Weekend Special: Ring-a-ding-ding

New Year's fireworks at the Burj Khalifa 2010

Happy (almost) New Year!

♥ I’m all prepped to rewatch When Harry Met Sally… (1989), which also makes this list of the top 10 memorable New Year’s Eves in cinema.

♥ Also, this year we’re popping out the egg nog instead of the champagne — we’re getting old, people — so here’s a brief history of egg nog for you to indulge on (without all the calories!)

♥ I try to include a “spoiler alert” warning on posts, because it’s just too hard not to mention endings or important plot points when discussing reel librarian roles. But it’s even harder to discuss what makes a good ending, when doing so can destroy the experience for a new audience. It’s a pickle.

♥ My husband’s addiction of choice is coffee (he’s so proud he’s made me a recent convert), while mine would be — if you’re a frequent reader — movies, of course. Check out these addictions of 10 famous authors. Not that it comes as any surprise, but James Joyce was weird.

Best librarian films by decade, Part II: 1960s-2000s

Continuing my picks for best librarian films per decade…

Like I said in my Part I post, my criteria is two-fold:  quality of the films themselves (differing from my Hall of Fame list, although there are some overlaps) and the prominence and depiction of the librarians in those films. The reel librarian depictions aren’t necessarily flattering in my following choices, but they are noteworthy and/or influential. As you’ll see, I haven’t limited my choices to just one per decade (it’s just too difficult!).

1960s


The Music Man (1962), a classic musical, includes one of the most indelible reel librarian roles (and songs) in Marian the Librarian. Includes a young Ron Howard!

A quirky and sensitive film, I like Goodbye, Columbus (1969) better each time I see it. A lot of it has to do with Richard Benjamin’s leading man portrayal of Neil Klugman (and let’s be honest, Ali MacGraw’s entire wardrobe). The film is refreshingly honest — even about his uncertain attitude about his future working in the public library (included in the trailer below).

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) is a tense, dramatic, stylish film in black and white. Yet nothing in this film is so clear-cut — especially not Richard Burton’s role as Alec Leamas, a spy who falls from grace (and into a library job). The film also boasts the excellent Claire Boom as fellow librarian Nan.

1970s


Foul Play (1978) boasts a glowing Goldie Hawn as public librarian Gloria Mundy. This screwball comedy is cheerfully fun and tongue-in-cheek, with charming performances by the whole cast (Dudley Moore is HILARIOUS in a small role). And Goldie Hawn is so resourceful with an umbrella! (see below)

Again with Ali MacGraw and a fantastic wardrobe — this time, she’s a student library worker (although not for long) in Love Story (1970). Although never as deep or significant as it thinks it is, the film still has an enduring charm with effective performances by the lead actors and a stirring theme song. Seriously, once that melody gets in my head, it takes a day or two to get it out.

Soylent Green (1973) takes a totally different direction into a dystopian future. Sure, it’s slightly cheesy and grainy, but it all kind of works. The future of libraries and librarians (called Books) — literally the last-standing guardians of history and knowledge — is bleak yet stirring in its own way. This movie makes you think.

1980s


Major League (1989) still stands up, minus the dated ’80s hair and wardrobe — it’s addictively rewatchable! And bless Bob Uecker. Although in a slightly minor role, I always enjoy Rene Russo’s turn as special collections librarian Lynn Wells — smart, beautiful, sassy, and a former world-class athlete. A winning combo.

Ghostbusters (1984) features less-than-desirable librarian roles — a frumpy librarian scared out of her wits by a spinsterish librarian ghost and an uncaring boss — but that opening scene in the New York Public Library sure is memorable! And it’s a good movie. The comedic timing, Sigourney Weaver, the soundtrack, the tagline, and the final villain? Classic.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) didn’t really impress when it came out. Maybe the expectations were too high. To succeed, this kind of story has to rely on tone and atmosphere — and this film has that in spades. It is a genuinely scary scene when the evil Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce) threatens town librarian — and eventual hero — Charles Halloway (Jason Robards). See their final confrontation, set in the public library, below.

1990s


I know, it seems I can’t make up my mind, as I keep picking more and more films for each decade. But looking back, the ’90s were uncommonly deep in significant reel librarian roles!

One of my all-time faves, of course, is Party Girl (1995). It’s so unique in so many ways, with its insider look into and hilariously tongue-in-cheek frustrations about libraries and librarians (see clip below). I could quote from this film for days. And Parker Posey in the title role is a joy to behold, so sassy and fearless.

I appreciate genre films that revel in its genre and have fun with it. The Mummy (1999) is an adventure film with lots of humor — and damn proud of it! (Not so much the sequels.) And Rachel Weisz makes me smile every time in her drunken “I’m a librarian” campfire scene.

You may not be familiar with this British TV movie, but it’s a real gem. Shooting the Past (TV, 1999) is about a special collections library — with priceless photo archives — and its oddball librarians who fight to save it. A suspenseful and intriguing film, it boasts one of the most complex reel librarian roles ever, Lindsay Duncan as head librarian Marilyn Truman.

Ah, The Shawshank Redemption (1994). Another totally rewatchable film that never gets old. Although it’s a bit long — that’s probably why it’s such a popular move to air on TV during any kind of holiday — I can watch it at any point and get caught up in the story, as well as the universally excellent acting. And I tear up each time I think of Brooks, the old prison librarian.

2000s


They’re cheesy, I know, but the TV movies of The Librarian trilogy (The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, 2004; The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s Mines, 2006; The Librarian: The Curse of the Judas Chalice, 2009) are so much fun! Although the plots are pretty predictable, and the special effects not-so-great in places, Noah Wyle’s performance (as the Liberated Librarian male prototype, Flynn Carsen) is worth the effort.

In an Oscar-nominated role, Javier Bardem stars as real-life poet Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls (2000). He gets his start by winning a writing contest sponsored by the National Library — the prize is a job at the library! A beautiful and complex film — but be warned, it’s a wrenching journey.

Michelle Williams and Peter Dinklage in ‘Station Agent’

The Station Agent (2003) is a quiet film, heartfelt and quirky. It’s about a man born with dwarfism (Peter Dinklage, always a first-rate actor) who just wants to be alone. But of course, that’s just not possible in a small town. Starting with this film, Michelle Williams — although in a minor role as public library assistant Emily —  really began her quest to break out of Dawson’s Creek and develop into a serious actress.


Best librarian films by decade, Part I: 1910s – 1950s

The end of the year, and it’s time for every web site and blog to send up some “best of” lists. This blog is no exception. Plus, I’m a listmaker. It just feels natural.

So here are my top choices — for right now, at least — for best librarian films per decade. My criteria is two-fold:  quality of the films themselves (differing from my Hall of Fame list, although there are some overlaps) and the prominence and depiction of the librarians in those films. The reel librarian depictions aren’t necessarily flattering in my following choices, but they are noteworthy and/or influential. As you’ll see, I haven’t necessarily limited my choices to just one per decade (it’s too hard!).

This is Part I, through the 1950s. Enjoy!

1910s


The first librarian film is the aptly titled The Librarian in 1912. However, it appears that the major librarian films of this decade are all presumed lost. From the thorough write-ups in The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999 (culled from primary source docs and reviews), I would say the following films are the most noteworthy:

A Wife on Trial (1917) and its sequel (!) The Wishing Ring Man (1919), feature a librarian in the leading female role. Phyllis is a children’s librarian who dreams of a rose garden. The film is based off The Rose-Garden Husband, a bestseller in 1915.

Bryant Washburn plays LeRoy Sylvester, a public librarian and the title role in A Very Good Young Man (1919, see above). In fact, in a decidedly rare occurrence, the leading man’s occupation was changed from a brass bed factory worker in the original stage play to a librarian in the film!

1920s


The Blot (1921) boasts one of the best female directors of that time period, Lois Weber (also one of the highest-paid directors of the era, male or female). The tone of this silent film is both sensitive and intelligent, with an touching story — about poverty and societal disregard for intellectual professions — and effective acting, including Claire Windsor as public librarian Amelia Griggs. The film was generally well-received upon its release, earning good reviews in Variety and Motion Picture News. It’s an important film to showcase early independent film (and good works by early female directors), as well as highlighting librarians as efficient, pleasant, and well-liked — even though lowly paid — members of the community.

1930s


Forbidden (1932) features a spirited performance by Barbara Stanwyck as public librarian Lulu Smith, who quits her library job and sets sail for Havana, en route for romantic adventure. Check out her fiery opening scene, below. Deliciously melodramatic!

I have a soft spot for Fast and Loose (1939), a comedic mystery in the Thin Man style, this time with the dynamic duo of Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell. It includes two male librarians as supporting characters — and fellow murder suspects! — and the rarely featured world of archival manuscripts and private libraries. Although not on the same level as the Thin Man series, the film is still witty and fun. Keep an eye out on TCM for this one.

1940s


It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Of course. Was there any doubt this would make the list? It’s a great film, one of the best ever on ANY list. Sure, I sigh and roll my eyes at its Spinster Librarian fate alternative for Mary, but I still love the film. A noteworthy, if not flattering, entry for the reel librarian.

And for those of you who like a bit of music, the 1940s had a surprising number of noteworthy musicals featuring reel librarians in leading roles, including Good News (1947), Wonder Man (1945), and Strike Up the Band (1940). The latter is one of the best of the Mickey-and-Judy “let’s put on a show!” series and includes one musical number, “Nobody,” in the public library (see clip below).

1950s


Desk Set (1957) is one of the finest efforts pairing Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Hepburn plays the best reel librarian EVER — sassy, funny, smart as hell — a woman who isn’t afraid to downplay her professional skills or love of pretty dresses. The film crackles with wit, style, chemistry, and an enduring central issue of how technology affects libraries and librarians.

Sam Jeffe earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal as an ex-convict and former prison librarian in The Asphalt Jungle (1950). A gritty film noir classic.

Stay tuned for Part II!

With or without honors

Ah, With Honors (1994). A major film of my youth, and very mid-’90s (the soundtrack, the earnest acting, the annoying Joe Pesci accent, the lumpy sweaters and plaid). The quintessential feel-good movie about how terrible higher education is. Some scenes were filmed on the Harvard campus, but film locations also included the University of Illinois at Chicago; University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana; and the University of Minnesota. The Widener Library plays a big role in the film, although its librarians are featured only briefly.

*SPOILER ALERT*

English: Widener Library, Harvard University 2009

Widener Library - Image via Wikipedia

At the end of the opening credits, campus radio DJ (Patrick Dempsey) reports on a Walt Whitman ghost sighting in Widener Library (“America’s greatest poet haunting the library?”). A few minutes later, uptight Harvard student Monty (Brendan Fraser) accidentally drops his thesis down the grate and discovers that the library ghost is a homeless man, Simon Wilder (Joe Pesci), living in the bowels of the library. Simon strikes up a deal with Monty — food and lodging in exchange for the thesis.

About a half-hour into the film, Simon and Monty enter the Widener Library together (see film clip below). Simon attracts a lot of negative attention but waxes rhapsodic, “This library’s like a church isn’t it?” (Yes, it is quite beautiful.) An older, bespectacled librarian (Patricia B. Butcher as Librarian) with a short, grayish bob and wearing conservative clothes (a grey suit and a white, frilly, high-necked blouse) and conservative jewelry (a string of pearls and a brooch), walks across the room to the pair. She taps Simon the shoulder and tells him he can’t stay there. How do we know she’s a librarian? She’s carrying a book, of course!

Monty hurriedly says he’s with him, “He’s part of my research project.” The librarian responds, “Oh, I beg your pardon” and walks away, looking back once over her shoulder.

Not bothered by the incident, Simon remarks, “Women. Ain’t they perfect?”

Monty — still reflecting a similar attitude to the librarian — warns him to keep his voice low so he won’t attract attention. But then when Monty asks a question, he earns a “Shhh!” from Simon.

The unnamed librarian is your basic Information Provider, reflecting the general social attitude toward homeless people.

A little over an hour into the film, Monty spends Christmas by himself. After hearing bad news about Simon’s health conditions, Monty’s back in the Widener Library, gazing blankly over a pile of books. Behind him, it looks like the library staff are (quietly) sharing Christmas gift exchange at a desk. We see the same librarian as before, sitting to the left, dressed in a festive red cardigan and white blouse. Three other females and one male librarian are grouped around the desk/table. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in a scene highlighting Monty’s loneliness and sadness, the librarians provide the (literal) backdrop!

Altogether, the reel librarians appear onscreen for less than a minute total, earning this film a spot in the Class IV category.

Although the reel librarians here don’t come across too well — neither does higher education — libraries still get a shout-out. Simon compares libraries to churches. He also is mad about losing his home in the library’s furnace room, and for good reason:  “I had a home. I had a warm place to sleep. 17 bathrooms and 8 miles of books. I had a goddamn palace!”

And at the very end of the film, after Simon has passed away, Monty goes back to the Widener Library. He looks around reverently and — bringing the film full circle — places a well-worn copy of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass on an empty library table. The library/church has become Simon’s de facto mausoleum, a fitting conclusion to his memory and influence.

Weekend Special: Silver bells and all that jazz

For those who celebrate Christmas, Happy Christmas Eve! Here are some cool things on the interwebs that have filled my stocking this past week.

♥ I love the artistry of book covers (seriously, check out Chip Kidd, a master of book design). Here is a gallery of the the 10 best book covers of 2011. Do you agree?

♥ And here is the list of EW’s top 25 movie posters of 2011.

♥ Your weekly dose of pretty? Check out these images from the medieval manuscript Liber Floridus (Book of Flowers). You’re welcome.

♥ The townhouse used in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (yep, the film features an uptight reel librarian) is up for sale. Cue oohing and aahing and humming of “Moon River” in 1… 2… 3. Go!

♥ Whether you’re glad or not that Christmas carol season is on its merry way out until next year (I personally loooooove Christmas carols), here’s an interesting essay about the long, strange history of Christmas carols.

All hail Mary

Mary, Merry Christmas. I’ve written a lot already about Mary Bailey’s immortal (and infamous) 30-second reel librarian character in the nightmarish alternative reality featured in the second half of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). But hey, it’s a classic Christmas favorite — and one of my favorite films of all time.

 Are you planning to watch — or rewatch — It’s a Wonderful Life for Christmas?

Screenshot of Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in ...

Mary is certainly a memorable character, whether you’re referring to the supportive soul mate of the first half or the Spinster Librarian of the second half.

Others agree.

Mary Hatch/Bailey made both the Movieline Magazine’s list for 100 Best Female Character Roles (#6) and Filmsite’s Greatest Film Characters of All Time.

Movieline highlights Mary Bailey as “a tribute to a lost breed — women who quietly, unfussily prevail.”

Do you agree?

Three cheers for librarians!

Spreading the holiday cheer… with the following, you don’t have to choose between Christmas and reel librarians. Happy Holidays!

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946):  And what Christmas-themed movie list would be complete without It’s a Wonderful Life? And if you’ve been reading this blog even a little bit, you’ll know it contains a fleeting (30 seconds) yet lasting impression of the classic Spinster Librarian. But of course, all is well at the end of this classic movie.

The Desk Set (1957): Not a Christmas movie in and of itself, but this classic librarian film boasts a fantastically funny — and boozy — office Christmas party in the research department library. And some fabulous frocks. BONUS: Bongos!

Christmas on Division Street (TV, 1991): Admittedly, I haven’t been able to watch this Emmy-nominated TV movie yet, but the credits do list a Librarian and Library Guard. One IMDb reviewer commented that “One day, while Trevor is searching for books in a library for his school assignment on American History, he meets a homeless old man, Cleve (Hume Cronyn).” Hmmm… a library guard in the credits in a TV movie about a homeless guy…

Home by Christmas (TV, 2006): Another TV movie I haven’t been able to get my hands on yet, but a Librarian is included in the credits. As par for the course of most Christmas movies, it seems to start out really depressing. As an IMDb review states, “Linda Hamilton’s character being cheated on by her husband and then going through a series of (certainly plausible) extremely hard and devastating times. But, as the movie progresses, there is a lot of laughter, lessons and a really nice and touching story that makes this movie thoroughly enjoyable.