Although the piece is from 2010 (!), I still thought it appropriate to highlight during Banned Books Week, an annual event that spotlights librarians’ and readers’ efforts to fight censorship and book-banning. This year, Banned Books Week takes place Sept. 23-29, 2018, with the theme of “Speak Out!”
Here are the 11 movies Huffington Post included in its post, full of reel librarians who did speak out and save the day! I’ve also included links to prior posts I’ve written on this blog about each film.
1. The Music Man (1962)
Marian the Librarian (Shirley Jones) foils the plans of conman Harold Hill (Robert Preston) when she asks the school board about his background and credentials.
The Huffington Post gallery highlights how Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) “[s]eeking a treasure the founding fathers buried, he enlists the help of Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), the curator of the National Archives.” That’s DR. CHASE, thank you very much!
Huffington Post gets it wrong when they state, “When Spencer Tracey becomes the new supervisor, the librarians get angry and the sparks start to fly.” Tracey does NOT become the new library supervisor; rather, he is an efficiency expert tasked to evaluate a TV network’s research library. Katharine Hepburns plays the head librarian in this film — which is one of my personal favorites!
I have written about this film several times on this Reel Librarians blog, including:
Another one of my favorite reel librarian leads! Goldie Hawn plays the lead role, a librarian, who unwittingly finds herself mixed up in a deadly murder plot, and teams up with Chevy Chase in this comic action-mystery film. She shows real spunkiness and creativity to get herself out of scrapes!
Bette Davis stars in this film as small-town librarian Alicia Hull, who refuses to remove a controversial book from the library and stands up to censorship. This film is loosely based on events that happened to real-life librarian Ruth Brown, who was the public librarian at the Bartlesville, Oklahoma, Public Library, for over 30 years.
Let’s celebrate both the reel AND real librarian heroes who stand up to and speak out about censorship!
8. Miranda (2002)
A male reel librarian hero! This film stars John Simm whose library is being torn down. When a mysterious woman, played by Christina Ricci, comes into the library, he becomes romantically involved with her — and tracks her down when she goes missing.
Anna Massey plays a librarian who befriends a neighbor, who turns out to be “compulsive murderer on a mission to make a documentary about fear.” Yikes. She does have a hand in bringing his crimes to light.
In this movie, “A man born with dwarfism moves to New Jersey after the death of his best friend. There, he becomes friends with a hot dog vendor and Emily, a divorced librarian (played by Michelle Williams).”
I wondered if any reel librarian movies have been banned. Short answer? YES.
Banned Books Week, as described on ALA’s site, is “an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers — in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”
Banned Books Week is a big deal for librarians — and for ALL of us, really, as censorship and challenges to our freedom to read occur every day — which got me thinking, what about banned films?
Movie censorship has its own history in the United States, including with the “Motion Picture Production Code” in the 1930s, when only a few big film studios controlled the content of almost all films made in this country. This code was more commonly known as the “Hays Code,” named after after Will H. Hays, president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), which later became the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). This code, enforcing rules of decency and conduct, was implemented in 1930, but wasn’t strictly enforced until 1934, and it lasted through 1968. The MPAA board, itself the subject of a 2006 documentary called This Film is Not Yet Rated, continues to cause controversy with its film rating system (the G through NC-17 scale). Some argue that this board’s non-transparent methods of rating films creates a chilling effect on filmmakers.
And censorship is nothing new internationally. Many countries still have boards that review and censor books and films. I saw the effects of this firsthand when I lived and worked overseas in the UAE. A lot of movies I watched in theaters in the UAE had scenes cut from them — it made watching The Watchmen, for example, very confusing, since sooooooo much was cut, including almost every scene with Dr. Manhattan — and I bought a book once because it had been censored. (Trinny & Susannah’s Who Do You Want To Be Today?: Be inspired to Dress Differently included photos of a topless Josephine Baker, and these photos had been marked through with a large black Sharpie.)
Circling back around to reel librarians, I wondered if any reel librarian movies have been banned. Short answer? YES.
Long answer: I did some research! The first step was to locate lists of banned or challenged films, including ones here, here, and here. I then compared these lists, and others listed below in the “Sources” section, to my Master List of reel librarian films.
Below is my (starting) list of titles of reel librarian movies that have been banned, either in the U.S. or internationally. I’ve arranged the list alphabetically by film title.
All foreign films made before 1980:
Where they were banned:
Uganda: From 1972-79, President Idi Amin banned all foreign films on the grounds that they contained “imperialist propaganda.” So technically, that means that all foreign films made before 1980 were banned in Uganda. Based on my recent post about reel librarian movie totals, that means at least 83 reel librarian films that were made before 1980 were banned.
Angels and Demons (2009):
A mystery thriller film directed by Ron Howard, based on Dan Brown’s novel of the same name and the sequel to the 2006 film The Da Vinci Code. It once again stars Tom Hanks as historian-adventurer Robert Langdon, who travels to the Vatican and Rome to track down a vial of antimatter that has gone missing. Set against a conclave to select a new Pope, this movie includes scenes in the Vatican Library.
Where it was banned:
Samoa: Banned by film censor Lei’ataua Olo’apu for being “critical of the Catholic Church” and to “avoid any religious discrimination by other denominations and faiths against the Church.”
The Big Sleep (1946):
A complex crime story with private eye Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) hired to keep an eye on General Sternwood’s daughter (Lauren Bacall). In a brief library scene, a young, blonde librarian is curious about Marlowe’s reading choices. The Hollywood Public Library and another female librarian, a brunette, also feature in the film’s trailer.
Where it was banned:
Ireland: In its original release due to sexual references.
Malaysia: It was banned originally, but the film passed in 1999 with a VCD release and a delayed DVD release from Warner Malaysia Video.
Blade (Wesley Snipes), a half-vampire, is on a mission to destroy vampires, while vampire Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) is on a mission to destroy the human race. Blade tortures the Record Keeper, who confesses he helped Deacon in translating the Vampire Bible’s prophecy.
Where it was banned:
Malaysia: The film was never released in cinemas, but it passed for a VCD release and a delayed DVD release.
The Blue Kite (aka Lan feng zheng, 1993):
This film, directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang, shows the perspective of a young boy, Tieto, growing up in the 1950s and 1960s in Beijing, China. The film is organized into three episodes: Hundred Flowers Campaign, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. Tieto’s father works in a library and, while he goes to the bathroom, is selected by his colleagues as a “rightist” to report to Mao Zedong’s Communist Party.
Where it was banned:
China: For being “offensive” and overtly criticizing government policies. The film was also smuggled out of China for final editing and not submitted to the China’s Central Film Bureau for post-production approval. Its director received a 10-year ban from making films.
Brief Encounter (1945):
A classic romantic drama about an ordinary English wife and mother (Celia Johnson) and an ordinary English husband and father (Trevor Howard) who meet one day by chance and fall in love. The woman stops by the Boots Lending Library on her weekly shopping trip.
Ireland: The film was considered “too permissive of adultery”
Note: As I mentioned in my analysis post for Brief Encounter, when she picks up her book at the Boots Lending Library, she states that “Miss Lewis had at last managed to get the new Kate O’Brien for me. I believe she’d kept it hidden under the counter for two days.” Kate O’Brien was an Irish novelist and playwright (1897-1974), who explored gay/lesbian themes in several of her works. Some of her work was quite controversial, as two of her books were banned in her native Ireland. Just like this film!
A supernatural horror film directed by Brian De Palma and based on Stephen King’s 1974 novel. The film focuses on Carrie, a shy, bullied high school student who is also in the process of discovering her supernatural powers. In one scene, Carrie searches through her high school library looking for books on mental telepathy.
Where it was banned:
Malaysia: This film was never shown in cinemas during its release. The ban lifted by 1996 with a VCD release from Warner-MGM Malaysia and with its out-of-print DVD release. Most other films based on or written by Stephen King have also been banned in Malaysia.
Citizen Kane (1941):
A classic saga about the rise and fall of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles). A reporter visits the Thatcher Memorial Library of Philadelphia to research Kane and runs into the steely, no-nonsense presence of the librarian.
Where it was banned:
United States: The film was not technically banned, but newspaper magnate and publisher Willian Randolph Hearst — who was the inspiration for the film’s main character — ran a dirty campaign to try and suppress the film, which included efforts of intimidation, blackmail, negative articles, and even FBI investigations. The film finally premiered in the U.S. in May 1941.
Hungary: As per a reader comment below: “[I]n the documentary “Visions of Light,” cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond tells an interviewer that in Hungary “the movie played in theaters for just one week, then the [Communist] government pulled it.” He says the next chance to see it came years later, in a tiny screening room at a film school.”
A Clockwork Orange (1971):
Sometime in the not-to-distant future, gangs of teenage thugs roam the streets and terrorize citizens. Alex, the leader of one of the gangs, is sent to prison, where there is, if I remember correctly, at least one scene is in the prison library. I need to rewatch the film to make sure!
Where it was banned:
Canada: Provinces Alberta and Nova Scotia banned the film, but Alberta reversed the ban in 1999. The Maritime Film Classification Board has also reserved the ban, and both provinces have now granted an R rating to the film.
Ireland: The film was banned due to its “extreme depictions of violence and rape.” The ban was lifted in 2000.
Singapore: The film was banned for over 30 years. An unsuccessful attempt at releasing the ban was made in 2006, but the ban was not lifted until 2011, when the film was shown as part of the Perspectives Film Festival.
South Africa: The film was banned under the apartheid regime for 13 years, then released with minor cuts and only available for people aged 21+.
South Korea: The film was banned due to “depictions of violence and gang rape,” but the ban has since been lifted.
United Kingdom: When the film was first released without cuts in the UK, it created a huge uproar because of its depiction of violence, and stories soon began circulating about “copycat” crimes. Kubrick also allegedly received death threats against his family. The film was then withdrawn from the UK for 27 years. The film returned to British screens in 2000, after director Kubrick’s death in 1999.
United States: The film was not banned in the U.S., but Kubrick was forced to cut 30 seconds of the film to transition from an X rating to an R rating.
Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939):
WWII propaganda film about a G-Man (Edward G. Robinson) who investigates a Nazi spy ring in the United States. There is a brief but important scene in the New York Public Library’s periodicals room.
Nazi Germany: Banned by Adolf Hitler because it was the first anti-Nazi movie made in Hollywood. Hitler also banned all Warner Bros. films and reportedly planned to execute the makers of this film upon winning the war. This film was not publicly screened in Germany until 1977.
The Da Vinci Code (2006):
An adaptation of the controversial Dan Brown adventure and mystery thriller involving a murder in the Louvre and a quest to find the Holy Grail. In the book, the main character, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), is a historian, and goes to a library for research. I need to rewatch the film, but if I remember correctly, that library scene was changed to a Google search on Langdon’s cell phone. I need to rewatch the film to make sure!
Where it was banned:
China: It was withdrawn from cinemas three weeks after the film’s release for “blasphemous content” and political reasons for upsetting Catholics in China.
Egypt: “Blasphemous content”
India: Banned in several states in India, includingPunjab, Goa, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, for its “perceived anti-Christian message.”
Jordan: “Blasphemous content”
Lebanon: “Blasphemous content”
Pakistan: Banned due to protest by the Christian community in Pakistan, due to “blasphemous content”
Philippines: “Blasphemous content”
Samoa: The film was banned outright after church leaders watching a pre-release showing filed a complaint with film censors. This banned included local television stations in Samoa, as well as the country’s only cinema. The government censorship office also prohibited the sale or rental of future VHS and DVD versions of the film.
Solomon Islands: Banned by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who states that the film “undermines the very roots of Christianity in Solomon Islands.”
A drama edited, written, and directed by Gus Van Sant, chronicling the events surrounding a school shooting, based in part on the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. There are a few scenes in the school library, including a school librarian and a student library worker.
Where it was banned:
An all-female reboot of the classic film. There is a library scene featured in the film’s trailer, but I have not been able to watch this film yet to determine if it’s a reel librarian or not.
China: Despite dropping the Chinese character for “ghost” from its Chinese title, the film was barred from premiering in the country.
The Girl Next Door (2004):
A romantic comedy about a high school senior who falls in love with the girl next door, before learning but that she is a former pornographic actress. At the end of the film, the main character breaks into the high school library to shoot a porn video.
Where it was banned:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2012):
American version of the Swedish novel about a disgraced journalist (Daniel Craig) who investigates the 40-year disappearance of a young woman. He is aided in his search by a punk investigator/computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Late in the film, Lisbeth researches records in a company’s archives, disgruntling an older archives librarian.
India: The film was banned for its “adult scenes of rape and torture,” and director David Fincher refused to cut scenes demanded by the Central Board of Film Certification.
Vietnam: It was banned because its international distributor, Sony Pictures, did not accept the requirement by the Vietnamese National Film Board to cut some sensitive scenes.
Peeping Tom (aka Face of Fear; Fotographer of Panic, 1960):
A young man (Carl Boehm) uses a handheld movie camera to film the dying expressions of girls he murders. Helen (Anna Massey) is a young woman who befriends him, and she reveals in one scene that she works at the public library.
Where it was banned:
Finland: Banned for 21 years
United Kingdom: This film was very controversial, blasted by critics, and pulled from theaters. Director Michael Powell’s career never recovered, although the film has subsequently earned critical praise.
The Reader (2008):
German-American film about Michael Berg, a German lawyer who, as a teenager in 1958, has an affair with an older woman, Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet, in an Oscar-winning performance), who resurfaces years later in a war crimes trial about from her actions as a guard at a Nazi concentration camp. Hanna learns to read in the prison library and with the help of the prison librarian.
Where it was banned:
Sex and the City (2008):
Movie sequel to the HBO comedy series of the same name about four female friends in New York City: Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte York Goldenblatt (Kristin Davis), and Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon). Carrie sees a wedding at the New York Public Library while returning a book, which inspires her to hold her upcoming wedding there, too.
Where it was banned:
The Shawshank Redemption (1994):
In this modern classic, young banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife. Andy maintains his innocence and plots to escape. Andy works as an assistant in the prison library and becomes friends with the prison librarian, Brooks.
Where it was banned:
Malaysia: For “depiction of cruelty, profanity, and violence.” It was later released on DVD.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991):
American horror-thriller film directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in two Oscar-winning roles. In the film, Clarice Starling, a young U.S. FBI trainee, seeks the advice of the imprisoned Dr. Lecter to apprehend another serial killer. In one scene, Clarice looks at newspapers on microfilm to learn more about Hannibal Lecter’s past. I need to rewatch it to doublecheck if this or other scenes include or mention a library or librarians.
Where it was banned:
Sleeping with the Enemy (1990):
Sara Waters (Julia Roberts) fakes her own death to escape her abusive husband (Patrick Bergin), and he comes after her once he discovers the deception. When Sara relocates to a small town, she starts working at the public library.
Where it was banned:
Best Picture winner for 2015. Focuses on the Boston Globe “Spotlight” team of reporters who published a series of stories in 2002 about Catholic priests who, for decades, had been sexually abusing children in their parishes. A few scenes and montages feature the Boston Globe news librarians and research methods of using church directories to track down priests.
Lebanon: The film was technically not banned by the country’s government. Instead, the country’s film distributors made a collective decision to self-censor the film by not presenting it to the General Security censors, which kept the film from being shown in the country. The reason was due to the “sensitive” topic of the film, the topic of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests.
The Ten (2007):
The film is comprised of ten stories, each inspired by one of the Ten Commandments. Chaper two, “Thou Shalt Not Take the Lord’s Name in Vain,” stars Gretchen Mol as a librarian who experiences a sexual awakening in Mexico with a local man (Justin Theroux) who turns out to be Jesus Christ.
Where it was banned:
Have you seen any of these reel librarian movies that have been banned or suppressed? Are you inspired now to watch any of them? Does your library shine the spotlight on censorship during Banned Books Week?
Argentine artist Marta Minujin collected 100,000 copies of 170 different banned books — including Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Bible — and affixed them to a wire sculpture in the exact dimensions of the Parthenon. You can read online here the short list of banned book titles included in the sculpture. The books are wrapped in plastic bags, and the copies will be donated to the public after the temporary art piece is taken down. The sculpture is part of this year’s Documenta art show.
As the article states:
“The work by Argentine artist Marta Minujin is a plea against all forms of censorship.
Minujin, 74, a pop art icon in South America, has described it as “the most political” of her works.
In fact, the “Parthenon of Books” stands at the same site where, in 1933, Nazis set in flames books by Jewish or Marxist writers.”
However, it’s interesting to note that one book that IS featured in the film was purposefully left out of the art work: Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Captain Beatty holds this book up as he reveals the reasons behind the society’s book-burning:
We’ve all got to be alike. The only way to be happy is for everyone to be made equal. so, we must burn all the books, Montag. All the books.
The “Parthenon of Books” sculpture will be up for only a short period. Let’s hope its influence and message can be felt for much longer.
“Is there not freedom in the very choice of which book you want to be?”
I recently rewatched the 1966 film version of Fahrenheit 451, directed by French New Wave director Francois Truffaut and starring Julie Christie in a dual role and Oscar Werner as Montag, the fireman who falls in love with books, the very thing he’s charged with burning.
*MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS THROUGHOUT*
Here is one of the original trailers for the film:
The origins of Fahrenheit 451:
One of the major themes of the book, and resulting film, is about authoritarian censorship, the kind that led to book-burning in World War II. The finished novel of Fahrenheit 451 was first published in 1953, so this was still fresh in people’s minds.
The origins of the book, however, actually go back to 1947-1948, right after the war ended, when Bradbury wrote a short story, “Bright Phoenix.” This story featured a librarian who confronted a book-burning “Chief Censor.” Bradbury turned that story, plus another story in 1951 called “The Pedestrian” set in a totalitarian future, into the novella called “The Fireman,” which was published in the February 1951 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. Bradbury relished retelling the story about how he wrote “The Fireman” (which essentially serves as the first draft of Fahrenheit 451) in 9 days on a typewriter he rented in the basement of UCLA’s Powell Library for ten cents per half hour. He then expanded that story into the novel we know today.
In a dystopian future — one again, like in The Handmaid’s Tale, is too eerily familiar to modern times — books are forbidden and burned when discovered. In this future, firemen are trained to burn books, rather than prevent fires. Neighbors are encouraged to spy on one another and report those they suspect have books. Information (or rather, propaganda) is spread through television, called “wall screens,” as well as through comics-like publications, as seen in the screenshot below.
The hidden library scene:
A turning point in the film comes almost exactly halfway through the film, when Montag is called to the house where he knows Clarisse lives. Clarisse is described as Montag’s “rebellious, book-collecting mistress” on the back of the DVD case, but her role in the film is much tamer than that description suggests. His supervisor, Captain Beatty (played by Cyril Cusack), discovers a “hidden library” in the attic and cannot hold back his glee at the prospect of burning all those books:
I knew it. Of course, all this — the existence of a secret library was known in high places, but there was no way of getting at it. Only once before have I seen so many books in one place. I was just an ordinary fireman at the time.
It’s all ours, Montag.
Once to each fireman, at least once in his career, he just itches to know what those books are all about. He just aches to know. Isn’t that so? Take my word for it, Montag, there’s nothing there. The books have nothing to say!
During this scene and monologue — only the captain is talking, Montag only reacts — Captain Beatty expounds on different types of books and genres, dismissing each in turn. At the end, he finally reveals the reasons behind this society’s book-burning:
We’ve all got to be alike. The only way to be happy is for everyone to be made equal. So, we must burn the books, Montag. All the books.
This scene reminded me of the forbidden magazines scene in The Handmaid’s Taleand the reasons the Commander gave for their totalitarian regime. The reasons in The Handmaid’s Tale were different, that they needed to “cleanse” all the dirt and filth and sex from the world. The reasons expressed in Fahrenheit 451 come off as a search for a mythical, Utopian, and elusive “pursuit of happiness.” A generic happiness, but happiness nonetheless.
The captain’s assertion that “the books have nothing to say” is directly contradicted in the next scene, in which the older woman refuses to leave her books.
Fabian, another fireman, rushes in to say that the woman won’t leave. “She won’t leave her books, she says.”
Woman: I want to die as I’ve lived.
Captain Beatty: Oh, you must have read that in there. I’m not going to ask you again. Are you going?
Woman: These books were alive. They spoke to me.
And so the older woman lights the match herself, to die as she lived, with her beloved books.
Truffaut also lingers several minutes over the burning of the books, with several close-ups.
In the final act of the film, Montag and his firemen troop are called to his own house. He is forced to burn his own hidden collection of books.
He is chastised and criticized by his captain:
What did Montag hope to get out of all this? Happiness? What a poor idiot you must have been.
His captain tries to grab the last book from Montag’s hand — we find out later this is a collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, Tales of Mystery and Imagination — but Montag finally breaks, blasting Captain Beatty with the fire hose instead.
Now compare this photo, of his captain lying facedown in the pile of books, ablaze, with the previous screenshot of the older woman, standing upright, proud and defiant. Both are martyrs of their own kind, but the woman chose to go up in flames.
The book people:
Montag goes on the run then, hunted by the state, but he manages to escape to a hidden Utopia, deep in the forest, where others have escaped and banded together. These people are known as the “Book People,” as they have memorized a single work of literature and recite their tales for anyone who wishes to hear. The “book people” scenes were also filmed last.
Here’s how the leader of the camp describes how they came together, the 50 or so at their station. But he mentions there are more of the books:
In abandoned railway yards, wandering the roads. Tramps outwardly, but, inwardly, libraries.
It wasn’t planned. It just so happened that a man here and a man there loved some book. And rather than lose it, he learned it. And we came together. We’re a minority of undesirables crying out in the wilderness. But it won’t always be so. One day we shall be called on, one by one, to recite what we’ve learned. And then books will be printed again. And when the next age of darkness comes, those who come after us will do again as we have done.
And the book people also burn books themselves! But like the older woman in the house, they choose to do so, for their own specific reasons.
Yes, we burn the books. But we keep them up here [pointing to the brain] where nobody can find them.
The book people have literally “become” their chosen book and even introduce themselves as such:
“Are you interested in Plato’s Republic?”
“Well, I am Plato’s Republic. I’ll recite myself for you whenever you like.”
“I am The Prince by Machiavelli. As you see, you can’t judge a book by its cover.”
“That man over there hasn’t much longer to live.”
“He’s The Weir or Germiston by Robert Louis Stevenson. The boy is his nephew. He’s now reciting himself, so the boy can become the book.”
The film clip below is a combination of the final two scenes from the film.
In a special “making of” featurette in the DVD’s special features, film historian and professor Annette Ensdorf gave her own interpretation of the film’s final scenes among the “book people,” stating that the people reciting their books at the end are just as self-absorbed as the narcissists we saw at the beginning of the film. Ensdorf sums up the finale and the “book people” as:
…instruments of the text — not really existing as a completely integrated social community but rather as individual icons.
But there’s the feeling of a certain muted triumph, namely that the book people will maintain a portion of civilization, that someday these books will still be alive, even if they are recounted rather than as written text.
Classification and connections:
Although the people literally become books in the end and could therefore be argued to be the only thing left resembling a librarian in a futuristic sense, I have to categorize this film in the Class V category, films with no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries. There are definitely library and censorship themes in the film, but no actual, identifiable librarians.
This contrasts with the “Books” in another sci-fi classic, Soylent Green. In Soylent Green, “Books” are former librarians and professors who become personal researchers in a dystopian future, a world in which books have ceased to be written and published. Books become rare commodities, precious treasures to be hoarded — but not due to fear of burning. Rather, books — and the people who take care of them, who then are referred to as “Books” themselves — are almost revered, and they have a unique power of their own.
In Soylent Green, the “Books” guard the past, but there is little hope for the future.
In Fahrenheit 451, however, the “Book People” guard, or consume, the past because they are the only hope for the future.
Books in Fahrenheit 451:
Here’s a list I compiled of all the books mentioned in the final scenes, in the order they are mentioned. The leader mentions there are around 50 or so around their camp, but says there are many others out there. A southern camp is also mentioned in the last scene.
These are some of the books we know that will live on:
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Corsair by Byron
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Alice Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Jewish Question
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Prince by Machiavelli
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, volumes one and two
Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe
The Memoirs of Saint Simon
The Weir of Germiston by Robert Louis Stevenson
Book-burning in Fahrenheit 451:
On the “making of” feature on the DVD, producer Lewis M. Allen shared this tidbit about censorship he experienced during the making of the film:
An interesting thing about censorship is that when we were doing the book burning scene, the studio… wanted to eliminate all books that were by living authors that were not in public domain, and the fact that they may be sued or whatever. And we just ignored that. We said, the hell with it, because I think everybody, anyone who was around who had a book being burned in there would be very much flattered by it. … So we ignored that and went right ahead.
Allen also shared an amusing anecdote about how they compiled and played with all those books for the book-burning scenes:
To me, the most interesting part of the film… was the burning of the books, which went went on and on. And we had those books in our offices, we had hundreds of books, from the beginning of the film. And he would play with them. We’d go round and pick ones out, play with them, and toss them, and put piles and so on. Every day this was done, as a kind of ritual, which was fun to do, ‘cause we’d come up with strange books.
The screenplay was originally written in French, as it was director François Truffaut’s vision, so there were several puns that got lost when translated into English.
One of the best puns focused on “homme livre” versus “homme libre.”
The original script had a moment between Clarisse and Montag, in which Clarisse explains about the “homme livre,” which translates to “book man.” But in French, “homme livre” sounds very close to “homme libre,” which translates to “free man.”
As producer Lewis M. Allen shared on the “making of” DVD feature:
That was a nice pun, about the book people and the free people, livre and libre, which could not be translated.
Definitely an attempt to preserve the nature of the original pun in French, but it’s a pale ghost of the original.
Homage to the written word
The ultimate message of Truffaut’s film version of Fahrenheit 451 gets discussed by several people in the DVD features.
From film historian and critic Annette Ensdorf:
What you’re going to get is Truffaut’s really passionate homage to literature, to the written word, to the notion of a text as a living, breathing entity and process that can still affect us.
Ensdorf’s thoughts on the ultimate significance of the book people’s actions:
You learn it [the book] by heart, through the process of love. […] Is there not freedom in the very choice of which book you want to be?
From producer Lewis M. Allen, who praised Truffaut playing down several of the more overt sci-fi elements in the book, like the “mechanical hound,” because:
It would be very distracting, in fact, from the simple story of the books, which was really what he was interested in most of all.
From Steven C. smith, biographer of composer Bernard Hermann, who composed the music for the film and who was personal friends with the book’s author Ray Bradbury:
The act of reading becomes… the most romantic thing in Fahrenheit 451.
And in the music feature on the DVD, Ray Bradbury summed up the themes of the film’s musical score and its connection with the story itself:
What we have is a romance with books.
Final words from the author himself:
The DVD that I checked out of this film also included in its special features an interview with Ray Bradbury, who talked about how he first wrote the book in a library basement and how the title came about.
On reflection in 2002 special feature on the DVD by Universal Studios, Bradbury remarked:
I am a library person. I never made it through college you see. I’m self-educated in the library so anything that touches the library touches me.
You can also read a bit more background info and personal quotes from the author in my obituary post for Ray Bradbury, who passed away in 2012 at the age of 91. He was a lifelong and vocal supporter of libraries, and as he stated in 2009:
Libraries raised me.
Here’s to the “book people” around the world who stand up to censorship and advocate for reading, books, libraries, and librarians. ♥
Have you read the book and seen the film version of Fahrenheit 451? Please share your thoughts and leave a comment below.
Fahrenheit 451. Dir. François Truffaut. Perf. Oskar Werner, Julie Christie, Cyril Cusack. Universal Pictures, 1966.
The Handmaid’s Tale. Dir. Volker Schlindorff. Perf. Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, Aidan Quinn, Elizabeth McGovern. Cinecom, 1990.
“That book has never appeared in this library and never will, as long as I’m here.”
The 1967 film Teenage Mother won the recent reader poll, squeaking past at the last minute due to my husband’s shameless promotion. He gets the credit blame for this post, as he wanted to watch ME watching this film, just for my reactions. I had some. 😉
My DVD copy of this film is from Something Weird Video in Seattle, with a “special edition” DVD. Something Weird promotes itself as “the very best in exploitation cinema,” and that rings true for Teenage Mother. The back of the DVD case has Handsome Harry Archer’s complete review of Teenage Mother, which opens with stating it as a “textbook example of classic old-school exploitation.” The film was directed by Jerry Gross, who would later direct the cult classic I Spit on Your Grave.
Here’s the basic plot, such as it is: A new health teacher is hired to teach sex education in a high school and gets blamed when a student turns up pregnant. Except the student isn’t actually pregnant. She just told her boyfriend that so that he wouldn’t leave her and go off to medical school. Winners, all. And there’s footage of a live birth at the end. And an extended musical interlude in the middle. Cue the sweet anticipation!
As my husband said:
When you have a 70-minute film and only 40 minutes worth of plot, you HAVE to fill it with musical interludes and a live birth at the end!
To be clear, this movie is NOT good. It is bad. I knew it would be bad. But the question in my mind was this: Was it SO bad that it would turn out to be awesomely bad? Unfortunately, NO. But as my husband quipped:
It’s the kind of bad that almost feels like a cultural moment.
The film starts off with footage of a stock-car race. Because WHY NOT.
Introducing the books and the school librarian:
Fifteen minutes into the film, the coach gets to introduce the new health teacher, Miss Erika Petersen (Julie Ange), who dives straight into the required and supplemental texts for the new “anatomical biology” course.
Fun fact: This film was the film debut of Fred Willard, who plays the coach!
Miss Petersen: Two texts are required reading for this course. The first, Moreline’s (?) Basics in Human Anatomy is the best for our line of work. In fact, most colleges use it today. This will be supplemented by Caracola’s (?) Adult Sexual Behavior. Both of these books have been ordered, and we should have them for you early next week.
Miss Petersen: If any of you would like to do additional reading on this subject, I strongly recommend Saucer’s (?) Male and Female. I’m sure your school library has a copy available.
Tony [a student]: I’ve already checked the library, and Miss Fowler, the librarian, told me it wasn’t available.
Miss Petersen: That’s very interesting, Tony. I didn’t know you knew of this book.
Tony: Well, I’d like to become a doctor. In fact, our family physician Dr. Wilson told me to read this book last year.
Miss Petersen: And Miss Fowler didn’t know of the book? Well, it’s fairly recent. Perhaps she didn’t notice it in the book publisher’s catalog.
Tony: She knew of it. She said it was indecent for our library.
[classroom erupts in laughter]
Miss Petersen: Nonsense. At least 90% of all colleges and universities have this book in their libraries, and as many as 50% of all high schools. I’ll discuss this matter personally with Miss Fowler.
The bell rings, ending this scene after a couple of minutes.
Editor’s note: There were no captions available, and the actress’s “European” accent (dubbed?) makes it hard to understand the authors’ names she was saying, which explains why I put in question marks beside names in the quotations above. I couldn’t find any record of the first two books she mentions in this scene. Also, in the scene above and in the later scene with the school librarian, Miss Petersen clearly states the supplementary book, Male and Female, is by an author whose last name sounds like “Saucer” and that it has been newly published. I searched WorldCat — ’cause y’all know I would, right?! — but could not find any book published by that title in the late ’60s by an author with a similar last name. There was, however, a well-known text in this field, Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World, written and published in 1949 by Margaret Mead. And interestingly, there was another edition of this book published by Penguin in 1967, the same year of this film. So why use the same title but change the author? Just another question among many when it comes to this movie!
School library scene:
At almost half an hour into the film, we get the library scene. It’s a very short scene, lasting a minute or less. But it is memorable. I have also nicknamed the school librarian “Fowler the Scowler,” as you shall soon see why.
The scene begins with a wide shot of the school library — the film was filmed at East Rockaway High School in Long Island, so I assume this was also their school library — and the school librarian (an uncredited role) is checking in or filing cards in card catalog drawers. The school library is (surprisingly?) filled with lots of students and lots of books.
Miss Petersen walks in, and they make nice for about 5 seconds.
Miss Petersen: Good morning, Miss Fowler.
Miss Fowler: Good morning, Miss Petersen. Can I be of some assistance?
Miss Petersen: Yes, one of my students, maybe you know him, Tony Michaels. He told me he was unable to find Saucer’s Male and Female on file here. You do have the book, don’t you?
Miss Fowler: Most certainly not.
Miss Petersen: Why not, Miss Fowler? It’s one of the most standard texts on anatomical hygiene.
Miss Fowler: It’s a filthy book.
This outburst and Miss Fowler’s high-pitched exclamation catch the attention of nearby students! Miss Fowler clears her throat.
Miss Petersen: Filthy?
Miss Fowler [in a lower voice]: Yes, filthy! I wouldn’t allow one of our students to even leaf through it. The illustrations are positively vulgar.
Miss Petersen: They only show the beauty of the human body.
Miss Fowler: Teenage children are not meant to see such things.
Miss Petersen: That’s just the point. These youngsters are not children any longer. Their bodies are the bodies of young adults, with all the needs and desires of young adults.
Miss Fowler: I wouldn’t know about that. [turns her head and looks down, rapidly blinking her eyelids]
Miss Petersen: Apparently not. These young people have the right to know about the facts of life. which you say they cannot read. This is a free country, Miss Fowler.
Miss Fowler: That book has never appeared in this library and never will, as long as I’m here.
Miss Petersen: Let’s hope that’s not too long.
“Fowler the Scowler” then adjusts her glasses and goes back to filing her cards, an even more pinched look on her face. She ends as she begins the scene, as an uptight, sexually repressed librarian whose mind is closed to new ideas. An uplifting cinematic message for all librarians. 😦
I put together a collage of facial expressions to illustrate the reason for my “Fowler the Scowler” nickname of this school librarian:
Town meeting and attempted censorship:
The rest of the film delves into the Tony’s relationship with his girlfriend, Arlene Taylor (played by a real-life Arlene, Arlene Farber), the one who lies about being pregnant in order to trap her boyfriend. She attempts to run away, and her friend confesses the (fake) secret pregnancy to Arlene’s dad, who somehow has the clout to call an immediate “town meeting” at the high school in order to get Miss Petersen fired.
Here’s one memorable line from the town meeting scene, in which the principal defends his decision to hire Miss Petersen:
If your daughter became pregnant, it wasn’t because of anything she read in a book.
Oddly, “Fowler the Scowler” is NOT at that meeting, which I found disappointing. A missed opportunity! In my head, it would have been an awesome ending to have Miss Fowler also join the attempt to get Miss Petersen fired — and then the reverse happens! It would close the loop on Miss Petersen’s final words in the library scene, that she hopes it’s “not too long” before Miss Fowler is gone.
And that’s what this film does: It makes a real-life librarian root AGAINST a reel librarian.
In the excellent and thorough reference book on reel librarians, The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999, which I reviewed here in this post, the Tevises sum up the censorship message of the film and the ultimate contrast and conflicting messages of the school principal and the school librarian:
Teenage Mother is one of the few films that confronts the topic of sex education materials in secondary schools. Although the principal of the school is progressive, the librarian scorns the value of sex education. Without the support of the librarian, whose responsibility includes obtaining the appropriate learning materials to support instruction and student research, the program’s success is problematical. The film depicts the librarian as the high school’s moral watchdog who uses her power to censor library materials. (p. 122)
Spinster Librarian role:
So what role does Miss Fowler play in this film? I would say most definitely the Spinster Librarian character type, with her uptight manner and closed-minded outlook on collection development. The midpoint of her conversation with Miss Petersen — the self-confession of “I wouldn’t know about that” in response to the health teacher’s remark about the body’s “needs and desires” — clinches the deal.
Also, all of the stereotypical physical traits are there: an older white woman, hair pulled back in a bun, glasses on a lanyard, high-necked blouse, etc. Even though her time onscreen is short, “Fowler the Scowler” is memorable, landing her librarian role and film in the Class III category.
Preaching to its audience from a fairly lofty perch, the picture purports to deliver a social message about why kids should abstain or at the very least play it safe, but it’s been made so cheaply and marketed with such a sleazy, hyper-sexualized marketing campaign (be sure to watch the trailer which completely misrepresents the film in every way possible) that all of that gets thrown aside. Why? Because it’s obvious that all of this build up and moralizing was simply an excuse to bust out some really graphic footage of a baby popping its way out of some gooey female genitalia.
And finally, I’ve linked to that spectacularly misleading trailer below. I usually like to begin a film analysis post with a trailer, but this trailer needs to come AFTER the film, not before. Also, this trailer IS graphic — as it warns, it includes footage of the live-birth scene from the end of Teenage Mother.