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! 😀

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…

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One comment on “Finding a reel librarian

  1. […] Another film analysis post, this time about the reel librarians in Finding Forrester (2000), a film directed by Gus Van Sant — who also made a cameo as the library assistant in the main library scene. This might just be the only time a film director has also played a reel librarian! […]

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