Citizen Kane stitches together a contemporary story with self-referential flashbacks in a series of contradictory episodes whose ambition is matched by their technical brilliance. In the second of five attempts to discover the identity of Rosebud, reporter Jerry Thompson (William Alland) visits the "Thatcher Memorial Library" to review the unpublished memoirs of Kane's former guardian. A stern librarian (Georgia Backus) leads Thompson into a mausoleum-like reading room, arranges for him to view the manuscript, and gives strict instructions on which pages he may view.
The library has no visible shelves. The manuscript is stored in a safe. The librarian is perhaps the most severe representation of the profession ever projected onto a cinema screen. Unsurprisingly, library writers have denounced the scene. Phrases such as "the world's meanest archivist" and "a typically negative view of librarians" pepper online discussions. A blogger has written: "I watched Citizen Kane for the first time with a librarian and she was quick to point out how librarians are erroneously depicted in popular culture."
I think that the issue-desk critics have missed the point. They have overlooked Welles' subversiveness and his expressionistic filmmaking. They have ignored the fact that, unlike the librarian encountered by Woodward and Bernstein, Backus grants access to the library's most treasured document under the same conditions that every good librarian would impose. The reporter is watched, and his time with the manuscript is limited - yet he is allowed to read it.
Secondly, and remarkably, Backus is untypical of other screen librarians because she plays the character as a lesbian (David Lugowski uses her performance as a launchpad to "queer" the entire film). She is not the enbunned, horn-rimmed, cardigan wearing Plain Jane of librarians' ire. She is masculine, strong, and domineering, with an Annie Lennox dress-sense forty years before the Eurythmics. She is in charge of her collection, and in control of the situation. She is an empowering and emancipatory figure. She is mean, but you have to be a little mean to be a good librarian.
|No books about rosebuds|
Director: Orson Welles
Written by: Orson Welles, Herman J. Mankiewicz
Cinematography: Gregg Toland
Editing: Robert Wise
Original music: Bernard Herrmann
Cast includes Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead, Ruth Warrick, Sonya Wagner, Ray Collins, Erskine Sanford, Everett Sloane