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? ;)

The Quotable Librarian

It’s time for another “Quotable Librarian” round-up! This time, the theme focuses on descriptions of librarians, from either reel librarian characters themselves or from others.

Reel Librarians Collage

Click collage for image sources


Enough Said (2013)


Will:  Eva was telling me that there are no men at this party that she’s attracted to.

Albert [who works at a television archives library]:  That’s OK, there’s no one here I’m attracted to either.

 

[click here for more about this film]

[click here for my analysis post about this film]


Major League (1989)


Jake Taylor: [at the library, discussing Jake's one-night stand with a flight attendant] I had no choice. She bet me fifty dollars that she had a better body than you and I had to defend your honor.

Lynn Wells [a special collections librarian]: Oh, what a bunch of bullshit! I have a much better body than she does!

[everyone in the library turns to look]

Jake Taylor: She’s right.

 

[click here for more about this film]

[click here for a round-up of librarians in sports movies]


The Music Man (1962)


Marian Paroo [a public librarian]: Do you think that I’d allow a common masher – ? Now, really, mama. I have my standards where men are concerned and I have no intention…

Mrs. Paroo: I know all about your standards and if you don’t mind my sayin’ so there’s not a man alive who could hope to measure up to that blend of Paul Bunyan, Saint Pat, and Noah Webster you’ve concocted for yourself out of your Irish imagination, your Iowa stubbornness, and your li’berry full of books!

 

[click here for more about the film]

[click here for a "Marian or Marion?" post]

[click here for a post about Shirley Jones's memoir]


Party Girl (1995)


Mary: You don’t think I’m smart enough to work in your fucking library?

 

[click here for more about this film]

[click here for more of my "Hall of Fame" of personal reel librarian faves]


Pump Up the Volume (1990)


Nora [student worker at the school library]: I’m the “Eat me, beat me” lady.

 

[click here for more about the film]

[click here for more about the "Spirited Young Girl" character type]


The Station Agent (2003)


Joe Oramas: It’s the librarian fantasy, man. Glasses off, hair down, books flying.

Finbar McBride: She doesn’t wear glasses [referring to librarian character Emily, played by Michelle Williams]

Olivia Harris: Well, buy her some, it’s worth it.

 

[click here for more about the film]


VAmL (2009)


Gina: Now that is one fucking hot librarian.

Lynn: This is a library. Shh.

Gina: What? I’m just saying?

Lynn: I know. But you are supposed to be quiet in a library.


The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag (1992)


Betty Lou Perkins [a children's librarian at a local public library]: Why is it so hard to believe, that I might be exciting to other men? People have affairs. People have lovers. Why not me, Alex?

 

[click here for more about this film]

[click here for more about librarians as title characters]


You’re a Big Boy Now (1966)


Barbara Darling: You’re perfect.

Bernard Chanticleer [works at the New York Public Library and son of a rare books librarian]: Me?

Barbara Darling: Absolutely hunky dory perfect. You’re just what I need in my life.

 

[click here for more about the film]

Plans for the summer

I do not have an in-depth post today, as I have just gotten back from the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference, which was held in Las Vegas this year. Twenty thousand plus librarians in Vegas?! [Insert your favorite naughty librarian joke here.]

I am also finished with the academic year and will start back up again in the fall. Therefore, I thought a preview of what I hope to do this summer on the blog was in order. Here are some of my goals:

  • Gather questions for another “Reader Q&A” post — so send me questions you have about librarians in film! (reel.librarians[at]gmail.com)
  • Do another “Quotable Librarian” post
  • Make a dent in this huge pile of reel librarian movies from my personal collection, as seen below:

Reel Librarians  |  Reel librarian films

What are your plans for the summer? What would you like to see on the Reel Librarians site? Please leave a comment and let me know! :)

Three days of the researcher

I confess:  I have a soft spot for intelligent spy/action films. (One of my all-time faves is the addictively rewatchable 1968 classic Where Eagles Dare, starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. I dare you to not enjoy that film! ;) )

Another film I highly enjoy is the 1975 film Three Days of the Condor, starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway, both in their primes, as well as the always excellent Max von Sydow. It was directed by Sydney Pollack, whose specialty was directing smart, well-acted movies, including They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969), The Way We Were (1973), Absence of Malice (1981), Tootsie (1983), Out of Africa (1985), and The Firm (1993).

This film ages surprisingly well, and it’s almost scary how prevalent and relevant the central mystery still is. I won’t give it away — it’s the MacGuffin! The only aspect that doesn’t age that well is the kidnapping-turned-love-story side plot involving the two main stars. This unnecessary subplot also provided the basis of the entire ad campaign for this film, also referenced in the DVD menu. [Insert eye rolls here.]

Reel Librarians  |  DVD menu for 'Three Days of the Condor'

Also, this film does NOT include an actual reel librarian. But there are good reasons I’m including it here on this blog, even though it is technically a Class V film (which means no librarian on screen).

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Three Days of the Condor'

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Three Days of the Condor'

The film opens on a close-up of a book scanning machine, with rows of books behind a bank of technology. If you thought you were seeing a library — complete with librarian wearing glasses — you would be forgiven. We also get a peek at book archives a bit later:

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Three Days of the Condor'

As Joseph Turner (Robert Redford) rides up in a bicycle, there’s also a close-up of the building’s sign that reads “American Literary Historical Society.” So one might reasonably assume now that this a story featuring archivists, right?

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Three Days of the Condor'

Wrong.

The whole building is a front. Literally. It’s actually a base for CIA agents who analyze books and other materials for codes and terrorist activities. Robert Redford is one of those agents, a researcher, and “Condor” is his code name. As he later describes his job:

I work for the CIA. I am not a spy. I just read books. We read everything that’s published in the world, and we feed the plots — dirty tricks, codes — into a computer. And the computer checks against actual CIA plans and operations. I look for leaks, I look for new ideas. We read adventures and novels and journals. Who’d invent a job like that?

And he is SO GOOD at this job that he uncovers a terrorist organization that unwittingly hits too close to home. This begins a chain reaction that ends up leaving his co-workers dead; by accident, Joseph is “literally out to lunch” when the assassins hit his workplace. No spoilers — all of this happens in the first 15 minutes of the film! For the remaining 100 minutes, Joseph is on the run to both (a) stay alive and (b) find out why he and his co-workers were targeted. Along the way, he kidnaps Kathy (Faye Dunaway), and they eventually end up in bed together. As you do. (See also 2002’s The Bourne Identity, which is another personal spy/action favorite. But they did the whole female-sidekick-turned-lover angle MUCH better.)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Three Days of the Condor'

By the way, while Turner/Condor is out at a neighborhood deli getting lunch orders, we get to listen in on his conversation with the cook and another regular customer:

Deli guy:  Hey, Shakespeare. How’s it going?

[As they converse, Joseph rattles off a few facts about Van Gogh and Mozart.]

Another guy at the counter interjects:  Where am I? The New York Public Library?

Deli guy:  Hey, that’s a very bright man.

Other guy:  It’s very educational. That’s why I come in here.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Three Days of the Condor'

We also “listen in” on several scenes in which CIA operatives — all men, of course, including Cliff Robertson as Higgins and John Houseman as Mr. Wabash — discuss the situation. There is suspicion that Condor himself is a double agent. Although their scenes basically serve as exposition, the background info we learn about Joseph Turner/Condor is very interesting, revealing that he is smart, motivated, resourceful, and lucky.

  • “Condor. Researcher, tide pool. Likes to read comic strips.”
  • “Two years military service. Signal corps. Telephone line and longline Switchboard maintenance, six months overseas. Worked at Bell Labs Communication Research. College on the G.I. Bill.”
  • “Don’t expect too many mistakes from his man. True, he does seem rather more interesting than just another of our reader researchers.”

In a beginning scene, Turner/Condor solves a mysterious death by referencing a Dick Tracy story. Toward the end discussing another incident, he confesses, “I read about it in a story.”

In a scene where the CIA operatives discuss Condor, there’s this revealing sideline:

CIA agent:  Where did he learn evasive moves?

Higgins:  He reads.

CIA agent:  What the hell does that mean?

Higgins:  It means, sir, that he reads everything.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Three Days of the Condor'

Turner/Condor also earns that Shakespeare monikor, as evidenced by this back-and-forth with Higgins:

Higgins:  I’m not armed.

Joseph:  They could be df-ing us if you have a transmitter hidden somewhere in your clothes. What’s this?

Higgins:  DF? You do read everything, don’t you?

Joseph:  This is no goddamned book. Somebody or something is rotten in the company.

That last line, of course, is a reference to the line “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.

Three Days of the Condor also explores themes of the power of mixing both human brain power and technology, although the lines to “book some computer time” to analyze text elicit a chuckle or two. This is the central theme of several reel librarian films, including the 1957 comedic classic Desk Set. (Hint:  It’s an either/or fallacy, the conflict between humans and computers. You benefit from having BOTH.)

There are also a few similarities in tone and subject matter with the Cold War drama, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), starring Richard Burton. In that film, spy Alec Leamus (Burton) pretends to quit the Secret Service and defect to the Communists. As part of his cover as a failed spy, he starts work as a librarian at the Institute of Psychical Research. In Three Days of the Condor, Joseph Turner pretends to work as a literary society archivist, but is in actuality a CIA agent and researcher. Also, the library in the 1965 film is real — we meet other librarians — but in the 1975 spy film, the literary society is fake.

All in all, there is much to appreciate in Three Days of the Condor (1975), a highly intelligent and engaging spy thriller. Too bad there isn’t an actual reel librarian, but I think we can all agree that Joseph Turner would have been an EXCELLENT librarian if he had so chosen to be, yes?

And I will leave you with shots of Robert Redford in his prime, wearing glasses and a shirt unbuttoned to his chest.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Three Days of the Condor'
Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Three Days of the Condor'

You’re welcome. ;)

Reel school librarians

There are many kinds of librarians in both the real and reel world, including school librarians (also called “teacher librarians” or “library media specialists”); academic librarians (who work in college/university libraries); public librarians; archivists; and special librarians (who work in different kinds of libraries, like those in businesses or government offices), among others.

I thought it would be fun to first do a round-up of school librarians, as my own mother is a school librarian. Looking through my Reel Substance lists, most of the reel school librarians end up in Classes III and IV, meaning most of them are supporting or minor characters. Also, most of the school librarian characters fulfill the roles of Comic Relief and Information Providers — again, no surprise there. This is common of most reel librarian roles.


 Class II


Pump Up the VolumeThis category includes reel librarians who are major characters, but their profession does not directly affect the plot. It’s interesting to note that all three in this category are actually student library workers at their school libraries.

My Science Project (1985)

  • Raphael Sbarge plays Sherman, the school nerd and know-it-all who works in the school library. He ends up being a Liberated Librarian.

Pump Up the Volume (1992)

  • Student library assistant, Nora (played by Samantha Mathis), investigates the new high school student’s identity through the books he checks out. Nora is a cool character and fulfills the role of a Spirited Young Girl.

Scent of a Woman (1992)

  • This coming-of-age story features a young prep school boy (Chris O’Donnell) and an alcoholic blind man (Al Pacino). O’Donnell is a student library assistant at a private prep school and is another Liberated Librarian.

Class III


NewGuyLibrarian1This category includes supporting, minor characters, and includes a mix of Comic Relief, Spinsters, and Information Providers.

Big Bully (1996)

  • In this comedy, a writer (Rick Moranis) returns to his Minnesota hometown to teach a creative writing course to middle schoolers. On his first day, he revisits the school library and encounters Mrs. Rumpert, who remembers the book he never returned to the school library. This crude, stereotypical portrayal serves as Comic Relief.

Christine (1983)

  • In this horror film, a teenager tries to talk to a pretty girl in the school library — and incurs the wrath of the middle-aged school librarian, a Spinster Librarian.

The Last American Virgin (1982)

The Neverending Story III: Escape from Fantasia (1994)

  • School bullies steal a book that functions as the portal between worlds, and a young boy must find the book. In the opening scene, the boy hides from the bullies in the school library. Freddie Jones plays Mr. Koreander, the school librarian and typical Information Provider.

The New Guy (2002)

Primary Colors (1998)

  • In this fictionalized account of Bill Clinton’s presidential candidacy, the film begins with a visit to an urban school and an introduction to a “very special librarian,” Miss Walsh, a klutzy but dedicated teacher and school librarian.
  • Allison Janney plays the school librarian and fulfills the role of both Comic Relief and Information Provider.

The Prime of Miss Jean BrodieThe Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

  • This classic, award-winning film features a scene in the school library, in which a stern school librarian kicks two girls out of the library for making too much noise.
  • Memorable quote:  “This is a library, not a fun fair!”

The Substitute (1996)

  • Ex-marine John Shale (Tom Berenger) goes undercover as a high school substitute teacher in order to investigate a gang. The middle-aged librarian has her own “Liberated Librarian” moment and stands up to the hoodlums, who start a shoot-out with John in the school library.

Up the Down Staircase (1967)

  • The school librarian in this film, the aptly named “Miss Wolf,” appears in several short scenes as the school librarian at a tough, inner-city high school. Not a flattering portrayal of a Spinster Librarian/Comic Relief reel librarian.

Class IV


Killer Movie Librarian wide shot The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Carrie (TV, 2002)

Dangerous Minds (1995)

  • An ex-Marine (Michelle Pfeiffer) struggles to connect with her students in an inner city high school. There is one scene set in the school library, and you can glimpse two school librarians in the background. More Information Providers who help set the school library scene.

High School High (1996)

  • In this parody of films like Dangerous Minds (see above), a naïve teacher (Jon Lovitz) gets a job at a high school in the ‘hood — and gets heckled by a mean-girl school librarian.

Killer Movie (2008)

  • Another parody, this one of school slasher flicks, this film features one scene in a school library — and a memorable shot of a scary-looking school librarian. If looks could kill.
  • Click here to read my analysis post of Killer Movie.

Mad Love (1995)

  • High-schoolers Matt (Chris O’Donnell) and Casey (Drew Barrymore) fall in love and flee on a road trip. The nosy school librarian, an Information Provider, rats out Casey’s bad-girl behavior.

My Bodyguard (1980)

  • A new kid hires the school outcast to protect him against a school bully. There’s a brief scene in the school library, and the school librarian provides background to the setting.

You may be wondering about a big hole on this list, as it does not feature Giles — the famous Giles — on the TV series Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003). You can read more about my post on the first episode of the long-running TV series by clicking here.

 

A magical librarian

A couple of years ago, when I started this blog, I received a reader comment adding the TV movie The Color of Magic (2008) to my Master List. The TV movie is adapted from two of Terry Pratchett’s books, the 1983 work of the same name (although it is spelled in the English way, The Colour of Magic, the first in his famous Discworld series) and the second book in the series, The Light Fantastic. About a year ago, a work colleague recommended Terry Pratchett’s book Men at Arms to me, as it is another book in the series that features the librarian character. I haven’t read The Colour of Magic yet, but I did enjoy Men at Arms, especially Pratchett’s sense of humor. So when on a recent trip to the public library I spied a DVD of The Color of Magic, I checked it out.

Reel Librarians  |  DVD case of 'The Color of Magic'

I had been warned that this TV movie was bad — even my work colleague, who loves the Discworld series, said it wasn’t very good. It is overlong, as it was conceived and developed as a two-parter. It’s also very cheesy in execution and special effects. Where the tone of the books is funny and whimsical, the movie feels silly and belabored; the filmsuffers from a lack of charm that is evident in Terry Pratchett’s writing. So, yes, this was another instance in which I watched this film so YOU DON’T HAVE TO. ;)

I also did not understand the general plot — this TV movie suffers from too.much.plot. — until I read this very detailed synopsis entry of the film in the Discworld Wiki site. This entry is SO detailed, but if you are unfamiliar with the Discworld books, suffice to say that (SPOILER ALERTS):

  • The Octavo is the greatest of all spell books and very dangerous, and it lives in the cellars of Unseen University.
  • Wizards keep killing — or attempting to kill — each other, because that’s what wizards do.
  • Tim Curry plays an evil-minded wizard named Trymon (no big casting stretch there) and wants to rule with help from the Octavo’s spells.
  • One wizard, Rincewind (played by David Jason), is the worst of the wizards because he can’t remember any basic spells or even to show up on time to wizard meetings.
  • Rincewind is therefore expelled at the beginning of the movie, which wreaks havoc because his mind inadvertently contains a spell from the Octavo. (This is also why he’s the worst wizard and can’t remember any other spells.)
  • Sean Astin ambles cluelessly through the movie as Twoflower, a rich tourist who hires Rincewind as his guide. They go on adventures outside the city but eventually come back for the final showdown against Trymon.
  • The Head Librarian starts out in human form… and then gets turned into an orangutan. Yes, an orangutan. Even in primate form, he continues to be Head Librarian of Unseen University.

The Librarian is played in human form by Nicholas Tennant, and in “Orang Utan” form by actor Richard da Costa, who also plays the Luggage. (That is a very strange sentence to write.)

Books also lead other, secret lives in the L-Space in the Discworld series — and as a member of the Librarians of Time and Space, the Librarian of Unseen University has an understanding of L-Space and its powers. It is no wonder that this TV movie highlights the Octavo, as Brian Cox (!) narrates that the “greatest of all spell books, locked and chained deep in the cellars of the Unseen University, the spells imprisoned in its pages lead a secret life of their own. And Rincewind’s departure … has left them deeply troubled…”

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

The next scene involves the Head Librarian, deep in conversation with the Arch Chancellor. The Head Librarian reveals a lot of plot in this scene — and indeed, provides plot details throughout to several characters — so his primary role in this TV movie is that of an Information Provider.

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

The Librarian also reflects the fear others have of Trymon, who is power-hungry and trying to bump off any wizard in his way to the “room at the top.”

Librarian:  … I’m just glad he doesn’t want to be Head Librarian.

Trymon [who's been eavesdropping and bursts into the room]:  Perish the thought, Horace. And I am looking for a book.

The next shot reveals the Unseen University Library in all its dusty, disorganized glory. The Librarian retrieves the book Room at the Top:  How to Succeed at Wizardry! (first chapter:  “Knife in the Back”) for Trymon and continues the theme of the previous conversation.

Librarian:  The position of Head Librarian isn’t one that really appeals to you, sir?

Trymon:  No. [smirks]

Librarian:  Oh, good.

Trymon:  It is quite possible that the next Arch Chancellor may well smile upon those who understand the importance of things being well organized.

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

A rumbling, creaking sound from the cellars — the groans of the Octavo — interrupt this conversation.

Trymon:  Is everything in order down there?

Librarian:  Oh, yes, absolutely. Everything is in alphabetical order, in fact.

GROAN.

The Librarian, at least while in human form, comes off as quite cowardly and sniveling. He reacts in fear, and I don’t think it’s an accident that camera angles play up his diminutive form. (For more on the Librarian character in the books, click here.)

Reel Librarians  | Screenshots from 'The Color of Magic'

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

In fact, I grew so tired of the Librarian cowering in and around Trymon — all the while supplying him with the information he needed to move forward with his evil plan — that almost halfway through the TV movie, I shouted out, “I am SO READY for the Librarian to turn into an orangutan!” And, yes, that is another strange sentence to say out loud and write.

The movie complied, as at the end of the first half, the Librarian gets accidentally gets turned into a primate by a spell released by the Octavo. The Arch Chancellor and the other wizard rush to the library, to be greeted with the Librarian sitting on his desk. Not at his desk, but ON his desk.

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

Even if I hadn’t know the Librarian got turned into an orangutan — he’s already in his primate form in Men at Arms — I could have guessed where the plot was going, based on the number of bad puns he slips in before the accident:

  • Better not monkey around with it [the Octavo], or who knows what will happen.
  • It’s the Octavo. It’s going really ape.

I was relieved that after he got turned into an orangutan, his vocabulary became limited to variations of “Ooook!”

The Librarian does not have as many scenes in the second half of the TV movie, but he does help Trymon find another book in the library. Trymon threatens him and also gives him a banana for his troubles (“it’s not as if bananas grow on trees”) — which proves to be his own downfall. Literally.

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

At the end of the film, Trymon holds all the spells but the final spell in the Octavo and is engaged in a battle with Rincewind and the bumbling tourist, Twoflower, at the top of the tower. The camera then cuts to a close-up of the Librarian with a banana in his mouth (oook?), and then we get a lovely wide shot of the tower in silhouette. And who in the world would be able to scale a tower like this… but an orangutan librarian?!

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

And that banana? Well, a banana peel just HAPPENS to find its way underneath Trymon’s foot as he prepares to send one final spell toward Rincewind. Trymon is then blasted by his own ricocheted spell!

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

Although Rincewind gets all the glory, it’s the Librarian who actually ended up saving the day! (Typical.) At the end, as Rincewind and Twoflower make their way out of the tower, the Librarian drops over the side of the wall and toward Rincewind. (Apparently, Richard da Costa studied real orangutans in a zoo to learn how they moved — not that it helped.) Rincewind hands the Librarian a banana and tells him to “Go on, you sort this all out.”

I think HE ALREADY DID. Ungrateful wizard. Ooook, indeed.

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

The Head Librarian is a minor character who appears in short scenes throughout The Color of Magic (2008), and therefore winds up in the Class III category of reel librarians. I’ve already mentioned how he fulfilled the role of Information Provider, and considering the bad puns and overly crude portrayals — both in human and ape form — he also serves as Comic Relief. We are definitely laughing AT him, even if that laughter could be characterized as nervous laughter. Plus, his last trick with the banana peel is the oldest, broadest slapstick humor there is, right?

Until next week … and make sure you look where you step! And be nice to librarians while you’re at it. Bananas optional. ;)

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. ;)