Archivist Spotlight: Henry, the Records Keeper
Updated: Aug 20
It's October as of the writing and posting of this article, which means it's Archives Month in the states, which means I don't post anything about it until the end of said month. Meh. My schedule is weird, what can I say?
Anywho, I'm not here to talk about my failings to post regularly. I'm here to talk about an archivist we can all appreciate: Henry!
Wait, do you not know who Henry is? Good, that's how the records keeper for a CIA archives likes it. If you don't know he's there, then he's doing his job. Right? Right.
But for the sake of making this article slightly longer and, perhaps, more appealing to read, Henry is the records keeper for the CIA archives in the 2010 movie Red. A very loose adaptation of the limited-series, three-issue comic book Red by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, Red follows Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a CIA operative designated RED (Retired, Extremely Dangerous) trying to navigate life as a regular citizen and the boredom/loneliness that comes with it. After an assassination attempt in his own home, Frank is a man on a mission to find out who is trying to kill him. Along the way he pulls in some old friends, Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), and Victoria Winslow (Helen Mirren) while trying to avoid or directly confront Agent Cooper (Karl Urban), the man tasked with hunting Frank down and killing him.
Obviously there's more to the plot, I guess, but that's not what's important. What's important to us is the scene in which Cooper is sent to the archives - sorry, the "back room" - to get Frank's file. Bringing him into a clean room lined with filing cabinets behind a vault and barred door is Henry (Ernest Borgnine).
There's a lot to like about Henry. He's no nonsense and very down to earth about the fact that, as an archivist - again, sorry, "records keeper" - for the Central Intelligence Agency, no one knows he or the vault exists and that's the way it should be. Normally, I'd be going on about the fact that the archivist is an old man (of course!) and the department is invisible to even the people working there (double of course!), but given the fact that it's the CIA and secrecy is their thing, it actually works in Henry's favor to be as invisible as possible. There's a lot of redacted, sensitive material stored in the archives that, if placed in the wrong hands, could make for a lot of trouble or put countless lives in danger. So, in this case, the less people know about Henry and the archives, the better.
I'm also not surprised that it's all filing cabinets of physical materials instead of a server room. This is a movie about the old school badasses whooping some youngster butt, so having their sensitive information stored in old fashioned file cabinets with nary a USB port to be found makes sense. There's also something infinitely more satisfying in handing over a large file of papers and photographs instead of little drive that stores several gigabytes of data.
Henry himself, however, is more of a walking archives than the massive folder he hands over to Agent Cooper. His age makes him a valuable source of information as he imparts the exposition that the files couldn't given the amount of black pen taken to them. It's a shame the young whippersnapper of an agent doesn't stick around long enough to get the full story before storming off like he knows what's coming to him.
And because Henry has the knowledge and understanding of Frank Moses' career as an agent, he's able to see which side is the right one. When Frank infiltrates the CIA, he goes to Henry who simply hands over the files needed. No threats, no bargaining, just a very nice moment between two elder agents because age recognizes age. Their value is in the experience they bring, not the vitality of their bodies.
So, yeah, it's not always a bad thing to have an old archivist in your story. Sometimes they can help emphasize the importance of age and experience in the archival/knowledge management profession. Unfortunately, we don't know much about Henry beyond his professional placement, but his enthusiasm for Frank's work and his demeanor tells us he's one of the good ones.
Someone who should get a moment in the spotlight.