WarGames and research

As another year draws to a close, here is a final film analysis post for 2014!

Last month, a reader left a comment on my Class IV page — films in which the reel librarian(s) plays a cameo role and is seen only briefly with little or no dialogue — about WarGames (1983).

Reel Librarians  |  Reader comment about 'WarGames'

Lo and behold, I had a personal DVD copy of this cult classic film — some might argue it’s a straight-up classic, and I would not disagree. I was looking forward to rewatching it, as I had not seen the film in years. And I was very pleased to find that WarGames holds up well, especially for a film about cutting-edge technology made in 1983. Also, part of the film’s setting is in Oregon, and it was filmed mostly in the state of Washington! :)

Screenshot of 'WarGames' trivia on IMDB.comMany retrospective reviews tout how the film was a touchstone for computer geeks, as it tapped into the psyche of the younger generation and the fun of exploring exciting technology and being creative in ways unfathomable to an older generation. I can totally see its influence today. And it was influential back then, too. I recommend reading the trivia on the film’s IMDb.com page to find out how influential it was. FASCINATING!

One major aspect of the film that gets overlooked, time and again, is about how it’s also a powerful anti-war film. That’s the message I remembered from first watching WarGames. The core message — SPOILER — is that when it comes to war, “The only winning move is not to play.” An anti-war film with the word “War” in its title, no less. A truly brilliant film that manages to be both of its time as well as timeless.

The only discordant note I found while rewatching the film is that it definitely skews male; I wish there could had been more female computer programmers in the film to inspire young females along with young males. (Ally Sheedy’s character has much-needed spunk, but let’s face it, her role in the film mostly consists of listening to Matthew Broderick’s character explain things.)

Now onto the research. There is a very important research scene in a library, as Marco mentioned in his reader comment, but the reel librarian shows up for only a few seconds toward the end of that scene. So yes, it does fall into the Class IV category of reel librarian films.

A little over a half-hour into the film, David (Matthew Broderick), begins a quest for the back door password to hack into a computer game system. From the system’s list of games, he researches the first game on the list, “Falken’s Maze,” as well as the game’s creator, Stephen Falken. (FYI, the character of “Stephen Falken” was inspired by real-life genius Stephen Hawking.)

And where does David go first to start his research? The library, of course!

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'WarGames' (1983)

We also learn later that he’s been skipping school to do this research — as an educator myself, something I cannot endorse — but it does provide a clue that the library featured in this research montage must be that of a college or university library. And look, as you can see above, there are call numbers on the spines of the books. It’s a real library! :)

By the way, I looked up filming locations to try and ferret out the real library used for the reel library. There are several locations listed on the film’s IMDb.com entry, and some info here on this “WarGames Filming Locations” post, but no info specific to the library. The commentary track of the director and screenwriters during the library scene also did not reveal anything about the actual library used in the film. I suspect it’s one of the libraries either at the University of Washington in Seattle or the California State University – Long Beach, but I can’t confirm that.

The following montage highlights a very important — and overlooked — aspect of research:  that it is REsearch. Meaning, you expect to search more than once. And so David does. He first finds a journal article on Falken’s maze from the Scientific American periodical.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'WarGames' (1983)

He then goes back to look for more articles using microfilm and a microfilm reader. (Yes, I sighed in nostalgia for microfilm. Cutting-edge technology in its day.)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'WarGames' (1983)

He then goes back a third time and shuffles through a card catalog drawer to locate a card for Falken’s thesis, as seen below. (More sigh of nostalgia.) Another clue that he’s researching at a college library, because the call number is a Library of Congress (LC) call number, which uses a combination of letters and numbers. (Most public and school libraries use the Dewey Decimal call number system.)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'WarGames' (1983)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'WarGames' (1983)

And yes, I totally looked up that call number in WorldCat. The first part of the call number, QA76.9, is spot-on, as that’s in the call number range for computer systems and software. The Qs are for Science, and the QA subclass is for Mathematics. Also, all of the research materials in this film are super-convincing. None of the articles are real — there’s no Stephen W. Falken, of course — but the film’s prop masters used real publications, like Scientific American and The Atlantic to add an edge of verisimilitude. Also, somebody studied real library catalog cards, as that is the best faux-library catalog card I’ve ever seen onscreen. Look at all that info!

In the next clip, David then hands a card to a librarian at a counter. We only get to see the back and side of the reel librarian’s head. She appears to be younger, with contemporary clothing and a bun. (Of course.)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'WarGames' (1983)

The librarian then prints out a list of Falken’s publications and a brief bio; this looked to me like some kind of combined authority control file and publications bio for Falken.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'WarGames' (1983)

The reel librarian, only onscreen for a few seconds, does relay some very important information, to both David and the audience. First, she relays the information that Falken is deceased; later, we learn that David has printed out a copy of Falken’s obituary. We can piece together that the librarian’s information then led David to this obituary, when then led David to the backdoor password for the computer game system, when then led to the major plot of the film.


Librarian prints out Falken’s bio (includes date of Falken’s death)

obituary

 clue to password for computer game system

war games ensue and real plot of movie begins


Thanks, librarian! :D A well-deserving Information Provider.

As the director John Badham also chose to include a shot of the reel librarian using a computer to locate this important information about Falken, as seen below, the audience also associates the librarian (and library) with technology. We see David reflected in his home computer monitor several times throughout the research montage, and we ALSO see the librarian reflected in the library’s computer monitor. Therefore the audience cannot help but draw a connection, however brief and fleeting, between the two.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'WarGames' (1983)

He is young and a student, while she is older and part of the education establishment. However, they are both using technology, and she aids him on his quest. The significance of this reel librarian portrayal makes a much bigger impact than its few seconds of screen time initially suggest.

I also appreciate this research scene for showcasing several different types of research materials (including peer-reviewed journal articles, newspaper articles, a thesis, and a documentary video), as well as different methods of approaching research. David is persistent and creative when it comes to researching Falken — we also find out later that he even checked out a videotape of Falken from the library! — and that is a very important concept when it comes to research. There’s never just one way. There’s always a back door to research. Just like with computer systems. ;)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'WarGames' (1983)

David, a computer whiz, also knows that not everything he needs can be found through the computer. It’s an easy trap for young people to fall into — especially today — to limit themselves only to what is available online. Yes, some of the information that David finds in this 1983 movie could be found online today, but those resources would be available in different systems. And not everything is available for free on the web. Some of those resources, like the thesis, would probably be available only in a library’s print or perhaps digitized collections — and even then, available only to its users, or by special request. (It’s notoriously difficult to track down theses and dissertations, by the way. And obituaries. Just so you know. You would need a librarian’s help to find those resources.)

In addition to highlighting creativity in research, David also shows EFFORT in this research scene. As a librarian myself, I really appreciated seeing this onscreen. David tried out several avenues first by himself, and then when he hit a roadblock, he enlisted the help of a librarian. Another aid to his research! And she obviously helped, as the information she provided led him eventually to the answer, as well as the plot of the movie. Well done, David. And well done, anonymous (and uncredited) reel librarian. Together, you’ve shown a successful research process in action!

Writing this analysis post of WarGames (1983) surprised me. The research scene is only a few minutes long, and the reel librarian portrayal only a few seconds long. I wasn’t expecting to get so much from so little. But there are so many layers to this scene, as I’ve hopefully demonstrated, with a lot of useful information relayed to the audience.

Analyzing this research montage, therefore, was a maze in and of itself. A-maze-ing! (I couldn’t resist.) ;)

Next week, I’ll be back with a round-up of yearly stats. Happy New Year!

Home by Christmas

Oddly enough, there don’t seem to be that many Christmas-themed movies with reel librarians (unlike scary movies for Halloween). I’ve highlighted this issue before, including in this round-up post of reel librarian Christmas films.

My mom was super sweet to send me one of the films on that list, a 2006 TV movie called Home by Christmas. All I knew about it was that a librarian was included in the credits, and it starred Linda Hamilton. My husband and I had so.much.FUN. watching this TV movie together… although the movie itself wasn’t so fun.

Reel Librarians |  DVD of 'Home by Christmas'

The IMDB plot summary for the TV movie makes it sound really depressing (on par for a Christmas-themed film!):

After a well-to-do woman divorces her cheating husband, she ends up homeless through a series of mishaps.

An IMDb user review begins in much the same way:

Home by Christmas starts out fairly predictable and depressing, with Linda Hamilton’s character being cheated on by her husband and then going through a series of (certainly plausible) extremely hard and devastating times.

The reel librarian, listed only as “Librarian” and played by Donna White, is listed near the end on the film credits; I didn’t have high hopes for a big role for the reel librarian.

A library first gets mentioned a little over halfway into the film. Julie (Linda Hamilton) has been befriended by Selma (Brenda Crichlow), who decides to show Julie the ropes of how to stay classy while being homeless. [Not kidding.] Eventually, she convinces Julie to try for a real estate license.

Julie:  But I’m not a licensed agent!

Selma:  So get your license! Look, you study a couple of books, you take a test. It’s not like you gotta go to school. All the books you need are in the library. And it’s not like you ain’t got nothing to do.

Julie:  Good advice.

I can’t comment on how realtors might feel about that conversation nugget above… but I can comment on how much it warmed my heart to hear that last line from Selma — that if you got nothing better to do, you go to the library! Spread the Christmas cheer, y’all! ;)

My husband quipped, “A library is a homeless person’s best friend.” And there is some truth to that statement. Libraries are free and open to the public, with a warm and welcoming staff and environment, complete with soft furniture and resources to help improve people’s lives. Of all the different kinds of libraries, public libraries tend to serve the biggest homeless populations, and it’s enough of an issue to necessitate special trainings in library school as well as on the job.

The next shot in the film reveals the library interior in the film — and a side shot of the reel librarian.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Home by Christmas'

My husband scored again with this reaction:

I’m pretty sure that’s the librarian. There are chains on her half-moon glasses, and that’s a pretty hideous cardigan.

Julie walks around the front desk and promptly asks the librarian for the “books one studies to get ready for the real estate license exam.” (Very formal way of asking that, right?)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Home by Christmas'

But the movie doesn’t even allow the reel librarian to answer! They just cut straight to Julie poring over a stack of books at a library table.

By the way, my husband and I had two different takes on Julie’s reference question. My husband didn’t like that Julie didn’t even bother to look for the books herself — that she went straight to the reference desk and expected immediate help. I, on the other hand, thought Julie was being efficient and probably saving time by going to the librarian first to get what she needed. (It also helped that she asked her question in a nice, friendly tone of voice, complete with a smile. I would have been glad to help her. And yes, my library has books about real estate license exams, as well.)

Also, Julie’s efficiency helps the plot be efficient. ;)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Home by Christmas'

Blink, and you’ll miss a brief glimpse of the reel librarian in the background above, helping another patron. My husband said, “You know it’s the librarian because of the ugly cardigan.” LOL! :D

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Home by Christmas'

Also, about an hour into the TV movie, there are a few more short clips of Julie studying more books in the library — but no more librarian.

So that’s it for the reel librarian in this film:  less than thirty seconds and no dialog! Definitely a Class IV category of reel librarians. The reel librarian serves nominally as an Information Provider — Julie does, in fact, become a realtor by the end of the movie!

Home by Christmas is a pretty big downer for the holidays, although everything works out ok in the end. The movie wants it both ways:  to serve as a message movie for the very real and scary issue of homelessness while also sending the message that people succeed if they help themselves.

Hope your holiday season is more cheerful than this TV movie. Merry Christmas!

Scream librarian scream

In Scream Blacula Scream (1973), the sequel to the 1972 cult classic Blacula, an ex-policeman investigates a series of suspicious deaths. William Marshall reprises his role as Blacula, and Pam Grier joins the cheesy thrill ride as a voodoo priestess. Predictably, with the return of Blacula, (undead) bodies begin to pile up…

Coming two-thirds into the film, clocking in at a little over an hour, ex-policeman Justin Carter (Don Mitchell) learns about bat hairs present at the scene of a crime. His next step? A library, of course!

The next scene cuts to a shot of bookcases and a white hand slowly reaching out…

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

… which belongs to a reel librarian.

Played by Sybil Scotford, the librarian is onscreen for only a few seconds in this brief scene. She is decked out in typical early ’70s clothes — plenty of polyester and orange paisley on display — with her long brown hair pulled back in a bouffant and low ponytail. Her character has no name in the credits, only “Librarian,” listed below Pimp #1 and Pimp #2. As you do. ;)

After she locates the hand-lettered “OCCULT” sign on the bookcase, she says, “Let’s see. This is it. This whole shelf. Black arts, occult. That should keep you busy for awhile.” She smiles (a little coyly?) at Justin and takes off her glasses as she leaves.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

Already interested in the books on the shelves, Justin answers back, “Yeah. Mmm hmmm” before turning back to the shelf. He picks out a thick book and goes to a chair beside the last bookcase. Time passes as we see multiple books stacked up on the chair beside him.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

The entire library scene lasts just over a minute, with the reel librarian onscreen for merely seconds. Therefore, it lands in the Class IV category of librarian films, and the librarian fulfills the typical Information Provider role. Justin obviously found some information to help him in the case, as in the next scene, he tries to convince the police supervisor that they need to investigate vampires.

The most notable aspect of the scene is how badly this library is organized. It is obviously a set — all you need are bookcases, books, a chair or two, hand-lettered signs, and a woman in glasses! — but not a very well-thought-out set. The three signs we see on the bookcases are all placed where they hang OVER the books — highly inconvenient for anyone to see or reach the books shelved behind the signs.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

Also, the signs that are visible go from “GRAPHICS” to the “OCCULT” to “FICTION.” Huh? What kind of library system or collection is this?! You guessed it — the fake kind! Also, NO CALL NUMBERS on the books!

Those screams you hear in the background? They’re from real librarians watching this scene! ;)

‘Meet cute’ marathon

I feel like quite a few of my posts begin by accident rather than design. I will happen to be watching a film when BAM! out of nowhere pops a library and/or librarian. Sometimes, I am elated. Sometimes, I am cranky because I wanted to watch the film instead of immediately taking notes and pics, if possible. Such is life for the Reel Librarian. ;)

While rewatching the 1976 thriller Marathon Man, starring Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier, I was at first surprised when there was a scene at a college library. I did not remember that scene the first time I watched the film, although to be fair, that was several years ago. One cannot help but admire the library interior, which is, of course, the focus — but you can juuuuuust spy the reel librarian checking out books in the lefthand corner, as seen in the screenshot below.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Marathon Man'

I was even more surprised when I realized that the library interior — while supposed to be the Columbia University Library in New York — was actually filmed in Los Angeles! More specifically, it was filmed at Doheny Library on the USC campus, which has been the library setting for many films, including City Slickers II (click here for that film analysis post). It was ALSO the library setting for Dustin Hoffman’s 1967 classic film, The Graduate. It’s a small world, after all, for reel libraries. ;)

A little more than a half-hour into Marathon Man (1976), Dustin Hoffman has a “meet cute” moment with a French-speaking lady sitting at his table. They both have a stack of books beside them.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Marathon Man'

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Marathon Man'

Dustin Hoffman, as graduate history student Babe, then hides one of her books — it happens to have her contact info printed inside on the front page — and then uses it as an excuse to meet up with her later. A little creepy, no? Here is their revealing conversation as he makes a play for her:

Elsa:  Why do you pursue people who sit at your library table?

Babe:  You’re pretty.

Elsa:  [Laughs, then starts to walk away]

Babe:  I can’t talk about how smart you are. I don’t even know you. … You won’t meet another thief like me in the library.

Charming.

You see the reel librarian in this film for a few seconds only, and it comes as no surprise that the character is left out of the film’s credits. Therefore, this anonymous reel librarian gets to “meet cute” with the other Class IV reel librarians.

If you’re interested in more Marathon Man filming locations, check out this interesting post, complete with screenshots. The film holds up well, and the director, John Schlesinger, ratchets up the tension quite effectively. It’s also a film notable for turning its MacGuffin into a catchphrase (“Is it safe?”).

So is it safe to watch this film? Yes. But it’s not so safe to have your contact info pencilled in your books and then leave those books unattended in the library. Now you know. You’re welcome. ;)

In Dewey’s country

I was able to catch the 2007 TV movie, In God’s Country, recently on my cable subscription. It’s a film I saw ages ago, so I already had notes — but I hadn’t taken screenshots at the time. It’s interesting to go over notes I wrote years ago, to see what I focused on then and if the notes differ to how I view the film now.

Reel Librarians  |  Notes from 'In God's Country' (2007)

Initial notes for ‘In God’s Country’ (2007)

This Lifetime TV movie — which has been renamed The Ultimate Sin — is an earnest but ultimately mediocre effort taking aim at a big issue, the issue of young women who feel trapped in polygamous religious communities. Kelly Rowan stars as Judith Leavitt — her last name foreshadows the plot! — who “leaves it,” leaving her community, her house, and her life as she has known it. She takes her five children with her and tries to start fresh. Of course, they struggle to adjust living “on the outside.”

The children particularly struggle at public school (Judith reveals that she wasn’t allowed to go to school past grade 7). In one short scene a little over an hour into the TV movie, Judith’s 12-year-old daughter, Alice, visits the school library. Alice wants a book on astronomy in order to teach the names of the stars to her mom. She goes up to the library counter, where the librarian (Agi Gallus) is checking out books to another student.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'In God's Country' (TV, 2007)

Librarian:  Can I help you?

Alice:  I’m looking for a book on astronomy.

Librarian:  Astronomy is in the 520’s.

Alice:  [shakes her head, clueless]

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'In God's Country' (TV, 2007)

Librarian:  520’s. Dewey Decimal system.

Librarian: [Hands stack of books to the other girl.] Millie, can you show her for me?

Millie: All the books are numbered. You just have to look at the spines. I know where the astronomy ones are because I like astronomy, too. Actually, I have a telescope.

Alice:  You have a telescope at home?

Millie:  You should come and see it.

The librarian here is friendly — and it’s nice to see a reel librarian in a bright color! — but as clueless about service as much as Alice is clueless about the Dewey Decimal system. She essentially passes off her reference duties to a young student, who has to explain the classification system to Alice. Peer learning can be great, but there was no good reason that the librarian couldn’t step out from behind her desk and do her job. Of course, the plot required that Alice make a friend, so I understand in terms of plot why the reference duty got passed on to Millie. But in terms of real life, this is NOT a great example of a reference interview!

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'In God's Country' (TV, 2007)

Ultimately, this reel librarian ends up in the Class IV category, in which librarians appear only briefly with little or no dialogue. The librarian in this film is onscreen less than a minute, and fulfills the basic Information Provider role. She doesn’t provide that much useful information to Alice, of course, but the librarian also provides information to the audience. She is yet another example of how the “real world” doesn’t really understand what goes on in these kinds of communities and the impact of different social and educational structures.

At least the script writers got the Dewey Decimal system right, as this system of classification is the most common for school and public libraries. They also got the 520’s section right, as this is the general call number area for astronomy.

There is also a scene involving the 520’s — one with a decidedly less favorable ending — in UHF (1989) and starring Conan the Librarian. Read all about that scene here in this post. When I relayed this tidbit to my husband, he laughed, and said that I might be the only person to have made a connection between this TV movie and Conan the Librarian.

In Dewey we trust, right? ;)

Time-traveling librarian

Thanks to everyone who voted for their next adventure… and here you have it, an analysis post of your chosen winner!

The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009) is a romantic drama based on the best-selling 2003 novel by Audrey Niffenegger. The love story between Henry, a time-traveling librarian (played by Eric Bana) and Clare, an artist (played by Rachel McAdams) provides the central plot, as the film jumps back and forth in time, mirroring Henry’s travels. The two actors do all they can to provide gravitas and chemistry to the movie, but the tone and execution do end up feeling a little heavy-handed.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

Any kind of time-traveling-themed film involves its own brand of suspension of disbelief, as the audience has to accept somewhat circular logic and avoidance of plot holes (see also The Lake House and Premonition for other recent examples). This kind of story works better in print, and I did read the book years ago to see if Henry was a librarian in the book (he is). What’s intriguing about this variation on time travel is that Henry can’t choose when he travels back in time, and this brings on a whole host of problems and relationship instability.

*POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERTS*

Henry doesn’t get to keep his clothes when he travels, so most of his time spent time-traveling seems to be involve breaking into places to find clothes, only to leave yet another pile of clothes as he disappears again. Also, Henry is older when he goes back in time to meet Clare, who is 6 years old when they meet for the first time on Clare’s timeline (incidentally, Henry is also 6 years old when he first travels through time). A 6-year-old girl and a 30-something-year-old man who later marry? Yeah, the creep factor is always there.

For a romantic hero, Henry is also unusual, because he often has to resort to petty theft, lock-picking, and sometimes back-alley brawls during his travels. (At one point, he also uses his abilities to win the lottery. Personal morality and ethics take a slip when one slips in and out of time.)

It’s hard out there for a time-traveling librarian. ;)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

The two library scenes come fast and furious, both occurring within the first five minutes of the film. Three-and-a-half minutes in, we get our first shot of the library archives, as Henry travels back to his present (naked and shivering and emotionally drained). Henry wearily puts on his clothes, which are in a bundle on the library floor.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

After a heavy sigh, Henry then bends down to pick up rare books in a pile on the floor, affording us a close-up of his shoes. (Visuals of shoes feature heavily in this film, and a close-up of shoes in a field also graced the book’s cover.) Next, we see Henry bringing the stack of books to a patron in the library.

Patron:  That took you long enough.

Henry:  You have no idea.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

Contrast that with the next scene, which brings sunshine and spring into the storyline. We also learn that Henry lives in Chicago. We get another wide shot of the library, this time bathed in sunlight and warm tones. The difference? This is when he first meets Clare, and they “meet cute” (or rather, “meet awkward”) in the library. Before Clare, his entire world — including his work world — feels cold and dark. With Clare, his world brightens — literally.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

Fun fact:  Although the library is not named, these scenes were filmed in the Newberry Library in Chicago. This is also the library where Henry works in the book.

In this scene, we also get treated to another librarian, a young, red-haired woman perched in the stacks with a book cart in front of her. She looks quite professional — much more professional-looking than Henry — and is wearing a pin-striped Oxford blouse and a suit vest. This librarian is a typical Information Provider.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

Clare:  Excuse me. I’m looking for something on papermaking at Kelmscott.

Librarian: Our special collections librarian can help you with that. [She raises her voice to get Henry’s attention, who looks over at them.]

Henry:  Can I help you?

Clare:  Henry? [Claire recognizes him, but he doesn’t seem to recognize her.]

Henry:  Yes?

Clare:  Henry. It’s you. You told me this would happen. I’m supposed to act normal, but I’m not really acting very normal.

Here’s Henry’s reaction to Clare’s recognition of himself. Awwwwwwwwkward.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

Long story short, Henry agrees to meet up with Clare. Boy meets girl. Boy disappears. Girl has to clean up the mess. You know, the same old story. ;)

Although there are no more physical scenes of the library, there are a couple more mentions of his profession:

  • 21 minutes in, Clare introduces Henry to her friends Gomez and Charisse. Gomez isn’t favorably impressed at first, saying, “I couldn’t get anything out of him except he’s a research librarian.”
  • 25 minutes in, Gomez goes straight to Clare after learning Henry’s time-traveling secret. Gomez asks if Henry’s around, and she responds, “No, he’s at the library.”

Truthfully, it is not important to the plot that Henry is a librarian — except that it allows him to time travel, which IS the plot — so this film winds up in the Class II category. However, because of the extensive scenes we get to see of Henry outside of the library, and the personality flaws we witness, I would argue he fills an atypical role for reel librarians. Henry’s personality is atypical of most romantic heroes, full stop, and his role as a reel librarian is also secondary to the central romantic drama. It is also atypical to highlight a reel librarian, male or female, who is quite physically active and fit. (See also Rene Russo’s character in the 1989 comedy Major League). Henry is fit out of necessity, in order to survive while time-traveling.

The filmmakers are also not afraid to be critical of the lead romantic hero. Twice, Henry describes himself as a “pain in the ass.”

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

One could also argue that Henry’s role is that of a male librarian as a failure; that character type consists of self-perceived “failures” who resort to working in a library. And Henry did choose to be a librarian when he was younger and felt lost and unhappy — before he had met Clare, and before he scientifically explored his condition. However, the “male librarian as a failure” character type primarily fills the purpose of reflecting flaws in a library, or other social system or construct; this character type is also very closely tied to the library. In this film, the library is just an excuse.

Although Henry’s occupation actually does make it to the back of the DVD case (“… a handsome librarian who travels involuntarily through time”), like I said, it’s not really that important that he’s a librarian.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

His occupation is only important because it provides him a way to make a living that, well, doesn’t get in the way of his time-traveling. His job, that of a special collections or archives librarian, affords him time to spend in the archives, alone, so that no one really notices when he’s gone. (Even when he’s gone for two weeks straight, we don’t hear anything about how that affects his work.)

How’s that for an endorsement for librarianship? Be a librarian so that NO ONE will notice if you’re even there or not. SIGH.

This film attempts to end as a testament to true love and how it can stand the test of time. But there is no such love for the library. Because once Henry wins the lottery — surprise, surprise — there is no more mention of the library. Who would continue to work in a library when there’s no need to work anymore?

On that cheerful note, I bid you farewell… but you can count on me that I’ll be back next week, same time, same place. ;)

Somewhere in the library

For the month of February, I will focus on love stories and reel librarians. A match made in heaven? ♥

First up is a movie my husband and I recently rewatched, the cult classic romance, Somewhere in Time (1980), starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour as crossed-in-time lovers. The film was a flop at the time it was released, with Reeve fresh off his Superman fame; at the time, his 180-degree turn in a time-traveling romance was not appreciated. Now, of course, the film has reached cult classic status — even inspiring an international fan club, INSITE (International Network of Somewhere in Time Enthusiasts), whose members frequently revisit the Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island, Michigan, where the movie was filmed.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'Somewhere in Time'

Based on the Richard Matheson novel Bid Time Return (1975), Somewhere in Time (1980) is a genre film, one that is totally committed to its central romance. I respect genre films that revel in their chosen genre, and this is a Romance with a capital R. And if you go into the film knowing that, you will enjoy it. (I did.) It also shows off Christopher Reeve’s under-appreciated acting range, a gorgeous award-winning score inspired by Rachmaninoff, and undeniable chemistry between the two leads. I also appreciate that this film presents time travel as a totally mental construct; there are no flashy special effects, and the resulting simplicity actually works in the film’s favor.

Reel Librarians  |  Maude Adams portraits + 'Bid Time Return' book coverI also loved reading that author Matheson was inspired to write the story after seeing a portrait of Maude Adams, an early American stage actress who originated the role of Peter Pan on Broadway. (And yes, I totally Googled her name and sifted through portrait galleries, fantasizing about which portrait stirred Matheson’s imagination. HELLO, I’m a librarian and self-confessed romantic. ♥ )

So what does this film itself have to do with librarians? Once again, a reel librarian helps provide vital information that keeps the plot moving.

But first, a little backstory. Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) is in college, basking in the success of a play he’s written. In the middle of the adoring crowd — which includes William H. Macy and George Wendt in their screen debuts! — an old woman glides in, gives Richard a gold pocket watch, and urges him to “Come back to me.” He’s never seen her before. Flash forward eight years, and Richard is drawn to the Grand Hotel, where he falls in love with a portrait of a stunning young woman (Jane Seymour). An old caretaker of the hotel, Arthur (veteran character actor Bill Erwin), reveals the name of the woman in the portrait, Elise McKenna, and that she was a famous actress. Richard becomes obsessed with finding out more about Elise.

And where does he think to go first to find out more information? The library, of course! Smart man. :)

About fifteen minutes into the film, Richard asks Arthur where the nearest library is. Arthur responds, “In town, right past the church.”

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Somewhere in Time'

The next few frames reveal Richard rifling through reference books on early American theatre, along with closeups of brief entries he comes across.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'Somewhere in Time'

Finally, he asks the librarian, an African-American female with a short ‘do and MAJOR glasses, for help:

Richard:  Excuse me. Do you have any theater biographies … that aren’t in the racks under the rare books or magazines?

Librarian: Well, we do have some magazines. But they’re in the back, and I’d have to find them, and…

Richard: Oh. Could you do that for me, please?

She’s in the middle of organizing cards in the card catalog, and clearly is reluctant as she checks her watch and sighs. But OF COURSE she agrees to go to the back and retrieve the magazines. (If you had Christopher Reeve in his prime smiling at you and turning on the charm, wouldn’t you?!)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'Somewhere in Time'

One magazine issue has a cover story of Elise McKenna’s later years and reveals the final photograph ever made of her … which drops a primary piece into the puzzle for Richard. This is the woman who came to the college theatre that night eight years ago and urged him to come back to her. He now understands why he has been drawn to the Grand Hotel and to her portrait. This key piece of information, provided to him by the public librarian, helps Richard on the path to his long-lost-but-not-yet-found love.

This reel librarian, played by Noreen Walker, is on screen for less than a minute, and is listed in the credits simply as Librarian. She is an Information Provider in a Class IV film. However, her role is essential in setting up the central plot, and it is a relatively rare portrayal of a reel librarian of color. According to IMDb.com, this is Noreen Walker’s sole film credit. This movie was filmed on location in Chicago and on Mackinac Island … perhaps this scene was filmed in the island’s actual public library and with its real-life staff at the time?

The answer lies somewhere in time, I’m sure. ;)

Click the image below to view the short clip of the library scene on the Metacafe site.

Reel Librarians  |  Clip of 'Somewhere in Time'