What not to do in a library

Although the focus of this website and blog is all about librarians in movies, I wanted to highlight a TV episode this week. Last year was the final season of “What Not to Wear” (2003-2013), a long-running American spin-off of the original British reality makeover series. I was a general fan of the show, as their best episodes touched on deeper, complex issues such as self-esteem, postpartum depression, transgender body issues, and negative body issues that can haunt victims of sexual abuse. How you project an image through clothing/style/hair/etc. so often has psychological and sociological roots, as I’ve explored often on this site.

During recent “What Not to Wear” reruns on TLC, I came across the 2013 episode for “Courtney D.,” season 10, episode 15, about “a tomboy who wears camouflage is advised to accept a style that’s more appropriate for her age and body type.” This is NOT one of their best episodes; in fact, it’s downright uncomfortable to watch, as Courtney is painfully shy but also quite vocal about her (very understandable) privacy concerns. At the beginning of each episode, the hosts Stacy and Clinton surprise the unsuspecting person who has been nominated for the makeover, and they set up a scenario to fit the interests or lifestyle of that particular person.

For this episode, the producers set up a fake prize of a New York city guided tour, which included a stop at a library. “Little does she know that when we get to her library tour, the hit will be on.” :(

Here’s a shot outside the library building that was the first stop on a “tour of historic New York architecture.” (FYI, I haven’t been able to find a credit for the building they did use, and if indeed it was a library in real life or not.)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'What Not to Wear' episode

The producers explained the opening scenario to Stacy and Clinton:

Then the librarian is gonna tell her to look for something in the card catalog. She [Courtney] is gonna pull a book off the shelf, and then you guy are going to pop your faces in behind.

We get a special behind-the-scenes look at the set up of the library scene. At one point, a producer yells out, “So where’s the librarian?” and we are treated to a close-up of Jillian, the librarian, or rather the “librarian” as written on the screen.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'What Not to Wear' episode

I assume the grey-haired lady is an actress. However, she missed her cue (!) as they started the scene (er, tour). She put on her glasses and then sputtered, “Okay. Hold on. I didn’t know we were about to go.” The co-hosts and producers behind the scenes started cracking up, whispering, “She’s rogue! She’s rogue!”

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'What Not to Wear' episode

The rest of the scenario went off as planned. Stacey and Clinton then reveal themselves through the gap in the bookshelf, and they proceed to explain the whole “What Not to Wear” scenario in quiet whispers. Whenever anyone cheers, there are cuts to the librarian saying, “Shhhhh!” The co-hosts even shush THEMSELVES twice!

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'What Not to Wear' episode

Predictably, the “librarian” in this opening scene falls into the stereotypical image of a Spinster Librarian:  an older lady who wears conservative clothing and glasses, and of course, shushes anyone who talks above a whisper.

Sigh.

What not to wear? The librarian is wearing a scrunchie in her hair, for goodness sake! Maybe they should have started with the reel librarian instead! ;)

First impressions: Monsters University

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned how two members of my family had tipped me off to a reel librarian featured in the recent release, Monsters University (2013). Since that post went live, I have had five additional friends recommend I watch the movie, which I did over the Independence Day long weekend.

And once again, here’s the film trailer that features the librarian:

First impressions? I loved it! Yes, it is VERY over-the-top, but as my fellow reel librarian blogger Maria states over at her Pop! Goes the Librarian blog, “I just can’t bring myself to roll my eyes. Sometimes you just have to laugh.” :D

Monsters University serves as a prequel to the 2001 hit Monsters, Inc., and has shades of the creation story in it, specifically about the wee monster, Mike (Billy Crystal). He’s thrown out of the School of Scaring because he’s… well, not scary. But to get back into the program, he assembles a team out of fellow rejects, including Sullivan (John Goodman) to enter the Scare Games, a series of trials to crown the top scarer at the university.

So where does the library come into the story? It’s the setting for the second challenge of the Scare Games, and the challenge is… wait for it… “Don’t Wake the Parent.” And standing in for the parents — at 40+ feet tall! — is the ugliest monster librarian EVER on screen. I think I can state that with confidence.

From the trailer, you only get the front view, but from the side, there’s the additional bonus of a grey bun perched on the back of her head.

Monsters Librarian screenshot

And SPOILER ALERT, what is this university librarian’s monster power? The ability to hear noises at twenty paces or less — and the ability to make the offenders feel her wrath by scooping them up with her squid-like tentacles and throwing them out the roof into the nearby lake. Another point in the “scaring pros” column is her shushing power.

But an obvious weakness? Her poor eyesight. Ahhh, the bane of almost every librarian. ;) But I kind of loved how she didn’t wear glasses on a lanyard, but instead carried the horn-rimmed spectacles around on a stick, like they were opera glasses, or like a masque at a fancy ball. YES.

Click image for source

Side note:  The end credits featured rookie cards for each monster, and I was so wishing there had been one for the librarian. Like when she retired, she became the resident scarer at the university library. She WAS scary, so she was fulfilling her monstrous destiny.

I also liked how she unfolded herself from the desk; at first glance, she may look meek and small, but when angered, she turns out to be almost as big as the library! Also, her tentacles make her the best shelver EVER. ;)

The only downer for me was that while the challenge seemed to be about who could be the quietest, it turned out to be a challenge for who was able to not get caught. SIGH. Mayyyyyyybe not such a great lesson in the end. The ends do not always justify the means.

Fun tidbits about the Monsters University library and librarian:

Untitled #150

And, parting quote, courtesy of Mike:

“What are you afraid of? You just angered a 40-foot librarian!”

;)

Waitress! Librarian! Action!

You know by the exclamation point in the title that this is a classy movie, right?! Oh, how I wish that were true. Actually, that’s not true. I did not enjoy this movie, not even for the camp factor of a raunchy comedy as only the ’80s could make ‘em. Waitress! (aka Soup to Nuts, 1981) is a film by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Hertz of Troma Entertainment, the creators of those craptastic “Toxic Avenger” B-movie series. I remember reading a few years ago how “Toxie” keeps intoxicating Cannes (see what I did there?!). This movie even premiered at Cannes in 1981, with its American release over a year later, in September 1982 (hence the discrepancy in release dates).

My Facebook status documenting my personal reaction to this movie? “I feel violated.”

On that positive note ;)… The plot revolves around different young women working as waitresses, including one woman trying to make it as an actress and another trying to make it as a writer in New York City. Both work at the WORST restaurant ever, which was filmed after hours at an actual restaurant in Manhattan called Marty’s (the worst advertising I can think of, really, as the sign is clearly visible throughout the restaurant scenes). The “comedy” bits include sight gags, vaudeville schtick, slapstick comedy, anything to elicit a laugh… or a groan. There are also tons of cameos and bit parts, including Chris Noth (!) and Anthony John Denison, who plays Lt. Flynn on The Closer TV series.

Almost a half-hour into the film, Jennifer (Carol Bevar), the girl who wants to be a writer, goes to the library to follow the advice of a teen magazine article on how to find guys. The narration illuminates her mission:

Remember, the mature teen goes for a man with a mind not just a body. Do some browsing at the public library. That’s where you’ll find your cosmopolitan intellectual.

She immediately heads on over to the wall o’ card catalogs, and meets a boy with a finger up his nose. (NOT kidding, see below). There’s your typical “cosmopolitan intellectual” at the library, eh? Sigh.

Jennifer starts asking him questions, which irritates the guy — until the light bulb comes on — and he asks if she’s making a pass at him. “I can’t believe it! I’ve never had a lady come up to me before!” Of course, all of this highly excitable babbling occurs right underneath the sign atop the card catalog, with “QUIET” in huge black letters (see above). He’s so loud that the other patrons start shushing him and telling him to be quiet, and we see Jennifer booking it out of there (I am on fire with the puns today!). And you guessed it… here comes the librarian, played by Lola Ross.

Librarian:  Young man , you should be more quiet.

Dorky guy: I know, I’m just very happy. This young lady she just made a pass at me.

Librarian:  What young lady? [puts on huge glasses handing on a lanyard and pokes his shoulder with her pencil]

Dorky guy:  What do you mean what young lady? This young lady. Oh my god, I’ve lost her! Wait!

And turning in panic, the guy runs into a book cart (supplied by the librarian, no doubt), flips over it in spectacular gymnastic fashion, then runs straight into another patron. He scampers off as the librarian puts a hand to her chest. This is obviously the most excitement she’s seen in the library in a long time!

So Jennifer the wannabe writer was NOT successful in finding a cosmopolitan intellectual guy at the library. Sigh.

And Lola Ross, the actress playing the librarian — in stereotypically buttoned-up, lanyard-wearing fashion — looked so similar to the librarian in The Last American Virgin (1982) that I had to look both movies up again. Don’t they look similar at first glance, right down to the extreme winged collars?

 ‘The Last American Virgin’ librarian  ‘Waitress!’ librarian

As the librarian character is used to contrast with the younger woman and to set up the slapstick comedy in this scene, I would argue she best fulfills a combination of the Spinster Librarian and Comic Relief character types. She, her lanyard, and her pencil also join the other librarians in bit part roles over in the Class IV listing of films.

Below are the opening credits, which is pretty much all you EVER need to watch from Waitress! (1981):

The Last American Virgin librarian

When I noticed that The Last American Virgin (1982) was available for free on our Video-on-Demand list, I told Sam that we had to watch it because it was on my Master List. Can you guess his reaction?

“Is the librarian the title character?”

I should have seen that one coming. (Sigh.) ;)

So who IS the last American virgin of this film? That would be Gary (Lawrence Monoson), the main character in this quintessentially ’80s movie. It’s like a walking, talking time capsule. The music, the clothes, the hair, the makeup, the naivety. The plot is almost interchangeable with the cult classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which was released the same year as this film —  teenagers trying to have sex and then dealing with the consequences. Half of the time, I felt the movie nailed (tee hee) the awkwardness of teenage life, and half the time I was shouting at the screen, “Who ARE these people?”

Library Closed!! Because without the second exclamation point, students wouldn’t know we mean business.

Anyways… a little over an hour into the movie, the main characters finally visit the school library, where everybody seems to be hanging out right before the Christmas holidays. What’s the attraction? Certainly not the warm, fuzzy feeling you get from this “LIBRARY CLOSED!!” sign hanging on the door (see right). This is our first shot of the school library (!), and Sam and I spent waaaay too much time deciphering this sign. We finally figured out it was a drawing of the library doors locked up, with a bomb and some kind of hammer or axe trying to break through. Click the screenshot to view a larger image.

We hear the school librarian before we see her. Again, the recurring theme is all about service.

Next time, bring that book on time if you don’t want to pay a fine. We charge for every day overdue.

Gary then asks the librarian (played by Blanche Rubin, who gets listed right above “Soda Jerk” in the credits) a question.

That Christmas tree on the counter is the saddest thing since Charlie Brown’s Christmas special.

You can bet there’s no welcoming chit-chat at this library counter.

Gary:  Do you have the October Consumer Reports?

Librarian:  What year?

Gary:  1980.

Librarian:  I’ll look. [turns to open up a card catalog drawer behind the desk]

Gary then spies one of his best friends, Rick (Steven Antin), who’s busy being a douchebag to the main love interest, Karen (Diane Franklin). No spoilers here; let’s just skip the plot and get straight to the money shot. That lovely wooden card catalog in the background is such a scene-stealer, right? Ohhhhh, yeah. ;)

Stop looking at that card catalog and listen to me!

So, the two friends get into a loud argument (in the shot above, do you see the guy on the left giving them the evil eye?) and gasp! start a fist fight in the library. The librarian is SHOCKED! Let’s check out her reactions:

First comes surprise… … then comes anger!

Never moving from her counter, she slams her fist on the counter and shouts out:

Stop it! I will not have that in here!

Then she pulls out the big guns:

Get out of here! I will call the principal if you don’t get out of here!

Apparently, the librarian is shouting at Gary specifically, and as he slams the door on his way out, we hear an extra-loud “Oh!” from her. (Maybe she was worried the LIBRARY CLOSED!! sign would fall off.) So we get to hear the librarian coming and going.

The library scenes are quite brief, lasting only about 3 minutes total. But due to those priceless reaction shots, she makes it into the Class III category. And as her scenes both begin and end with an emphasis on rules — and rule-breaking — she exemplifies the Spinster Librarian type. And let’s face it, she’s pretty dowdy in that drab outfit. Sam made an astute observation that the top might have been considered fashionable… like 20 years prior! Like this movie, the school librarian herself is a time capsule. Secondarily, she also serves as an Information Provider.

The school scenes were filmed at Birmingham High School (now known as the Birmingham Community Charter High School), which has starred in several films, TV shows, and music videos. You can read more about the filming locations here and here. I’m going to assume the school library scenes were also part of the high school.

Throughout the short scene, we get to see quite a few wide shots of the library interior, even during the fight.

This movie, generic plot and all, is actually a remake of a popular 1978 Israeli film called Eskimo Limon (aka Lemon Popsicle), which itself spawned 8 sequels. And apparently, director Brett Ratner announced last year that he was planning a modern remake. Seems there’s a lot of fondness out there for The Last American Virgin. If you are one of those people who are nostalgic for this movie (admittedly, I am not), you might also enjoy this quiz from Rotten Tomatoes.

Below is the original theatrical trailer, which includes a flash of the library fight!

Between perfect order and perfect chaos

Merriam Webster’s definition of “anal-retentive”

Does “anal-retentive” have a hyphen?

(Yes, usually, but it depends — probably on whether you’re British or American, as the Oxford English Dictionary does not include a hyphen, whilst Merriam Webster does, see right). But that’s not the point… or is it? ;)

Having watched this week the most recent David Cronenberg film, A Dangerous Method (2011) — all about Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, Sabina Spielrein, and the early years of establishing psychology as a science — it felt like a good time to explore more into why reel librarians are so often portrayed with anal-retentive qualities.

I’ve touched on this subject before, including this post about Myers-Briggs types of real librarians, the librarian as nightmare image, as well as in my explorations of the Spinster Librarian and Anti-Social Librarian character types. And please note that I’m talking here about broader archetypes and stereotypical characteristics; I’m not making a critical judgment on the profession in general or commenting on any specific person.

There are many kinds of onscreen tension lurking behind the cinematic portrayals of librarians (power struggles, battle for knowledge vs. battle between the sexes, etc.). One such tension is anal-retentiveness, a trait that shows up quite often in film portrayals of librarians, usually in smaller roles. Examples of anal-retentive behavior include loudly shushing any noisemakers in a library (City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold, 1994, see below); expressing anxiety when a book is late or damaged (as parodied in UHF, 1989); and showing reluctance to check any books out, thereby hoarding knowledge (for a most extreme example, see The Name of the Rose, 1986).

Shushing Lady in ‘City Slickers II’

Poor social skills also show up in conjunction with these characteristics, which seem to be rooted in the conflict or tension between order and chaos. In their 1997 article “Power, Knowledge, and Fear:  Feminism, Foucault, and the Stereotype of the Female Librarian,” the Radfords have noted that libraries, and thus librarians, are “structured by the values of order, control, and suppression” (255). Studying cataloging and organizational systems is standard practice for librarians, and shelving, carding, and stamping materials become essential in any well-organized library (see my post on library qualifications and job duties). It is this want — this need — of an organized system of resources that makes it easy, or at least manageable, for any user to find a resource he/she wants in a library’s system.

Mary (Parker Posey) in Party Girl (1995) throws a funny light on the serious business of shelving when she yells at a patron for randomly shelving a book (see below).  “Let’s put the book any damn place we want!”

The librarian is also charged with compiling the most complete collection he/she possibly can — whether that means digital or print resources — that reflects the community that library serves. But that collection can NEVER be complete, because users continuously check out those materials — thereby “disrupting” that so-called perfect harmony of the complete and ordered collection. Thus, cinematically, the librarian often displays characteristics of an uptight, sheltered, and, at times, almost manic personality in order to eliminate, sometimes at all costs, the potential disruption of stability. In The Name of the Rose (1986), abbey librarian Malachia strives to hoard the books in the abbey’s library. However, “it is this knowledge, rather than the texts themselves, that is so fanatically protected by the monks” (Radford, 257), leading to murder, arson, and chaos — or freedom, depending on whether you root for Malachia or not.

This tension between order and chaos felt by librarians (who want to protect the materials and their organizational order) and the users (who strive for knowledge by borrowing or accessing those materials) finds itself depicted in many screen portrayals of librarians. This tension is not gender-driven, however; both male and female librarians are depicted onscreen as people who are “obsessed with the order that rationality demands of them” (Radford, 261). Among others, Miss Anderson in Citizen Kane (1941), the librarian played by John Rothman in Sophie’s Choice (1982), and Elvia Allman in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) all exhibit the hypertension caused (or created?) by the inherent conflict between perfect order and perfect chaos.

What do you think? If you’re a fellow librarian, have you been able to find a personal balance between order and chaos? Or, like the question about the hypen in “anal-rententive” that started us off, does it even matter in the end? (Hee hee.) ;)

And now for something not-so-completely-different… the patented shushing super power from the librarian action figure.