Tuesday questions, Dr. Kathy Wahlund edition

In the High and Far-Off Times when I was a senior in high school, the film version of “The Fugitive” was released.  [Even though the early 90s counts, in pop culture terms, as around about the Cenozoic, please be warned of very minor spoilers to come.]  If memory serves, I got to see it late on the night before it was supposed to open in the movie theater in my hometown because I had a friend who worked there.

I loved it.  I think it’s a fantastic film, though it’s been a while since the last time I saw it.  Great action, great plot, great cast.  If you haven’t seen it, consider this a recommendation.

Anyhow, one reason I personally loved it was that it dealt with medicine.  For those of you unfamiliar, the title character is Dr. Richard Kimble, a surgeon wrongly accused of murdering his wife.  (That he is wrongly accused is established early on.)  Much of the action occurs in hospitals, and the protagonist’s profession is central to the story.  At the time of its release, I had already settled on medicine as a career, and was hoping to enter a six-year combined undergraduate/medical program upon graduation from high school.  (Which I eventually did.)  So I really loved all the doctor stuff.

One scene, probably my favorite, is particularly full of doctor stuff.  [This is the spoiler-ish bit.]  Dr. Kimble needs to know if certain samples have been tampered with, and so he sneaks into the hospital where he used to work to meet a pathologist.  As he is on the run from the law, she has no idea that he is coming.  But immediately upon seeing him, she embraces him.  And then she looks at the slides he needs her to examine, and confirms his suspicions.  It’s a small scene, but pivotal.

I love it for so many reasons.  I love seeing that Dr. Kimble has a friend that he can truly trust.  I love that she is clearly loyal to him and knows he must be innocent.  And I love love love her obvious competence.  Fictional though she is, she gave me a little example of the kind of doctor I wanted to be, someone who knew what they were doing and enjoyed the respect of other competent people.

And I love it for another reason, too.

Like many doctors who wear lab coats, she has a few little pins stuck to hers.  (Back when I wore a lab coat, I did too.)  One is an AIDS ribbon.  And another reads “Hate is not a family value.”

Since then I’ve seen that slogan on a million bumper stickers.  But that was the first time I ever saw it, an incidental little detail totally peripheral to anything in the plot that I happened to notice.  And it meant something to me.  Hackneyed as it may seem now, that first time I saw it it felt profound.  It actually communicated a real message.

It was, for me, an important message.  Though it would be less than two years before I would come out, I was still very much in the closet then, there in that small town comfortably tucked within the Bible Belt.  And that square little pin was a glimmer that things could be different for me.  That there really was something the matter with heaping obloquy on a group of people while simultaneously proclaiming a religion of compassion, and there were people who made a point of saying so.

I love that scene.  I love that character.

I have no idea why that scene happened to pop into my head not so long ago, but it did.  I think we were going somewhere and the Better Half was driving, leaving my synapses to flicker abstractly.  And suddenly it dawned on me — that character is played by Jane Lynch!  Long before Best in Show, before Sue Sylvester.  Before she became a big star.  The helpful IMDB app I’d put on my phone confirmed it.

I don’t know if the pin was her idea.  It wouldn’t surprise me, as she’s well-know for being openly lesbian.  I don’t know if it was added just to give her character a little bit more detail, or if it was meant to send a message to people.  Probably both.  But it sent a message I was desperate to hear.

If I ever happen to meet Jane Lynch, I’m sure I’d have lots I’d want to talk about.  I’d probably tell her how much I loved her “Vogue” cover on Glee.  And everything she’s ever done in those Christopher Guest movies.  Lots of stuff.  But the first thing I would do is tell her I remember the pin she wore in that scene, and thank her for it.

So that’s this week’s question — what tiny little thing in some larger work, almost certainly overlooked by almost everyone who saw/heard/experienced it, stuck out to you?  What facet made the whole thing gleam a little bit brighter for you?  Why did it matter to you personally, and what would you say if you met the person who made it?

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26 thoughts on “Tuesday questions, Dr. Kathy Wahlund edition

  1. Halfway through the post, I was thinking, “Does Russell realize that was Jane Lynch?” The comment was literally screaming out. Then I kept reading. (Also worth noting: a younger Julianne Moore also appears in the movie. They really classes up that hospital’s doctoring crew.)

    I am not entirely certain that this would count, but Edward Steichen’s image of New York City’s Flatiron Building – my parents had a poster of it when I was growing up – includes a small reflecting streetlight. It’s on the lefthand side. I’ve always been transfixed by that particular detail. It is the first place my eyes go after encountering the image, as if I’m trying to make sure that it is still there.

    My temptation in describing why this is makes me sound like a gothic teenager, but the reflection confirms the fact that this was an image of a wet day, and the rain that must have fallen only emphasizes the sort of evening that I imagined it to have been. Cold. Lonely. Miserable, frankly. There’s something about that which appeals greatly to me. I can only imagine what that says about me.

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  2. There was an episode of Phil Silvers’s Sergeant Bilko show where a very young Dick van Dyke played a hillbilly with a preternatural talent for accurate throwing. (He’d grown up hunting meat for the stewpot with rocks, because they couldn’t always afford ammunition.) Van Dyke absolutely killed, and I honestly think that if I’d seen that show when it first ran (unlikely, as it was a bit before I was born), I’d have turned to the person next to me and said “That kid is going to to a big star.”

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  3. For me the movie was The Fisher King, and the moment was my second favorite scene in the movie.*

    I first saw Fisher King during its initial release in the theaters, and at the time I had this little piece of raw, intense guilt wrapped up in my heart. It was over something I had done (or, to be more precise, not done) years earlier that set off a chain reaction of events and choices by others that ended very, very tragically. Most of the people I knew who were aware of this guilt would tell me that I wasn’t actually to blame for the bad things that occurred, but I never wanted to hear it. Eventually I refused to ever talk about it, and eventually people thought I must have moved on. But it was always there, like this painful burn on the roof of your mouth you can’t stop poking at with your tongue.


    The whole movie is about redemption, of course. But for me, the scene where Robin Williams’ character leads his fellow inmates in a mass inning of I Love New York in June was instantly cathartic. I remember feeling the tears flow and, afterwards, making up some other reason to explain to my date why I was so affected.

    I was (mostly) able to let it all go after that night. And I don’t even know that I can tell you what it was about that scene that allowed me to move on.

    Maybe I was just finally ready.

    *My very favorite is the dancing scene in Penn Station, and if that isn’t your favorite as well there’s something very wrong with you.

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  4. In Gladiator, yes the 2000 Ridley Scott movie with Russell Crowe as an Australian-accented Roman legionnaire that everyone seems to love to hate on for some reason, there are fantastic historical details if you watch the movie very closely. You’ll recall that Oliver Reed played Proximo, the guy who bought the recently-enslaved Russell Crowe and trained him into being the most awesomest gladiator ever.

    Well, we learn in an expository scene that Proximo had once been a slave and a gladiator himself. And that Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris brought such weary sadness to the role!) had manumitted him, and he got to keep the rudius — a wooden sword used in the manumission ceremony. Well, of course if it had been you, you’d have kept that wooden sword as a memento of the event.

    So for about one second, when I happened to pause the DVD just as the legionnaires are about to get all stabby with poor old Proximo (poor Oliver Reed had died, so on screen it was a CGI Proximo) he gives his “shadows and dust” line and holds on to the rudius as a reminder that if nothing else, he dies with the dignity of a free man. So I pause the screen at just that moment, and I notice that there’s a little bronze plaque bolted to the handle.

    Now, if this had been a George Lucas movie it would have said “Property of Obi-Wan Kenobi” or some cheesy thing like that. But I look close and I see that it’s engraved in Latin, with the Roman numerals CMXXII. And there’s another scene where you can see it a little bit better:

    So then I pull out one of my Roman history books and look up Marcus Aurelius — he was emperor from 161 to 180 CE. But of course the Romans didn’t use that numbering system; they would have numbered their years, if at all, by the number of years that had passed since the founding of Rome.* And by legend, Rome was founded in 753 BCE. So by the Roman reckoning Marcus Aurelius became emperor in the Roman year 914, and the events of the movie take place in the Roman year 933, the year Marcus Aurelius dies and Commodus succeeds him. And the sword has the number 922 below Marcus Auerlius’s name, a realistic sort of time for him to have performed the ceremony. “Holy crap,” I thought, “That’s quite a detail to have put in to something that you can see for like six frames split between two scenes. And now I know that Proximo has been running gladiators for eleven years.”

    * Yes, I know that during Republican times, the year was frequently denoted along the lines of “In the year of the consulship of Gaius Julius Caesar and Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus,” but oft as not they would go on to add “and the six hundred and ninety-fifth year of Rome.”

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    • So, with that kind of commitment to detail,why did they have headless statues in the niches of the coliseum wall? Did they think they were actually made that way, as opposed to losing their heads, arms and whatnot* in the many years since that era?
      *Actually, my impression of Roman sculpture, based on casual observation in the museum, is that compared to arms and heads, the whatnots tend to have survived very well. They’re also surprisingly small.

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      • Would you believe we have Victorian and Edwardian female scholars to thank for the whatnots? Even some that survived, um, intact to their arrival in European hands were whanged off to be replaced with bronze figleaves and the like ‘for modesty’, with the whatnots saved in a, if you will permit the liberty, tackle box. The British Museum had entire storerooms of whacked-off whatnots.

        And the male art history scholars persistently refused to let The Delicate Ladies (who were clearly only there till they caught a husband) work on things they viewed as important, so several took it as their especial pride and task to reunite as many of the, um, subdivided statues as possible. Michaelangelo’s David is one that was so reunited.

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      • Second unit and CGI crews may not have been under such tight direction, I guess. The Romans often painted their statues, too — not only did they have arms and legs, but real jewelry and colorful ornamentation. The paint faded quickly, which was okay with the owners, because that way they could update the looks of their art the way we moderns like to rearrange our furniture.

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  5. I was in eight grade when the fugitive came out!

    This is a really good question. I usually love picking up on minor historical details in novels and such. The example that sticks out is knowing that Julius Beaufort in the Age of Innocence was modeled on the real life August Belmont.

    Stuff like that.

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