The reel librarian does return the (research) favor
It often happens that I’m watching a movie, and — surprise! — a reel librarian pops up, with no warning or foreshadowing, in a library scene. Once you start noticing reel librarians, you find that we turn up EVERYWHERE. And this is what happened when one night, my husband and I decided to watch A Simple Favor (2018), a black comedy starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively and directed by Paul Feig.
What’s ‘A Simple Favor’ all about?
If you’re unfamiliar with this film, here’s the write-up from IMDb.com:
And here’s a trailer for the film:
This trailer does capture the film’s mix of quirky, awkward humor; Blake Lively’s awesome wardrobe (Anne Kendrick is ALL OF US in the way she stares at Lively gliding through the rain in that pinstriped suit and fedora); and its brightly lit take on film noir. Do the most mysterious things actually happen in broad daylight? It’s an intriguing film, to be sure!
*MILD SPOILERS BELOW*
Reference interview with the reel librarian
About 1 hr and 20 minutes into this 2-hour film, Stephanie is digging into Emily’s past. During this journey, she goes to a local library to research past news articles.
We next see a closeup of the reel librarian, an older white lady with glasses and dressed in a floral button-front shirt and dark cardigan. (Love the extra detail of the name tag!) Corinne Conley plays the role of Librarian.
Here’s their reference interview exchange:
Librarian: What do you want, cupcake?
Stephanie: I’m looking for all the Wayne County arson-related news items for the last 20 years.
We next see Stephanie at a desk, scrolling through news articles on a microfilm reader. And success! She finds what she’s looking for.
Although this scene lasts only 20 seconds, this was clearly a very successful reference interview. Therefore, the reel librarian does return the (research) favor in A Simple Favor!
This kind of scene exemplifies a standard kind of library research scene. The main character needs a clue or bit of information to propel the plot forward. And who can quickly supply information that will be trusted by the audience? A librarian, of course! 😀 In that way, this reel librarian serves as your basic Information Provider.
As the reel librarian is only onscreen for a few seconds, this film lands in the Class IV category, films in which the librarian(s) plays a cameo role and is seen only briefly with little or no dialogue.
“What do you want, cupcake?”
The most interesting part of this reel librarian cameo was in the reel librarian’s one line of dialog. She doesn’t ask the standard opening question of “How can I help you?,” but a rather more brusque version with “What do you want?” She also calls Stephanie “cupcake” — not “dear” or “miss” — but the quite juvenile (patronizing? sexist?) word “cupcake.” On paper, I would argue this comes off sounding quite rude and unprofessional. But does that feeling change when the line is spoken by a sweet-looking “old lady librarian”? The juxtaposition is intriguing.
This line just feels off, not quite true to what an actual librarian would say. And that’s indicative of this film in a nutshell; everything is just a bit off, a bit heightened, in a way that makes you question your own reactions. And in that sense, this short — one might even say throwaway — exchange is just right for this film.
Have you seen A Simple Favor (2018)? If you’re a librarian, would you ever say, “What do you want, cupcake?” to a library patron? Please leave a comment and share!
A Simple Favor. Dir. Paul Feig. Perf. Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding. Lionsgate, 2018. Based on the novel by Darcey Bell.
In the action thriller Ricochet (1991), lifetime criminal Earl Talbot Blake (John Lithgow) seeks revenge on the hotshot detective (Denzel Washington) who put him away.
Early in the film, Blake meets “Mr. Book Man,” the prison librarian (Don Perry), in the hospital. While pushing a library cart and delivering books to inmates, Mr. Book Man stops to chat with Blake and tries to cheer him up:
Young fella? Look at you! Lying there like a lump on a log. So what if you’ve made a few mistakes? You can change your life for the better. Don’t you have anything to live for?
Their second meeting years later in a prison parking lot doesn’t go so well. Blake is breaking out of prison and is in disguise as a lawyer. But Mr. Book Man, who has gotten out of his bookmobile, recognizes Blake and calls out:
Hey there, young fella. Do you remember me? The books in the hospital?
His good memory earns him a bullet in the chest. Therefore, this reel librarian in Ricochet (1991) literally did die in the line of duty! 😦
To add insult to injury, Blake then uses the bookmobile as his getaway vehicle! The bookmobile also meets a grisly end. 😦
Wong the Sorcerer Librarian in Doctor Strange (2016)
Forewarned, this one has a twist.
In Doctor Strange (2016), part of the Marvel Comics Universe saga, surgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) travels to an Asian monastery in hopes of healing his hands, which were crushed in a terrible car accident. The monastery librarian, Wong (Benedict Wong), is also a Master of the Mystic Arts, and he teaches Strange several important lessons throughout. The film also literally begins and ends in the Kamar-Taj monastery library.
Near the end of the film, right before the final face-off, Wong heads off to defend the Hong Kong sanctum. He leads the other sorcerers in battle, and Wong goes outside to head the villain Kaecilius off before he can enter the Hong Kong sanctum.
We don’t get to see their ensuing fight; instead, by the time Strange arrives on the scene, the Hong Kong sanctum has fallen, and Wong has been defeated, dead in the rubble. His chest has been punctured by a rebar.
But here’s the twist:
Wong get resurrected.
How? Strange knows how to turn back time, so he uses that spell to bring Wong back to life.
Therefore, Wong the Sorcerer Librarian does technically die in the line of duty… but he also lives to fight another day. We get to see him helping to save the day in both Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019). (I think it’s fair to say that Wong is one of my very favorite reel librarian characters. ❤ )
“That was long overdue. Get it? ‘Cause we’re in a library.”
If you’re a regular reader — as always, thank you! — then you know that I highlight scary movies every October. Perfect timing, then, as I recently was able to watch the new film It: Chapter Two, which I also thought would make a good entry in my continuing “first impressions” series of posts. The film follows It: Chapter One, which was released two years ago. I published my first impressions of It: Chapter One back in Oct. 2017.
What’s a “first impressions” post?
First things first, “first impressions” posts focus on current films that I have watched in theaters that include reel librarians and/or library or archives scenes. The resulting posts are necessarily less detailed — hence the “first impressions” moniker — as I don’t have the luxury of rewatching scenes and taking notes in the movie theater. I do, however, take notes as soon as I can after watching the film.
What’s ‘It’ all about?
It: Chapter Two reunites the Losers’ Club 27 years after they first faced off again It, aka Pennywise the Scary Clown. Pennywise has returned to wreak havoc on the town of Derry, and Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) calls everyone back to finish off Pennywise once and for all. Will they succeed, or will they die trying? The film also heavily features flashbacks NOT included in Chapter One, so we get reintroduced to the teen actors playing the younger versions of the Losers’ Club.
Below is a trailer for It: Chapter Two (2019):
Meet Mike Hanlon, the town librarian
In my write-up for It: Chapter One (2017), I highlighted the main scene set in the public library, which featured Ben, and how Ben fulfilled the historian/researcher role in that film, rather than Mike. Here are some excerpts from that post:
As I wrote then, Mike Hanlon is the most important character in the story, in my opinion, and in the end, the town’s true hero.
In It: Chapter Two(2019), it is Mike’s voice we hear introducing us to the present. The first word we hear him say? “Memory.” He sets the tone for this film, with its bittersweet and mournful memories amidst all the nightmares and horror.
Contrasted with Richie, as played by Bill Hader — who gets all the fun lines and steals scenes whenever onscreen — Mike, as played by Isaiah Mustafa, grounds the story. He is the institutional memory, the gatekeeper, the “man with the plan.” It totally makes sense that he becomes the town librarian, the keeper of memories and archives.
By the way, the word “librarian” NEVER gets mentioned in this movie. The word “library,” yes. But never the word “librarian.” But Mike clearly IS the town’s librarian — even living in the public library’s attic! And the fact that he is a reel librarian is absolutely essential to the movie. Therefore, Mike Hanlon is a Class I librarian, a major character whose librarian occupation is integral to the plot.
Scenes in the town library
There are a few scenes set in the town library. The library set in Chapter Two looked just like the library set in Chapter One, with its traditional look of half-paneled walls and dark wood trim.
Early in the film, Mike brings Billy back to the library — “Didn’t it used to be bigger?” — and takes him up the attic to show him artifacts and historical records of Derry. The purpose is to convince Billy about the past, so that the others will stay in Derry and reunite to fight Pennywise.
About two-thirds of the way through the film, Mike is waiting for the others to come back to the library after they find their tokens from the past. As Mike walks through the darkened library and rows of books, the spirit of It re-reveals itself to Mike through the dropping of a library book, The History of Old Derry. Mike then gets attacked by the bully Bowers. In a Deus ex machina moment, Richie shows up in the nick of time and kills Bowers with a hatchet. Richie then gets the single-best line in the film:
That was long overdue. Get it? ‘Cause we’re in a library.
GROAN. But I still laughed out loud in the movie theater.
Mike as the hero
I’ve already said that, in my opinion, Mike is the true hero of the story.
Mike is the one we the audience believe in, even when the rest of the Losers’ Club don’t. He is the center of the whole film. Writing down notes after having watched the film, it struck me that Mike is the one who drives the entire plot structure: beginning, middle, and end.
Beginning: Mike has a list of the Losers’ Club and their current phone numbers, and he checks off their names as he calls everyone. He has to remind them of Derry and the oath they swore as teens to return when needed. He reunites the Losers’ Club.
Middle: After everyone else starts remembering Pennywise and the horrible things in their past, Mike says he has a plan to get ready to confront Pennywise again. He explains that each of them has to get a token from their past and to meet back at the library. Therefore, he serves as the catalyst for the entire middle part of the movie.
End: Mike figures out how to kill It, once and for all. He unites the Losers’ Club in this final battle.
It is interesting to note that in the book by Stephen King, Mike is left out of the climax and final fight with Pennywise. I’m so glad they changed that for the film!
It is also important to note that Mike is NOT perfect. He is human, and therefore imperfect. He shows that he feels vulnerable and scared sometimes. He also admits he stole a Native American artifact, he drugs Billy, and he lies to his friends by omitting part of the truth. But this does not diminish his worthiness, the sacrifice he made to stay in Derry all those years, to carry the burden of remembering.
Mike as a Liberated Librarian
The male Liberated Librarian character type always has a character arc. Initially similar to the Librarian as Failure character type, the Liberated Librarian breaks free (often at the very end of the film) of whatever barrier(s) is holding him back. Usually, this ‘liberation’ requires an external force or action. Liberated Librarians are usually younger or middle-aged. They also become more assertive after the “liberation.” Usually, being “liberated” means leaving the librarian profession (e.g. Tom Hanks in Joe Versus the Volcano), but not always (Noah Wyle in The Librarian TV movies and The Librarians TV series).
Mike Hanlon serves as a classic Liberated Librarian:
In a flashback, young Mike reveals that he wants to go to Florida. We know that he stays in Derry so that he doesn’t forget, so he can bring back the others when necessary. And he becomes the town librarian to be in the position of researching the history of Derry and keeping records. Therefore, his barrier is Derry, of being the librarian of Derry, of being the one who remembers. He has sacrificed himself, his own happiness, for the greater good.
At the end, Mike says to Bill that he was “in a cell” and now he wants “to see the sky.” The word “cell” in that line is an interesting choice — the “cell” could be a “prison cell,” or like a “cloisters” cell, like a monk. Both ways work.
At the very end of the film, we see Mike packing up his car and heading out of town. He literally is liberated from the town of Derry AND his role as reel librarian.
It seemed to me — and please note that I am a white woman, so my perspective is limited — that the film did a better job in It: Chapter Two (2019) about highlighting Mike’s backstory, agency, and experiences as a black man. The film also includes references to the long-lasting effects of racism that Mike continues to endure.
When Mike brings Billy back to the library in order to convince him that Pennywise is back, he says that he has compiled notes and clues from numerous Derry residents — the ones “who will talk to me, at least.” He then mutters, almost as an aside, a line (and I’m paraphrasing here from memory), “The people who won’t talk to me, that’s an even longer list.”
Mike also says he needed to convince Billy (a white man) so that the others would believe him (a black man). Again, this is almost a throwaway line — and actor Isaiah Mustafa says this line in a low, weary tone — but it is SO revealing.
After the violent scene with Bowers in the library, Ben asks, “Are you okay?” Richie answers right away, but Ben says something akin to, “No, I meant Mike,” and turns to Mike. Both Mike and Richie look surprised at this. It’s clear that they both assumed Ben would be asking Richie (a white man) if he was okay, rather than Mike (a black man). This short bit reveals the specter of conditioned, internalized responses to systemic racism.
Mike states early in the film:
Something happens to you when you leave this town. The farther away, the hazier it all gets. But me, I never left. I remember all of it.
All the white members of the Losers’ Club leave Derry and forget the horrible nightmares of Pennywise. They enjoy the privilege of being able to forget. All the white characters enjoy financial and career (i.e. external) success. Mike, the sole black member of the Losers’ Club, has to stay behind in Derry and is forced to remember and relive the past horror of Pennywise. He also is “just” the town librarian and lives in the messy, crumbling attic of the town library. I would argue this serves as a metaphor for white flight and subtly shines the spotlight over the unacknowledged burdens and hidden labor that people of color endure.
I’m sure there is more to unpack in the film in this vein — not to mention the lack of agency that the Native Americans depicted in the film have over their story and artifacts — but I appreciated how this film incorporated deeper and darker themes in amongst the scary clown sightings and red balloons.
Have you seen It: Chapter Two (2019) in theaters? What are your thoughts? Do you prefer the new movie versions or the 1990 miniseries? Did you know that Isaiah Mustafa, who plays reel librarian Mike, also played the original Old Spice man, aka The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, in those iconic commercials?! I literally did not realize that until I started writing this post.
I thought it would be fun to take a brief sojourn down memory lane and revisit posts that I published back in September 2011, the first month that I launched Reel Librarians.
As my 8th blog anniversary occurred in-between my regular posting schedule, I thought a blog-iversary two-fer was in order. I published my first post on Reel Librarians back on September 19th, 2011. When I started this website and blog, I was regularly writing and publishing 3 new posts a week (!!!), but I was also working part-time back then. Fast forward 8 years, and I am now a full-time, tenured faculty librarian, and I’ve scaled back to 2 new posts a month.
I thought it would be fun to take a brief sojourn down memory lane and revisit posts that I published back in September 2011, the first month that I launched Reel Librarians. Note, I didn’t publish my first post until September 19th, the third week of September. But in the 12 remaining days of September 2011, I published 6 (!!!!!!) new posts.
Below are first paragraph excerpts from each of those first 6 posts, with links to the full posts so you can explore each one. Enjoy!
Where do I begin? A love story. (Sept. 19, 2011)
Welcome to my new site about librarians in film! For me, librarians + movies = love! Technically, this site is a new (and hopefully more permanent) incarnation of my previous “Reel Librarians” site, which I had developed off a previous work site and server. But the site’s back now – hopefully, better than ever. Please check back often or sign up for RSS or email updates.Welcome to my new site about librarians in film!
It’s a wonderful movie, truly. It’s a Wonderful Life. One of my personal favorites, actually. And a personal favorite for many, especially as a TV staple at Christmas, thanks to its lapsed copyright in 1974 (although that was successfully challenged in 1993). The director, Frank Capra, is in top form, as is James Stewart, who displays devastating depth as George Bailey, an ordinary man who aches to be extraordinary. Both deservedly earned Oscar nominations, out of 5 total, including Best Picture.
In Rome Adventure (1962), Suzanne Pleshette plays Prudence Bell, an assistant librarian at the Briarcroft College for Women. The first scene sets the stage: Prudence lands in trouble for letting a young girl read Lovers Must Learn, a book considered “too adult” for this school. The board has banned the book (this also serves as a clever advertisement for the real book, which the film was based on, and its author, Irving Fineman, who is name-dropped in the first five minutes) and reprimands Prudence in the process. Prudence, however, stands up to them and defies their rules. She delivers a speech about the importance of love — what’s hiding in every girl’s heart, that need to be loved — and quits the library to follow the book’s advice. She says, “This is Independence Day!” We are on her side for standing up to the board — and, in effect, standing up against censorship. [Plus, this week is the annual Banned Books Week, so this post is right on target!]
Mistaken identity in ‘Spellbound’ (Sept. 28, 2011)
How should a woman react when she is mistaken for a Spinster Librarian? To her credit, Dr. Constance Petersen, played by the beautiful Ingrid Bergman, takes it in good humor. The moment does inject a bit of comedy (although at the expense of librarians!) in the otherwise suspenseful and dramatic film, Spellbound (1945).
The ‘Year of the Librarian’ continues (Sept. 30, 2011)
Since the 1970s, the study of “popular culture” has increased in academic relevance, but I believe the image of librarians in media really began to be looked at as a serious topic of research after 1989. That was when ALA declared it the “Year of the Librarian” in its January 1989 issue of American Libraries. The article, below, and theme focused on the media image of librarians and “public awareness efforts on the library professional for the first time.”
Celebrating 8 years of blogging about librarians in movies
Reel Librarians celebrates its 8th blog anniversary next week! I published my first post on Reel Librarians back on September 19th, 2011, with the “Where do I begin? A love story.” post, which also details how my interest in reel librarians began.
This year has definitely been one for unexpected journeys. I put Reel Librarians on a “private” mode hiatus for four months, from Dec. 2018 through March 2019. During that (unforeseen but necessary) downtime, I updated lots of things on the site, which you can read all about here in this April 1, 2019 post. I also announced a new bimonthly posting schedule, with new posts going live on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of the month.
I still feel like I’m in a rebuilding mode for Reel Librarians, but “slow and steady” has always been my personal preference. 🙂 Looking back over the previous “blog anniversary” posts, linked below, here is an update on how this blog has grown over the years.
2012 (after 1 year)
2019 (after 8 years)
Previous blog anniversary posts
Want to relive past blog-iversary celebrations? Browse below: