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? ;)

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.

 

The hand that rocks the school

In The New Guy (2002), one of the opening monologue’s lines succinctly sums up the basic plot of this Grade C high school comedy:

In high school, popularity ain’t a contest, it’s a war, and Dizzy Harrison is its greatest casualty.”

At the start of his senior year — and start of the film — Dizzy (DJ Qualls) is humiliated at his old high school, and tries to start over as the cool “new guy” at another school. The scene immediately after the opening credits — a mere five minutes into the film — is a memorable one, showcasing perhaps the crassest, most twisted behavior ever from a reel librarian!

*SPOILER ALERT*

And on that note, I must warn you that about very sexually frank words and descriptions below, which may not be suitable for work.

And… now back to the humiliation. It’s the first day at school, and there are multiple tables along the main foyer, most likely set up for school orientation. After Dizzy starts flirting with a high school cheerleader, a couple of jocks horn in to point out his “pup tent” and proceed to pull Dizzy’s underpants over his head and spin him around toward an older lady sitting at a nearby table.

The old lady (Justine Johnston), dressed in pearls and a vest, screams “What is this?!” and reaches out her hands toward Dizzy and grabs at what is closest to her.

Reel Librarians  |  The New Guy screenshot

Take note of the student on the left who is filming this scene of humiliation at the hands — literally — of the school librarian.

Dizzy, understandably in shock, stammers out, “Mrs. Whitman! It’s my…”

Grabbing his penis, Mrs. Whitman screams, “It’s mine now!” and “You can’t bring loaded weapons to school!”

Pushing Dizzy backwards while she moves forward on her rolling chair, she ends the short scene by standing up and proclaiming, “I’m showing this to Principal Zaylor.”

CRUNCH.

And here is Dizzy’s blood-curdling reaction, screaming in pain and humiliation at this living nightmare:

Reel Librarians  |  The New Guy screenshot

You really do feel for the guy, don’t you?

Although less than a minute long, that scene packs quite a punch. And in some ways, it’s quite clever. (Not classy, to be sure, but clever.) For example, the start of the film likens high school to a war. And in that shot above, one is reminded of a gladiator scene. After such a debilitating beginning, will Dizzy be able to rise up (ahem) and become a hero?

However, in that opening scene, it’s clearly Mrs. Whitman who emerges as the victor. And she knows it.

Reel Librarians  |  The New Guy screenshot

School librarian showdown in ‘The New Guy’

But how do we know Mrs. Whitman’s a librarian?

The next couple of scenes help illustrate that. First up is a scene at the doctor’s, where Dizzy reveals that he “can pee around a corner.” Hopped up on pain meds, he then creates a disturbance at the local mall and wakes up in jail next to Luther (Eddie Griffin), who begins describing how similar high school is to jail.

Luther:  I seen terrible things.

Dizzy:  Yesterday, an 80-year-old librarian broke my penis.

Luther:  [Pause.] You win.

Personally, I don’t think anyone wins watching this film. :(

Dizzy also gets to utter this oh-so-eloquent phrase, “If you break your dick in front of the whole school, they remember.”

And remember they do. After a state football championship, the jock football player from his old school replays the video of the librarian incident at Dizzy’s new school. On the big screen. At the Homecoming dance. And being teenagers, everyone starts shouting, “Broke dick. Broke dick.” Just in case we had missed that point earlier.

Ah, the legacy of an 80-year-old reel librarian.

Reel Librarians  |  The New Guy screenshot

Gimme, gimme!

In real life, Justine Johnston, who played Mrs. Whitman, was 85 years old at the making of this film. She also played a blink-and-you’ll-miss-that-librarian in Running on Empty (1988) — see also this post about repeat offenders — but she makes a more, shall we say, lasting impression in this film. Her turn as Mrs. Whitman effectively sets in motion the impetus for the entire film. (I know, that line sounded kind of dirty, but it’s not!)

She serves the role of Comic Relief — we the audience are invited to laugh both at her AND her unwitting victim, Dizzy — and her memorable performance, although only a minute long, lands her in the Class III category. After all, her actions set up the plot for the rest of the movie! Her reel librarian, Mrs. Whitman, also joins other librarians on the loose, i.e. reel librarians never seen in libraries but only referred to as librarians by other characters.

And now, go put some ice on that. ;)

Getting carried away

Reel Librarians  |  Carrie title screen

Title screen for the TV remake of Carrie

In the TV remake of Carrie (2002), a plodding by-the-numbers mediocrity filled with actors too old to play high schoolers, the school library serves as the setting for several small scenes throughout the film.

Three minutes in, a teacher calls out Carrie (Angela Bettis), saying she’s been excused as per her mother’s request (Patricia Clarkson, too little seen in this remake). “You might as well head down to the library right now.” This introductory statement sets up the library as a more social place, and indeed, we soon see the school library filled with students, hanging out throughout the library, at tables and computers and in group and individual study spaces.

In this school library scene, the camera peeks in behind Carrie, busy doodling pictures of a boy named Tommy Ross, and looks up. Her perspective reveals the real-life Tommy (Tobias Mehler), and in the background, a peek at the school librarian (played by Irene Miscisco).

Reel Librarians  |  'Carrie' library shot

Carrie’s object of affection, Tommy Ross, in the foreground, while the school librarian is visible in the top right corner

A boy — credited as “Obnoxious Student,” and billed right above (!) the school librarian — starts poking fun of Carrie and making loud sex noises and gestures. Tommy responds by throwing a book at the kid’s head, causing a string of profanity from the obnoxious student. This very loud scene garners NO response at all from the school librarian. SIGH.

Twenty minutes later and after a traumatic scene in the school gym, Carrie rounds the corner into the school library. The camera’s perspective, once again, peeks over a character’s shoulder, this time introducing us to the back of the school librarian’s head. We also see that the librarian is reading a tabloid magazine!

Reel Librarians  |  The school librarian in 'Carrie'

The stereotypical physical characteristics of this school librarian, decked out in thick glasses and lanyard, are juxtaposed with the images in the trashy magazine she’s holding.

Carrie, obviously nervous, is brave enough to ask the school librarian a question.

Carrie:  Mrs. Johnson?

Librarian:  Yes, dear? [hurriedly stashing away the magazine]

Carrie:  Can you show me how to do a search?

Besides my annoyance at yet another librarian character not being allowed a character name in the credits — even though she’s referred to by her personal name in the film! — I frowned at the significance of this scene. Why show the librarian reading a tabloid? By the guilty way she puts it away, Mrs. Johnson is obviously embarrassed to be caught reading the tabloid.

Is the reason for this shot to demonstrate the ineptitude of everyone in the school? Every authority figure in the school, however well-meaning, is shown in a not-so-flattering light in at least one scene. The gym teacher (Rena Sofer) sticks up for Carrie more than once but also shoves a student into gym lockers and verbally threatens her. The school principal (Laurie Murdoch) stands up for Carrie in front of an angry parent but can’t remember her name — even when corrected by Carrie herself. The school librarian apparently helps out Carrie in searching, but is also seen looking at a trashy tabloid on the job.

And how about that searching? The next shots reveal closeups of a woefully outdated search screen interface, as well as search results for the keyword Carrie types in, miracles. She gets a librarian to help her search, and all she can think to type in is the word miracles?! No wonder she gets wildly different search results, including:

Reel Librarians  |  Web search results in 'Carrie'

Result #6, “Jesus – Man of Miracles,” which puts the keyword in a religious context…

Reel Librarians  |  Web search results in 'Carrie'

… while result #22, “Miracle Underwear,” conjures up visions of Victoria’s Secret…

Reel Librarians  |  Web search results in 'Carrie'

… and finally, Result #26, “Miracles:  Hidden Powers of the Mind,” combines the keyword with paranormal activity.

And even though I didn’t get a good shot of it, after the 26th search result — the one Carrie clicks on about telepathy — there is a line that reads:  End of results. That made me laugh out loud! Even in 2002, there would have been more than 26 results for a generic search for miracles!

Reel Librarians  |  Library scene in 'Carrie'

Another shot of the school library

However little actual help the librarian provided, we do see Carrie in the school library one more time (42 minutes into the film), researching another web site about telekinesis. This time, she’s in a darkened room at the back of the library, writing in a (blank) notebook. When Tommy comes into the room and calls out her name, Carrie rapidly shuts her notebook — oddly mirroring the earlier gesture of the school librarian closing up the tabloid magazine! She also lies to Tommy about what she’s reading; she says she’s reading about sewing, foreshadowing her self-made prom dress.

In the middle of the library, Tommy asks Carrie to go to the prom with him, which attracts the attention of a gang of popular mean girls. Although the librarian is not pictured, it’s interesting how this very public scene — set in the library, already well-established as a popular place — sets in the motion the rest of the plot and the prom finale. Reel librarians often propel plots forward, but in this case, the library as place serves this function more than the librarian herself.

And by the way, even though we see other school officials at the scene of the prom, the school librarian Mrs. Johnson doesn’t appear to be one of the chaperones. But Mrs. Johnson does get to help chaperone Class IV, with other reel librarians seen only briefly in their respective films, and hang out with the other Information Providers.

First impressions: The Amazing Spider-Man

In an earlier post, I had highlighted a clip of Stan Lee revealing his cameo as a librarian in The Amazing Spider-Man (2012). Earlier this week, the hubby and I got to see the film at a local drive-in movie theater, along with The Dark Knight Rises. A loooong night (and early morning), but worth it!

If you haven’t seen the film yet, then there are minor SPOILERS ahead.

To be honest, I really wasn’t expecting much from this latest Spider-Man film, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Andrew Garfield (as Peter Parker) and the ever-adorable Emma Stone (as Parker’s first love, Gwen Stacy) have chemistry to spare, and the supporting cast members, including Denis Leary, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan, and Campbell Scott, were all quite solid. (Martin Sheen, I ♥ you.) And yes, I teared up when the construction crews lined up the cranes to clear a path for Spider-Man. Ah, teamwork and selfless acts, they get me every time.

Stan Lee cameo in The Amazing Spider-Man. Click image for source info.

Stan Lee has a cameo in just about every film adaptation of his stories and characters (see here for a detailed list of his cameos), and this one is quite memorable. I carried a tape recorder with me to the film, as I didn’t want to put on a light and distract from the other drive-in moviegoers. Here’s a transcript of what I noted while watching the scene:

Stan Lee plays a school librarian who’s listening to classical music, and it’s like an hour and forty minutes into the film. He’s wearing a black sweater vest and chinos and — [Sam interjects, "bow tie"] — bow tie, white button-down. Oblivious. Kind of like the [librarian in] Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Comic relief. That was like, what, 2-3 seconds? Ok, and they’re in the high school. So, that’s that.

What is Stan Lee’s librarian oblivious about? The fact that Spider-Man and the Lizard are fighting right behind him – and tearing the school library apart! The contrast of the classical music choice is very funny, and Stan Lee as the oblivious School Librarian definitely joins the Comic Relief librarians.

And if you’re wondering about the librarian in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) and other Comic Relief librarians, read more by clicking here.

And for as long as this clip stays online, here’s a look at the scene and Stan Lee’s librarian cameo: