Meet Hannah in ‘Follow the Stars Home’

Follow the Stars Home, a 2001 Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie, had been on my Master List for a long time, so when I saw it scheduled on my TV guide, I recorded it. For some reason, I was thinking this film included only a minor scene in a library — but I was (pleasantly) surprised when the reel librarian turned out to be a supporting character seen all the way through the film!

First of all, what’s Follow the Stars Home (2001) all about? Kimberly Williams plays a young woman, Diane, whose husband (Eric Close) deserts her and their young child, Julia, who is born with genetic abnormalities. When Diane gets hurt in a car accident, her husband returns, seeking a possible reconciliation. Diane’s mother is a local public librarian, and she helps raise Julia.

There are several scenes set in the library, the first occurring 10 minutes into the TV movie, when Diane goes to the library to tell her mother the news that she’s pregnant. On the way, she talks to an assistant librarian at the front counter (none other than future Oscar winner Octavia Spencer!). She tells her mother the news, and we see them embrace.

Reel Librarians | Library scene in 'Follow the Stars Home' (TV, 2001)

First library scene in ‘Follow the Stars Home’

After Diane tells her mom the good news, we next see them up close at lunch. Her mother, Hannah, is attractive and stylish and loves to smile. There is a lovely, warm rapport between the two of them, evident when Hannah gives her daughter “motherly” advice throughout the film.

We have a lot of books about motherhood in the library, but none of them can prepare you for that moment, when you give your heart to your child.

You sound like your life has been folded up and put away. It’s not over.

Diane, I have a lot of respect for you, as a person, as a woman, but not just because you’re my daughter.

Diane is equally appreciative of her mother, saying at one point:

Do I tell you I’d be lost without you, or do you know it?

Reel Librarians | Reel librarian Hannah in 'Follow the Stars Home' (TV, 2001)

Hannah the librarian in ‘Follow the Stars Home’

Next, about a half-hour into the film, we hear from Diane that her mother is retiring “just to be with Julia.” But Hannah obviously has a well-developed social life, as she mentions a few minutes later into the film that her reading group is coming over.

There is also a subplot about a young teenage girl, Amy (Alexa Vega), who begins babysitting Julia. The two become friends. Before Hannah retires, she helps Amy — and Julia! — get their own library cards!

Reel Librarians  |  Getting a library card in 'Follow the Stars Home' (TV, 2001)

Getting library cards in ‘Follow the Stars Home’

Perhaps as a thank you, we learn at 49 minutes into the film that Amy left Hannah a poem at her desk, which she reads out to her daughter. We also learn that Hannah likes Agatha Christie books. (So do I! :D ) And she knows classic literature, quoting a famous line from Gone With the Wind later.

The next major scene at the library is focused on Hannah’s last day at the library. She apparently didn’t want a big fuss over her retirement, but she and her colleagues are obviously emotional about Hannah leaving. And we get another scene with Octavia Spencer!

Reel Librarians | Public library in 'Follow the Stars Home' (TV, 2001)

Reel Librarians | Librarian retirement in 'Follow the Stars Home' (TV, 2001)

Future Oscar winner Octavia Spencer in ‘Follow the Stars Home’

Hildy (Octavia Spencer):  You made us promise no fuss, but this doesn’t feel right.

Hannah:  You’ll get your chance at the book lovers’ ball, where you can make as many speeches as you want.

Hildy:  You’ll be the guest of honor at my table.

Hannah:  We’ll see.

Young Librarian:  Goodbye, Mrs. Parker. We’ll miss you.

Hannah waves goodbye without looking back, but she is obviously emotionally affected. As she drives up to Diane’s house, she wipes away tears. It’s a short but sad scene, but touching that she obviously loved her job and earned the respect of her colleagues (who both fill Information Provider roles). It’s also a rare kind of library scene onscreen, to highlight a librarian’s retirement! The only other scene similar to this I’ve seen is the retirement party scene in The Attic, seen here in this post.

Reel Librarians | Librarian retirement in 'Follow the Stars Home' (TV, 2001)

Retiring from the library in ‘Follow the Stars Home’

But SURPRISE! Diane, Amy, and Julia welcome her home with balloons and signs that proclaim, “Life begins at retirement” and “Congratulations, Hannah!” Hannah is deeply touched, saying, “I was feeling a little sorry for myself but not now.”

Reel Librarians | Emotional moment in 'Follow the Stars Home' (TV, 2001)

Getting emotional in ‘Follow the Stars Home’

Reel Librarians | Retirement balloons in 'Follow the Stars Home' (TV, 2001)

Life begins at retirement! A welcome home surprise in ‘Follow the Stars Home’

An hour into the TV movie, we get the final scene set in the library, the aforementioned “Book Lovers’ Ball” taking place in the library. It seems like an annual event, but this year, it’s also an occasion to honor Hannah and her retirement. The scene starts with a close-up on the cake.

Reel Librarians | Retirement cake for a librarian in 'Follow the Stars Home' (TV, 2001)

A cake for the retired librarian in ‘Follow the Stars Home’

Hannah is dancing with Diane’s brother-in-law, the long-suffering David (Campbell Scott), who’s obviously in love with Diane. David goes to find Diane, who is taking a breather in the stacks.

Reel Librarians | Dancing at the Book Lovers' Ball in 'Follow the Stars Home' (TV, 2001)

A reel librarian dancing!

Reel Librarians | Talking in the stacks in 'Follow the Stars Home' (TV, 2001)

Talking in the stacks in ‘Follow the Stars Home’

Diane shares this tidbit with David:

I love the way libraries smell. When I was little, my mom used to bring me here, and I thought all the books belonged to her. My dad built these shelves. I wish he could be here tonight.

It’s a lovely sentiment to share, and I love that it’s history about the library as well as a glimpse into her own family history.

The TV movie wraps up pretty predictably — do Diane and her long-lost husband reunite? Or will Diane and David finally get together? — with all the loose ends tied up. One of those loose ends was the babysitter’s mom, Tess, who is a recovering alcoholic. With 10 minutes left in the movie, Hannah comes by Diane’s wood shop and hints at a possible part-time job for Tess:

Hannah:  Do you think Tess knows the Dewey Decimal system?

Diane:  I bet she could learn. Why, you gonna get her a job?

Hannah: Well, I could try.

Hannah is a supporting character, so Follow the Stars Home (2001) lands in the Class III category, but Hannah is an atypical librarian character. Most reel librarian portrayals fit into common character types. However, we get to witness a fully rounded character in Hannah. For example, we see her in multiple locations, at work, at home, at the hospital, etc. Hannah engages in a lot of activities, like reading, dancing, and shopping. We also get to see her in her professional role as librarian as well as in her personal life as a mother and grandmother. Throughout, Hannah is warm and understanding, and obviously intelligent. She’s not a saint; instead, she comes across as a realistically kind and thoughtful woman.

Reel Librarians | Reel librarian Hannah in 'Follow the Stars Home' (TV, 2001)

All in all, Hannah is a fantastic addition to the world of reel librarians! I enjoyed the movie much more than I expected to, and Hannah is a major reason why. :)

Reel librarians with ‘A Bone to Pick’

A few months ago in this post, I highlighted a preview of a new Hallmark TV movie, “A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery,” based on the book series by Charlaine Harris. The title character is a younger librarian, played by Candace Cameron Bure, who also served as executive producer.

The Aurora Teagarden Mystery series continues this summer, with the next TV movie set to premiere this Sunday, July 26, on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel. Will you be watching along with me?

Snapshot of Real Murders:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery episode

I also recently rewatched the premiere movie, “A Bone to Pick,” and overall, it’s an enjoyable show. If there’s a bone to pick — I couldn’t resist the pun! — it is a typically “cozy” type of mystery, nothing too scary or mentally taxing. It’s the kind of show where there is a lot of light, and everyone seems to have huge living rooms. I most enjoyed the warm portrayal of its title character as a multi-faceted and multi-talented reel librarian.

Setting the stage for sleuthing

The TV movie starts out not in the library, but instead in Aurora’s bedroom, where she is braiding her hair and practicing a presentation about a notorious historical murder, a speech she delivers in a town hall where the “Real Murders Club” has gathered.

Reel Librarians  |  Opening shot in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Reel Librarians  | Real Murders Club in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

After the successful presentation, an older member, Jane, ruffles up some controversy by stating that Aurora should run for president of the club. Jane then invites Aurora to her house the next day to pick up a few out-of-print titles about true crime, and we learn a lot of character background — including the fact that Jane is a retired librarian! The plot doesn’t get going until we learn that soon after, Jane has passed away and left her house and estate to none other than Aurora. Part of the legacy she left to Aurora includes a hidden skull and a mystery to solve….

*MILD SPOILER ALERTS*

The resulting mystery is not all that interesting:  It includes break-ins and cheating spouses and a really far-fetched conclusion involving a pregnant cop practically giving birth while arresting the perps.

Librarian role call

This TV movie and the series definitely fit into the Class I category, with Candace Cameron Bure as the title character Aurora Teagarden, or “Roe” for short. Here are the other librarian characters in the story (who, strangely, don’t get seem to get screen credits):

  • Jane, the spinster librarian who died and left Roe her estate
  • Lillian, the middle-aged spinster librarian meanie who scares children and is always on Roe’s case
  • Characters also mention a Mr. Crowley, the head of the library, but we never see him onscreen
Reel Librarians  |  Reel librarians in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Reel librarians Roe, Jane, and Lillian in ‘A Bone to Pick: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery’ (2015)

Salary and education

The low salary given to librarians gets mentioned quite a lot throughout the TV movie. Roe doesn’t even expect to afford rent on her librarian’s salary (her mother pays her rent), and she wonders how Jane was able to afford such a big house (it turns out Jane had inherited money).

  • I can’t afford a new dress.  /  Because you are woefully underpaid.
  • I never thought I’d own a house, not on a librarian’s salary.
  • Too bad I can’t afford it.

Moral of the story? Pay librarians what they are worth! (This means at least a living wage, y’all.)

Education and “library science” also merit a mention, mostly in the early exposition scene between Roe and Jane. Her master’s thesis was in true-crime literature, which sounded odd to me. Jane agreed!

Roe:  I wish I had had access to a collection like this when I was getting my master’s. My thesis was in true-crime literature.

Jane:  That wasn’t a speciality of library science in my day.

Roe:  It’s still not, officially. I think I’m the only librarian in the state who has it.

Side note:  I also did a research project in my Children’s Literature graduate class, a project all about character types in detective and mystery stories for children and young adults. We’re so alike! ;)

Here’s how Roe would probably react to that statement:

Reel Librarians  |  Librarian eye-rolling in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Whatever, Jen.

There are several scenes highlighting the bright and spacious public library. The sign on the front door says “Lawrenceton Public Library,” which is a nod to the Lawrenceton, Georgia, setting of the books. However, the TV movie was filmed in British Columbia.

Librarian tasks we see onscreen include: opening up the library, researching on the computer, shelving books, and helping a little boy find a book (he’s scared of Lillian, the dragon-lady librarian, who is really rude and condescending to him). Lillian is a total rule-monger and Spinster Librarian character type.

Reel Librarians  |  Public library in  'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Reel Librarians  |  Roe helping a young boy in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Reel librarian style

Roe’s fashion sense is subjected to many negative comments throughout the TV film, mainly by Roe’s mother — and by Roe herself!

  • This has no pizzazz. [her mother, referring to a blazer with piped trim, seen above]
  • I’m sorry, I wanted to change into something nicer. [Roe, wearing a sweater on a date]
  • This is what you wore, on a date?! [Her mother, after Roe’s date]
  • Please tell me you’re not wearing that to church. [Roe’s mother]
  • I wish I had more fashion sense. [Roe, going shopping]

I didn’t really get this style criticism, because she looks cute, relatable, and modern to me. Cardigans and practical coats abound. (I did think they overdid it with the praise whenever she wore a dress.) But no one except her mother ever comments on her hair and her signature side braid.

Reel Librarians  |  Collage of Roe's style in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Collage of Roe’s style in ‘A Bone to Pick: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery’ (2015)

Librarian skillz

Roe has got skillz. She is smart, observant, and resourceful, and she’s not afraid to do research and get her hands dirty. And it’s nice to see how she uses her skills as a public librarian, as well, using knowledge of patrons she observed who were frequent visitors to the library. People also trust her, given her position in the community.

We definitely see a well-rounded character in Roe and an atypical reel librarian portrayal. I haven’t read the series, so I don’t know how close it is to the character in the books. We get to see different sides to Roe, the good and the flawed. Other characters, including her friends, both compliment and challenge her.

Reel Librarians  | Best friends in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Best friends Roe and Sally

Roe has relatable flaws — she is stubborn and doesn’t really listen to her closest friend or her mother. She prioritizes her own pleasure in figuring out a puzzle above the logical (and legal) step of handing over evidence to the police — and then doesn’t want to return the skull to the police because she doesn’t want to get in trouble for withholding evidence! Gotta go with her mother on that one — “maybe you deserve to be behind bars.”

Roe is also warm-hearted, friendly, and generous. And she’s definitely got spunk! It is interesting to note that Roe is susceptible to stereotypes — she starts dating a young minister — but is also open-minded when those stereotypes are challenged. (As a librarian, wouldn’t Roe be used to being stereotyped by one’s profession?)

Her sleuthing skills are highly praised throughout, including how she had set up a crime board in the living room of her new house. But it really annoyed me that common sense takes a back seat sometimes. For example, she set up her “secret” crime board — complete with maps and post-it notes and records — in full view of the front door and the front windows with blinds wide open for anyone to see what she was up to.

Reel Librarians  |  Snapshots of Roe's evidence wall in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Roe’s evidence wall, which is visible from the front door and windows

Connections between research and sleuthing

Does Roe being a librarian matter to the story? In some ways, it seems more important that she’s a member of the Real Murders Club, but the fact that she’s a librarian is emphasized throughout the TV movie. She applies the same skills — her intelligence and logical way of thinking, her organizational and research skills, as well as her friendly demeanor — to both her job as a librarian and to her adventures as an amateur sleuth.

Roe connects the dots for the audience by using research in her sleuthing, skills she obviously picked up as a librarian. So I would argue that yes, identifying Roe as a librarian not only helps the audience trust Roe but also helps us believe in her skills as an amateur detective.

Reel Librarians  |  Roe researching in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Reel Librarians  |  Roe studies a skull in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Reel Librarians  |  Roe compares maps in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

I mentioned in this prior post, “Nancy Drew as a librarian?,” how much overlap I personally see between private detectives and librarians, and I’ve already stated that I think Nancy Drew would have been an AWESOME librarian. I’d like to think that in the character of Aurora Teagarden, we can have the best of both worlds — why choose between being a private detective and a librarian? You can be good at both! ;)

I will wrap things up with a compliment(?) that Jane bestowed upon Roe in an early scene:

You have a mind for murder like no one else I know.

Thank you. I think.

Again, the next Aurora Teagarden Mystery movie, “Real Murders,” premieres in a few days, on July 26. Are you interested in watching along with me?

 

The bigfoot librarian

My husband and I recently rewatched the ’80s film Harry and the Hendersons (1987), which was filmed and set in nearby Washington state. It’s a cult classic comedy starring John Lithgow and (surprise!) David Suchet. The film is about a family who (literally) run into Bigfoot while on a family camping trip, and they take him home. Hilarity and hijinks ensue. As one could surmise from the title font. ;)

Reel Librarians  |  Title card from 'Harry and the Hendersons' (1987)

In a short scene almost exactly halfway through the film, Lithgow goes to the public library and asks for information on Bigfoot. The librarian directs him to the section on fantasy, myths and legends.

Reel Librarians  |  A screenshot from 'Harry and the Henderson' (1987)

Here’s how their entire reference interview goes:

Librarian:  May I help you?

George:  Yes. I’m on my lunch break, and I’m kind of in a hurry. Could you point me to some books on the, uh, Bigfoot?  

Librarian:  Sasquatch?

George:  Sasquatch.

Librarian: Sasquatch?

George:  That’s the one.

Librarian:  Fantasy, folklore, myths and legends, basement stacks, take the stairs.

George:  Thank you.

Librarian:  You could also try children’s books.

The unnamed librarian is played by Peggy Platt, and the most memorable thing about her is… her spiky mullet hairstyle. Yikes. The ’80s indeed. Perhaps her hairdo was an homage to Bigfoot? ;)

Reel Librarians  |  Comparing the reel librarian and Bigfoot from 'Harry and the Hendersons' (1987)

Even Bigfoot has a friendlier face than the reel librarian in ‘Harry and the Hendersons’ (1987)

The librarian fulfills the role of Information Provider in a Class III film. Granted, she doesn’t give much information, and her attitude is very dismissive. But this also serves a purpose. Her dismissive attitude of Bigfoot and Sasquatch as fantasy and in the children’s domain is also reflective of the common viewpoint of such legends. We are treated to several more different variations of this social dismissal of the Bigfoot legend throughout the film, jokes and laughter coming from a local policeman and a local television personality, among others.

The librarian’s directions, although minimal, obviously helped, as we see the family going through some a pile of materials later at home. One of the books he takes home is entitled Bigfoot One on One: A True Story by Oliver Dear.

Reel Librarians  |  A screenshot from 'Harry and the Henderson' (1987)

Side note:  Y’all KNOW I looked that title up in WorldCat, but no such book exists. But I noticed that the author, Oliver Dear, has the same last name as the film’s director, William Dear — and it turns out Oliver is William’s son! Both are still involved in the film industry, William Dear in directing and Oliver Dear in visual production.

George’s son is a born critic, declaring: “This book sucks!”

Reel Librarians  |  A screenshot from 'Harry and the Henderson' (1987)

I’m sure his son wouldn’t say that about the film he’s in… ;) It’s a mediocre comedy, to be sure, and a modest success when it was released. It’s become a bit of a cult classic since then, and a film thought of fondly around here, especially as it was filmed on location.

And Sasquatch in general is still a big deal up here in the Pacific Northwest. As evidenced by a shot I took while at the ACRL Conference this past spring:

ACRL Sasquatch sighting

Bigfoot lives! Sasquatch + librarians = ♥

 

Finding a reel librarian

So if you’re a regular reader of this blog — thank you! — you know that the idea for this blog all started with my undergraduate thesis over a decade ago. And in this post, “It all started with a big list,” I list the films included in that thesis. Finding Forrester (2000) was one of those films, and although I’ve mentioned it here in the “Is reading a spectator sport? Librarians in sports movies” post, I have not analyzed the film yet on the blog. Correcting that oversight now…

Here’s what I wrote about the film in my thesis:

In Finding Forrester (2000), Sophia Wu only remains on screen only long enough to inform the main character that all William Forrester’s books are checked out, but her part is notable for the fact that she is Asian.

But let’s go a little bit deeper, shall we?

This was director Gus Van Sant’s second film released after 1997’s Good Will Hunting, and Finding Forrester (2000) enjoyed solid, if not spectacular, reviews and box office at the time of its release. It’s a film I’ve rewatched a few times, and it holds up well. Rob Brown co-stars as Jamal Wallace, a young African-American teenager who has skill in both academics and athletics. He strikes up a mentoring friendship with the neighborhood recluse, played by Sean Connery, who turns out to be the title character, William Forrester. Forrester is an author (and recluse) famous for having written only one book, Avalon Landing, which won the Pulitzer Prize and became an instant American classic. The fictitious character of Forrester is based on J.D. Salinger and his classic book, Catcher in the Rye.

I personally like the film for its message — I’m married to a writer, and it’s one of his favorite movies about writing! — and for how Rob Brown’s style matches up well with the director’s style. There is a stillness in his delivery — his eyes are always watching, always observing — but you can tell there is so much happening beneath the surface. Even more impressive given that this was Rob Brown’s acting debut!

Almost exactly an hour into the film, Jamal jokes with Forrester about the neighborhood changing.

Jamal:  Go ahead. I want to hear about the neighborhood, back when people were still reading your book.

Forrester [choking on his drink]:  What did you say?

Jamal:  Nothing.

Forrester:  No. you said, ‘back when people were still reading my book.’ Didn’t you?

Next stop:  The library! More specifically, the New York Public Library and a close-up of its online card catalog and its copies of Avalon Landing.

Reel Librarians  |  NYPL library catalog in 'Finding Forrester'

Side note:  This looks like a pretty typical card catalog screen, especially for that time period. But what is UP with those janky call numbers? D-107424, D-109478, D-783719, etc. Those do not look like any call numbers I’ve ever come across — especially not for a fiction book. They look more like accession numbers to me, which are automatically assigned numbers to items as they are entered into a system. (Archives collections are the only collections I’m aware of that sometimes shelve items by accession numbers. A public library would have a more generic call number for a work of fiction, something like FIC FOR, for “Fiction – Forrester”)

And YES, I looked up the current New York Public Library online card catalog. Y’all knew I was going to do that, right? ;) I did a title search for Catcher in the Rye, which came up with 63 items, 49 of which are currently available. And the call number is the logical “CLASSICS FIC S.”

NYPL Library catalog search for 'Catcher in the Rye'

Back to the scene… we hear the voice of the reel librarian (Sophia Wu, as Librarian) narrating her title search for Avalon Landing:

Librarian:  We have 24 copies. But I’m sorry, they’re all checked out.

Jamal:  Ok. Well, thank you anyway.

Reel Librarian  |  Screenshot of the library scene in 'Finding Forrester'

Jamal then walks away, and when he returns to Forrester’s apartment, Forrester is reading a tabloid and sarcastically calls out behind him, “Any luck? Did you get on the waiting list?” ;)

By the way, the librarian did not offer to put Jamal on the waiting list, or offer Interlibrary Loan (ILL), a common library service to request items from other libraries. Tsk, tsk.

In my original notes after watching the film for my thesis, I noted the following:

Reel Librarians  |  Notes on 'Finding Forrester'

(In case you can’t read my terrible handwriting, that reads:  “younger white male sitting beside her, typing on a computer, blue shirt, dark sweater vest”)

The trivia section on IMDb.com reveals that the film’s director, Gus Van Sant, is that “younger white male sitting beside her,” — he made a cameo as the library assistant in this scene! This might just be the only time a film director has also played a reel librarian! :D

Reel Librarians  |  Gus Van San's reel librarian cameo in 'Finding Forrester'

The library scene lasts only a few seconds, so this definitely lands in the Class IV category. Sophia Wu fulfills the Information Provider role, as she not only helps reinforce the library setting, but also provides the information that the book is still popular and relevant and credible — and by extension, William Forrester. He then becomes more relevant and credible to Jamal, thus solidifying and deepening their friendship.

This part is also notable for bringing a little diversity to the world of reel librarians, as she is Asian (or Asian-American). This makes sense, as Finding Forrester (2000) is a film filled with racial — as well as socioeconomic — diversity. This role is one of only three Asian/Asian-American reel librarians I have come across so far.

If you’d like to see more examples of reel librarian diversity, see my “Reader Q&A” post which answers the reader question, “How many movies are there with librarians of color?

Toward the end of the film, Jamal pens a private letter to William Forrester. His choice of sanctuary? The New York Public Library, of course. ;)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Finding Forrester'

And who do we spy in the background with a book cart? Another (anonymous) reel librarian!

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Finding Forrester'

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Finding Forrester'

Until next week…

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!