I almost always encounter a low-to-medium hum of noise whenever I visit public libraries.

I also quite like that the beginning of this library scene depicts joy in discovering how a library works. I love that little micro-scene at the card catalog wall because of the look of delight on Holly’s face! Also, this scene conveys the joy of writers having their names and resources in libraries. (I’m married to a writer, so this scene rings true for me on both counts. 😉 )

Card catalog joy!
Card catalog joy!

And Paul does a very efficient job in explaining the purpose of the card catalog system. (And thank you for being accurate in the call numbers, as they are indeed under the correct “U-V” section of the card catalog. Those kinds of details matter!)

This is also an example of a “closed stacks” library, where the public users do not have access to most of the library’s collection. Most public libraries have what are known as “open stacks,” or bookshelves and collections that are open for the public to wander around and browse. By the way, the NYPL Library website has a “Library Lingo” page that defines this common library term and concept:

“STACKS: The area where the library’s books and other materials are stored. In common with other major research libraries, The New York Public Library has “closed stacks”: you must request material instead of going to the shelf to retrieve it yourself. The New York Public Library’s Branch Libraries have “open stacks” where you may browse and retrieve material yourself.”

General Research Division, “Library Lingo,” New York Public Library, Nov. 1995

The White female librarian in this first library scene fulfills the Comic Relief character type, while the uncredited Black male librarian is your basic Information Provider character type. I think it’s interesting to note that the reel librarian of color is visibly friendlier than the White reel librarian, although the reel librarian of color has much less screen time and makes less of an impression onscreen.

Library scene #2

The second, and final, library scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) needs a little context, as well. At 1 hour and 24 minutes into the film, Paul dumps his lady friend and goes in search of Holly. He calls and looks everywhere and finally finds himself back in the New York Public Library, where he is surprised to see Holly!

This second library scene is in the video clip below:

Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Paul Tells Holly in the Library He Loves Her (16) – Audrey Hepburn” video uploaded by EverythingAudrey.com, Standard YouTube License

By the way, in earlier viewings, I had missed that a different reel librarian was on duty at the “File Call Slips Here” desk in the library lobby. This time, a younger White man, also dressed in a suit and tie, is standing at the desk and helping a library patron.

A different male librarian, this time a younger White man, helps a patron at the "File Call Slips Here" desk in the library lobby
A different male librarian, this time a younger White man, helps a patron at the “File Call Slips Here” desk in the library lobby

From the look of surprise on Paul’s face, it’s clear that he wasn’t expecting to see Holly there; rather, the NYPL must one of his own comfort spots.

Holly is reading at the NYPL
Holly is reading at the NYPL

Paul comes over to her and kisses her neck, which startles her. Dude is NOT READING THE (READING) ROOM.

Paul: Hi.

Holly [turns back to her book and adjusts her sunglasses]: What do you want?

Paul: I want to talk to you.

Holly: I’m busy. [turns a page of her book]

Paul: What are you doing?

Holly: Reading.

Leave the lady be, Paul. She’s reading!

Paul [picks up a book from the table]: South America: Land of Wealth and Promise?

Holly: It’s very interesting.

SIDE NOTE: Y’all *know* I looked up that title in WorldCat, the online catalog of the world’s libraries, right?! Right. From what I can tell, that book title was very likely made up, as there is no record in WorldCat for a book with that title.

Paul: Let’s get out of here. I said, let’s get out of here. I want to talk to you.

[Another patron shushes him, but the camera never pans to the other person.]

Paul [to Holly]: What’s the matter with you, anyway? What’s happened?

Holly: Fred, would you please just leave me alone.

Paul [grabs her arms]: Holly, I love you.

Holly gets up from the table and walks away with her purse, leaving the books on the table. Paul follows her and grabs her arm. He raises her voice, shouting at her, and Holly tells him, very clearly, “Let me go” three times. She tries to get away, but Paul roughly grabs her arms again several times.

Holly reveals that she’s going to marry a South American, Jose de Silva Pereira. (What Paul doesn’t know is that Holly is doing this so she can help take care of her brother when he gets out of the Army.) This further enrages Paul, who continues to shout at her and grab and shake her in front of several library patrons.

Physical assault alert in the library!
Physical assault alert in the library!

Paul [grabbing her again]: You’re crazy.

Holly: What, do you think you own me?

Paul: That’s exactly what I think.

Holly: I know, I know. That’s what everybody always thinks. But everybody happens to be wrong.

Paul: Look, I am NOT everybody. Or am I? Is that what you really think? That I’m no different from all your other rats and super-rats? [Holly walks away.] Wait a minute. [He takes his $50 writing check out of his breast pocket.] That’s it. If that’s what you really think, there’s something I want to give you.

Holly: What’s that?

Paul: Fifty dollars for the powder room.

He turns and walks away, and we see that everyone in the Reading Room is staring at him. No wonder! He just grabbed a woman and yelled at her in the library! Physical assault alert in the library!

Paul walks away at the end of this second library scene
Paul walks away at the end of this second library scene

THIS SCENE IS NOT OK. This is NOT romantic. Red flags EVERYWHERE. Paul is abusive, both verbally and physically, and he confirms that he thinks he “owns” her. NOPE. And then he gives her his $50 check and stalks away. This parting shot by Paul echoes what we had learned earlier, that one of the ways that Holly earns money is to get guys to pay her $50 every time she goes to the powder room. It’s a “gotcha” moment — a moment that, script-wise, works quite well on the page — but it’s a cheap moment focusing on shaming a woman trying to earn a living, for herself and for her brother. NOT OK. Even as a young woman, this scene made me feel uneasy when I first watched this movie; now, I am better able to articulate why this scene is problematic.

One thing about this scene that I realized is positive? That Holly went back to the library for research! Although she ended the first library scene with a flippant remark, “I don’t think this place is half as nice as Tiffany’s,” she DOES return when she needs some information, and when she needs a place to read and think. 🙂

This second scene in the library lasts 3 minutes. The second male reel librarian is also uncredited and serves as an Information Provider.

Altogether, we spend 5 minutes total at the New York Public Library in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Although they don’t last that long, the two library scenes are memorable, landing in the Class III category, in which reel librarians play supporting characters.

Continuing the conversation

It was an interesting exercise to revisit this movie — one I have seen several times, and a movie I do enjoy overall, despite some quite troubling scenes and portrayals, as I’ve detailed in this post. I can recognize the negatives — like the racist portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi and the physical assault in the library — while also enjoying the positives, like Holly’s style, the haunting “Moon River” song on the fire escape, and of course, Holly’s utter delight in learning about the card catalog system. ❤

I agree with this reviewer, who sums up Breakfast at Tiffany’s like this:

Holly’s ambiguities, flaws, and layers make her a much more interesting protagonist […] Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a weird, gorgeous, difficult, fascinating, dark film—and it’s all the better for it, but if you’re looking for something aspirational that you can watch purely for aesthetics, well, there are thousands of other films to choose from. So next time you claim this is your all-time favorite movie, I hope you’re able to back it up with some of the film’s flaws, and not just cite the fashion as the reason.

Elizabeth Logan. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s Problems No One Ever Talks About.” Glamour, 30 Dec. 2016.

What are your thoughts upon revisiting Breakfast at Tiffany’s and reflecting on its library scenes? Did anything new come to the surface for you? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used

Current Oscar nominees who have played reel librarians

Will any of these former reel librarians win an Oscar this year?

The nominations for this year’s Academy Awards were announced back in early February. When I read the list of nominations, I noted that several of the acting nominees have played reel librarian characters in past films. And thus, an idea for a post was born! 😉 Will any of these former reel librarians win an Oscar this year? The Academy Awards telecast is scheduled for this Sunday, March 27, 2022.

Oscar academy award with Oscars 2022 text on red background” graphic by Jernej Furman via Flickr, CC BY 2.0 license

Aunjanue Ellis

Current Oscar nomination:

Aunjanue Ellis is a Best Supporting Actress nominee for King Richard (2021). In King Richard, Aunjanue Ellis portrays Oracene Price, the real-life mother and coach of tennis icons Venus Williams and Serena Williams. This is Ellis’s first nomination for an Academy Award.

Past reel librarian role:

Aunjanue Ellis played reel librarian Jo in Men of Honor (2000), a movie based on the true story of Carl Brashear, the first Black American U.S. Navy diver (Cuba Gooding, Jr.). Carl goes to the local library for tutoring assistance, and Jo, a library assistant, helps him. She reveals that she is working at the library until she can get into medical school.

There is also a good woman in Brashear’s life: Jo (Aunjanue Ellis), the Harlem librarian who tutors him in reading when he has trouble with written exams.

Roger Ebert, “Reviews: Men of Honor,” RogerEbert.com, 10 Nov. 2000
Men of Honor Because They Said I Couldn’t Have It” video, uploaded by Jonathan F., Standard YouTube License

Related post: 5 movies featuring Black reel librarians in major roles

Judi Dench

Current Oscar nomination:

Judi Dench is nominated this year for Best Supporting Actress for Belfast (2021). In Belfast, Judi Dench plays the grandmother to a young boy, Buddy, and the film centers on Buddy’s family and childhood in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1969, at the beginning of “The Troubles.” This is Dench’s 8th nomination for an Academy Award, and she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love (1998).


Past reel librarian roles:

Judi Dench has played not one, but TWO reel librarian roles!

In Red Joan (2018), Judi Dench played the title role of Joan Stanley, a librarian who is arrested and suspected of being a spy! The film is based on the novel by Jennie Rooney, and the plot is inspired by the life of Melita Norwood, a British civil servant who was a spy for the KGB.

Our first shot of Joan Stanley (Judi Dench) in “Red Joan” is inauspicious enough. A librarian in a cozy cardigan, she’s pruning roses outside her small, neatly kept row house in a London suburb. But then there’s a knock at the door. And a charge of treason.

Elizabeth Weitzman, “‘Red Joan’ Review: Not Enough Drama, or Enough Judi Dench, in British Spy Story,” The Wrap, 18 April 2019
Red Joan ft. Judi Dench – Official Trailer I HD I IFC Films” video uploaded by
IFC Films, Standard YouTube License

In Wetherby (1985), Judi Dench played Marcia Pilborough, a thoroughly unpleasant Deputy Librarian at the British Library Lending Library, who informs a young scholar (Tim McInnerny) that they do not lend books except under special circumstances.

Related post: Dishonorable Mention

Javier Bardem

Current Oscar nomination:

Javier Bardem is nominated this year for Best Lead Actor for Being the Ricardos (2021), portraying real-life comic icon Desi Arnaz. This is Bardem’s 4th nomination for an Academy Award, and he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for No Country for Old Men (2007).

The casting of a European actor (Bardem) as a Cuban-American (Arnaz) has caused controversy and criticism. And it’s not the first time this has happened!

The Spanish actor Javier Bardem, in charge of playing Desi Arnaz, is a casting error. […] It is paradoxical that Bardem plays, for the second time in his successful career, a famous Cuban. At the first opportunity he achieved that plausible portrait of the long-suffering and anti-Castro writer Reinaldo Arenas, in the film Before Night Falls. [translated into English]

Alejandro Rios, “Being the Ricardos y la historia de Desi Arnaz, un cubano cosmopolita” [“Being the Ricardos and the story of Desi Arnaz, a cosmopolitan Cuban”], CubaNet, 19 Dec. 2021.

Past reel librarian role:

Javier Bardem also portrayed Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls (2000) — and bagged another Best Actor Oscar nomination for this portrayal! Based on Arenas’s memoir, Before Night Falls focuses on his life as a gay man and a writer and his struggles against the Cuban revolution and government censorship of his writings. As a young man, Arenas enters a young writers contest sponsored by the National Library — the prize is a job at the Library!

Before Night Falls (2000) Official Trailer – Javier Bardem, Johnny Depp Movie” video, uploaded by Movieclips Classic Trailers, Standard YouTube License

Related post: Oscar-nominated reel librarians ; Reel librarians in political-themed films

Sources used

Introducing Wong’s new action figure

If only Wong’s action figure also came with one of the forbidden books from the Kamar-Taj library!

I have written before about librarian action figures, including about the ones based on real-life librarian icon Nancy Pearl, who wrote the “Book Lust” reading guides like here in this post, and I’ve written at length about the Lego Librarian, even dressing up as the Lego Librarian for Halloween this past year. But my husband is the one in our family who is really into collecting action figures; he has created entire dioramas of action figures (mostly Star Wars-related).

So Sam was super excited when I recently asked if there was a Wong action figure and if so, that I wanted one. Sam researched it, and indeed, Marvel has recently issued a Wong 6-inch action figure (is this the first Wong action figure? leave a comment if you know) to tie in with the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness movie, which premieres in early May.

Note: This trailer begins with Wong’s voice!

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

The next thing I knew, I was opening up a delivered package to find my very own Wong action figure! (Yes, it came in this box that had no padding or anything.)

Opening up the box with Wong's action figure
Opening up the box with Wong’s action figure
A closeup of Wong's action figure
A closeup of Wong’s action figure

Wong’s action figure “features multiple points of articulation and movie-inspired accessories, including alternate hands and sword accessory!” As you can see in the photo above, there is also a green arm and hand included. I first wondered if these were representing the Abomination’s arm, like a clever way to reference his cage fight with Wong in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021), a scene I highlighted in this post about that film’s trailer and this analysis post of the film itself. But no, these green arms are parts of another action figure for Rintrah, who’s like a green-skinned minotaur, as part of Marvel’s Build-A-Figure marketing ploy.

Here’s a look at the back of the action figure box.

The back of Wong's action figure box
The back of Wong’s action figure box

The text reads:

Wong takes over for The Ancient One as Sorcerer Supreme and leader of Kamar-Taj, teaching a new era of sorcerers to protect our reality from mystical threats.

As seen in this new action figure, Wong is sporting a more colorful costume. As this article points out:

The new outfit bears varying shades of violet with touches of gold fabric. The cummerbund exhibits some reddish highlights wrapped with a copper-esque fabric belt […] evocative of a traditional Samurai outfit, replete with sword for possible physical battle.

Jim Johnson, “Doctor Strange 2 Promo Art Spotlights Wong’s New, More Vibrant Outfit,” CBR.com, 8 Jan. 2022

I love having an action figure of Wong, who is definitely one of my favorite reel librarians! I think they got the face right, as the figure definitely looks like British-Chinese actor Benedict Wong, and I like the defensive shield accessories that come with the figure. (By the way, I plan to keep the Wong action figure in its box for now, as I don’t want to misplace any of the accessories.) Sam and I both commented that we wish Wong’s action figure had also come with one of the forbidden books from the Kamar-Taj library, like seen here from the original Doctor Strange (2016) movie:

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)
Wong the librarian chooses books for Doctor Strange
Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)
Wong secures one of the books in the library’s forbidden section

I’m excited for the new Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness movie, and I hope that we can see it at our favorite drive-in movie theater when it comes out (we are still not comfortable with the idea of sitting in an indoor movie theater, especially not with all the mask mandates being lifted!). After all, Wong is one of my favorite reel librarian characters, and Wong is definitely my favorite character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Or, as it’s known in our household, the WONG-verse!

Are you looking forward to seeing more Wong in the Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness movie? Do you like Wong’s new action figure? Have you gotten your own Wong action figure? 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

First podcast! Favorite ‘Reel Librarians’ posts of 2021 + a continuing goal for 2022

If you’ve wondered what the real-life librarian behind ‘Reel Librarians’ sounds like, then this podcast is for you!

Happy New Year! It’s an annual tradition here on Reel Librarians to take a quick look back at favorite posts from the past year before launching into the new year. It’s also good to keep trying new things, so this year, I decided it would be fun to explore a podcast format for this “year in review” post. And yes, this is the first-ever podcast produced by Reel Librarians!

For this podcast, I invited my spouse, Sam, to chat about our favorite Reel Librarians posts this past year. And a big shout-out to Sam for editing this podcast. ❤

Enjoy the first podcast for Reel Librarians!
Favorite posts of 2021 + a continuing goal for 2022

Music credit: “Public Library Blues” by Super_Sigil via CC Mixter, CC BY NC 3.0 license

Spoiler alerts & sources

As I mentioned in the podcast, here’s a spoiler alert for plot points mentioned about 2021’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. (And please, do not share any spoilers on this post about Wong and the new Spider-Man: No Way Home movie — I will watch that movie once it’s available for streaming.)

This may seem like another spoiler, but I’m a librarian, so OF COURSE I have to credit my sources. Below I have added quick links to the posts that are referenced in the podcast — but you’ll have to listen to the podcast to discover in which context they’re mentioned and by whom!

FYI, some of the posts linked below are not necessarily our faves (or even published this past year!); let’s just say we had a wide-ranging conversation. 🙂 I’ve also arranged the post links below in alphabetical order by title, not necessarily in the order that they’re mentioned in the podcast.

What are your thoughts?

Did you enjoy this new podcast format? I have no intention of creating a regular podcast — I am most comfortable expressing myself through writing — but would you enjoy occasional or special podcasts on this blog? Do you have any sign-off catchphrases or podcast titles to suggest? (The nerdier, the better! 😉 ) Do you have any personal fave posts or themes from the blog this past year? Do you have any specific themes, ideas, questions, and/or reel librarian movies you would like me to explore in 2022? Please leave a comment and share.

%d bloggers like this: