You know things aren’t going to go well when you’re on the bad side of a librarian.
Each October, I focus on film analysis posts for scary movies, horror films, thrillers and mysteries, etc. It’s Halloween season, and reel librarians pop up in a lot of scary movies! My husband and I recently watched the 2018 movie adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The book, Jackson’s final published work, was originally published in 1962, and this film adaptation had the support of Jackson’s son, Laurence Hyman. The movie was directed by Stacie Passon and stars Taissa Farmiga as younger sister Merricat Blackwood; Alexandra Daddario as older sister Constance Blackwood; Crispin Glover as their Uncle Julian; and Sebastian Stan as their cousin, Charles Blackwood.
Here’s a movie trailer, and it provides a good overview of the basic plot and the tense, modern gothic atmosphere:
Public library scene
Merricat is the family’s sole connection to the outside world, and she goes into town once a week to shop for groceries and check out and return library books. She also witnesses and endures the town’s growing animosity toward her family.
At 5 minutes and 43 seconds into the film, Merricat goes to town to pick up a book at the library. In a literal blink-and-you-will-miss-it cameo, the camera focuses on the public librarian’s face for a few seconds. The White actress who played this role is uncredited in the film’s cast list. It’s interesting to me how glamorous this reel librarian appears, with her carefully prepared hair curls, beauty marks, and red lipstick. Her dressed-to-the-nines attire also reeks of (old-fashioned?) glamour, with cat’s-eye glasses, fur scarf (!), royal purple fabric, and gold brooch and earrings. In her gold and purple attire, she stands out in vivid relief against the dark wood background of file drawers. And THAT LIBRARIAN GLARE, y’all. Magnificent. So chilling.
The camera then switches to a closeup of the librarian stamping a library book, entitled The Modern Method: French Cookbook. I had to rotate the image, as seen below, to be able to read the library card, which actually gets the title — or rather, the sub-title –slightly wrong, as it reads: The Modern Method: French Cookery Book.
Is this a real book? Y’all KNOW I had to check it in WorldCat, riiiiiiight?! 😉 Alas, I could not find a record of any book in WorldCat with that exact title. (WorldCat is the online library catalog of libraries worldwide.) It certainly looks like an older, well-used book in the screenshot above, but perhaps the film’s production company made up a fake book jacket? If you know that this book does actually exist, let me know in the comments!
I also want to pause a moment to send some love to the propmaster here for all the extra items in that frame that convey the info that this is a library book, including a couple of library stamps, a stamp ink pad, an additional library check-out card off to the side, a fountain pen, and a book with a leather binding. It’s like a still-life portrait of a library book.
The camera then switches to Merricat leaving the public library, clutching the book close to her chest. Again, minimal but effective props: a library sign and a library cart full of books beside the door.
Public library filming location
This movie’s Filming & Productions page on IMDb.com lists two main filming locations: Bray and Enniskerry in County Wicklow, Ireland. And this online article has several behind-the-scenes photos of the library exterior scene with Taissa Farminga. The article states that this scene was filmed in the Enniskerry Village in early August 2016.
Therefore, I looked up the County Wicklow public library site, which includes exterior photos of all its branch libraries, including the Enniskerry library. But the exterior of the Enniskerry library does not match up with the building exterior seen above. Therefore, most likely another period-appropriate building stood in for the public library scene. Again, if you know the actual location used for this public library scene, let me know in the comments!
There is also a mob scene at the end of the film, and I rewatched this scene several times to see if I could pick out the reel librarian in the crowd. Alas, I could not spot her… but given the disapproving look on that reel librarian’s face, as seen above, I would not be surprised if she had been in the crowd.
Reel librarian’s role
This uncredited reel librarian primarily serves as an Information Provider, as she helps set the library scene. As the librarian is seen onscreen for only a few seconds, this cameo lands the film in the Class IV category of reel librarian movies. This cameo also highlights how EVEN THE PUBLIC LIBRARIAN disapproves of this family, with her mouth pressed into a thin line and her eyes sending a hard look of disapproval. You know things aren’t going to go well when you’re on the bad side of a librarian.
Have you seen this movie or read the novel? Is the library or librarian mentioned in the original novel? Please leave a comment and share!
“This movie may be called Dangerous Minds, but it seems to me that the librarians have Suspicious Minds!”
Because we’re (still) living in coronavirus times, a lot of us — at least here in the United States — are not going back to school in the usual way (e.g., I’m teaching and working remotely from home again this fall). But we can still experience that back-to-school feeling by proxy, via the medium of film! Therefore, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the 1995 movie, Dangerous Minds, starring Michelle Pfeiffer as Louanne Johnson, a retired U.S. Marine and White woman who becomes a teacher in an impoverished, inner-city school and teaches poetry and literature to high schoolers, many of whom are Black and Latino students. The movie is based on Johnson’s real-life teaching experiences, as detailed in her 1992 memoir My Posse Don’t Do Homework.
Below is a trailer for the film, especially if it’s been awhile since you’ve seen it… and an opportunity to get Coolio’s hit song, Gangsta’s Paradise, stuck again in your head. You’re welcome. 🙂
I like that in introducing Louanne Johnson’s character, the director John N. Smith took time to show us Johnson’s work ethic. Yes, we know she’s a former Marine, but it’s nice to actually see her apply that discipline and work ethic to her new chosen profession. And one way they highlight this in the film is to show Johnson researching teaching and classroom management strategies.
The visible titles include:
Assertive Discipline for Parents: A Proven, Step-by-Step Approach to Solving Everyday Behavior Problems (Revised edition) by Lee Canter and Marlene Canter
“Disciplining the Adolescent” article reprinted from Teacher’s Quarterly
Almost an hour into the movie, Johnson introduces a “Dylan Dylan” poetry contest in class. The goal is to find a Dylan Thomas poem that’s like a Bob Dylan poem/song and write about how they connect.
Next stop? You guessed it — the high school library!
This school library scene lasts only one minute long, but we get to see the typical school library setting, with bookcases, wood tables and chairs, and lots and lots of posters. The camera pans around to showcase students in groups at different tables in the school library. According to the filming locations listed on the film’s IMDB.com entry, this scene was filmed at San Mateo High School in San Mateo, California.
Although it feels novel — to Johnson and to her fellow teacher mentor, played by George Dzunda — that she got her students to go to the school library, the students already seem pretty comfortable in the space and confident about how to start researching. (Suspension of disbelief? Discuss.) As you can see in one of the photos above, I like the detail of one student, a young Black man in a grey hoodie, is holding a slip of paper in his hands (on which I assume is a call number) as he walks around the bookcases.
The student has clearly been successful at finding the book he was looking for — yay! — but the librarians at the high school library do not seem so impressed, however.
Rather, they are giving MAJOR side-eye to this student as he passes them seated side-by-side at the front desk. He doesn’t so much as glance at the school librarians, but the camera focuses, albeit briefly, on the two librarians, one Black woman and one White woman. This movie may be called Dangerous Minds, but it seems to me that the librarians have Suspicious Minds! Perhaps you could argue that they seem surprised, rather than suspicious? I looked up my past notes, and I initially wrote down the word “surprised,” but after this second viewing, I think the more apt descriptor is “suspicious.” Either way, it’s clear these two school librarians have no interest in getting up and helping any of the students. 😦
A librarian by any other name?
I also thought it interesting that although there are two school librarians, there is only ONE nameplate on the desk, which reads “Toni Devereaux, Librarian.” You can see this nameplate more clearly in the image below.
But which one is Toni Devereaux? There is no such name included in the cast list. Jeff Feringa is listed as Librarian #1 (she is seated on the right in the photo above, dressed in the floral dress and lace collar), and Sarah Marshall is listed as Librarian #2 (she is seated on the left in the photo above, in a green cardigan). Is Toni supposed to be Librarian #1, as Feringa is listed first in the credits? It remains unclear. Also, why are there two librarians at this school, when it seems clear that neither one is interested in helping the students?
What role do these reel librarians serve in this movie? Although neither librarian actually helps any of the students, I would argue they still both fulfill the role of Information Provider. They do help establish the setting of the high school library; in fact, you could argue they function more like props! But more than that, I would argue their suspicious glances are also reflective of a larger issue, a societal under-appreciation and distrust of these students and their abilities. While I appreciate the racial diversity of these school librarians — please also see this post highlighting 5 movies that feature Black reel librarians — their suspicious attitudes and seemingly purposeful inaction leave me disappointed. Ultimately, their cameo appearances land this movie in the Class IV category.
Dangerous Minds. Dir. John N. Smith. Perf. Michelle Pfeiffer, George Dzunda, Courtney B. Vance. Hollywood Pictures-Buena Vista, 1995. Based on the book My Posse Don’t Do Homework by LouAnne Johnson.
Why revisit the forgotten ‘The Forgotten’? Because it has a library scene!
Do you remember The Forgotten? It’s a 2004 psychological thriller starring Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Gary Sinise, and Alfre Woodard, all well-known and respected actors. (And Nicole Kidman was originally going to star in the film!) Joseph Ruben directed the film, and he knew his way around a psychological thriller, having previously directed The Stepfather (1987), Sleeping with the Enemy (1991), and The Good Son (1993). It also opened #1 at the box office the weekend it premiered.
Yet the film did not have staying power, and it has earned only a 32% positive rating on the Rotten Tomatoes site. WatchMojo included The Forgotten in its lists of “Top 10 Worst Movie Endings” in 2013 and “Another Top 10 Worst Movie Plot Twists” in 2018. Maybe not the best way to be remembered… 😉
No plot spoilers here about how this movie went off the rails, but the plot starts out pretty simple: Telly Paretta (Julianne Moore) is trying to cope with her grief over her young son’s death, only to be told one day that her son never existed. She sets out on a quest to understand why.
Had you forgotten this movie existed? Here’s a film trailer to refresh:
So why revisit the forgotten The Forgotten? You guessed it! Because it has a library scene!
First stop, library
Nineteen minutes into the film, Telly goes to the public library, right after her therapist and husband team up to tell her that her son never existed. Understandably upset, Telly rushes out to her car. Next stop? The library! (Would that be a normal first choice after being told one’s child never existed? Does this mark the first moment the movie becomes an exercise in suspension of disbelief? Discuss.)
An overhead shot of the public library reveals several patrons in the library, and Telly makes a beeline straight to the front desk. There look to be three different librarians behind the desk, one at a computer, and two in different spots along the front counter. The librarian Telly approaches, a younger White woman, looks to be filing cards.
Telly: I need to see some newspapers, daily papers from 14 months ago.
The librarian [after getting a clipboard]: You need to fill this out.
No greetings, no follow-up questions, no chatter about the weather. Not much of a reference interview. Odd, no? Therefore, it didn’t surprise me to see that the librarian continues filing while Telly roots around her purse. Telly is not finding what she is looking for — her library card? — and she is clearly getting upset.
Sensing something is wrong, the librarian pauses and puts her hand on top of Telly’s hands.
Librarian: What papers do you need?
Finally, a flicker of human connection!
Next, we see the obligatory closeup of microfilm on a screen reader. The movie does get this detail right. Newspaper archives are almost always stored on microfilm, at least back when this film was set; it’s more common now for newspaper archives to be digitally accessible.
The camera then pulls back to show that Telly is going through the microfilm, and the librarian is standing behind her. But again, Telly is not finding what she needs. There are no stories about her son’s accident.
Telly: How could…? How could it not be in any of these?
Librarian: You sure of the date? What are you trying to find?
Telly [quoting from prior headlines]: ‘Six Brooklyn children feared dead in missing plane’ … I have to go.
The scene lasts a little over a minute long.
A closer look at the reel librarian
Katie Cooper played the Library Clerk, and she is younger, with dark, curly, shoulder-length hair. She wears no glasses, and she’s dressed in a cowl-necked black sweater. We first see from behind, as Telly walks to the desk, and then we get a closeup of her well-groomed, clear-coated nails as she places her hand atop Telly’s hand. We only get a few glimpses of her face, but she seems generally empathetic toward Telly.
This reel librarian’s role, primarily, is to serve as an Information Provider — even though she doesn’t actually provide the information that Telly is seeking! Rather, the absence of that information confirms what Telly most fears, that there is a conspiracy behind the disappearance and subsequent erasure of her son. (This film really is the definition of gaslighting.)
At 38 minutes into the film, Telly confesses her theory of abduction to Ash (Dominic West), another parent who lost a child in the same accident that her son died in.
Everyone besides us believes they never existed. What could do something like that? Who could erase our kids? Every picture of them gone. Every newspaper article gone. Every memory gone.
So that brief library scene turned out to be vital in the plot, as Telly remembers and references the (missing) evidence of the newspapers as part of her abduction theory!
This reel librarian ends up in the Class IV category, films in which the librarian plays a cameo role. Ultimately, this reel librarian’s role was as brief and forgettable as The Forgotten itself.
The Forgotten. Dir. Joseph Ruben. Perf. Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Anthony Edwards. Columbia, 2004.
Libraries are usually viewed as safe, quiet spaces. But even in a so-called “safe” space, biases and discrimination and micro-aggressions lurk.
Last week, in a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that federal employment discrimination law, Title VII, protects gay and transgender employees. It’s a historic ruling — one long overdue! — and Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion. And it’s even sweeter for this ruling to come during Pride Month. You can read more about the decision here on the SCOTUS blog. We still have a long way to go when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, but this moment is one to savor.
It also got me thinking about the 1993 film, Philadelphia, which earned Tom Hanks his first Best Actor Oscar for portraying Andrew Beckett, a lawyer who gets fired from his law firm after his homosexuality and AIDS diagnosis are discovered by his law partners. With the help of lawyer Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), Beckett sues his law firm for wrongful dismissal. This film was released 27 years ago — repeat, 27! YEARS! AGO! — and only now, in 2020, would Beckett be recognized under Title VII protections.
Here is a trailer for the film, if it’s been a while since you’ve seen it. The movie is available to rent via Amazon Prime.
Law library scene
At first, Miller does not want to help represent Beckett, so Beckett has to start researching on his own. And that leads us to a pivotal scene at a law library, which comes in at about a quarter of the way through the film. Beckett is researching materials in a law library, and Miller is at a nearby table.
A reel librarian, played by Tracey Walter, approaches Beckett with a book on AIDS discrimination he has found for him. The librarian, who is white and male, looks to be in his 40s, with thin, balding hair. He is conservatively dressed, in a sweater, tie, and button-front shirt, and he is not wearing glasses. Beckett thanks him for the book, but the librarian does not leave.
Let’s listen in:
Librarian: We do have a private research room available.
Beckett: I’m fine right here, thank you.
Another patron then approaches the table and asks the librarian for help finding a case. The librarian tells him, “Just a moment, I’ll be right with you.” He then turns back to Beckett, sighs heavily, wipes his chin, and then leans in slightly in order to place his hand on the library table.
Librarian: Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in a research room?
Beckett [looks around and coughs]: No. Would it make you more comfortable?
Miller then gathers his stuff and walks over to Beckett.
Miller: Beckett, how you doing?
Beckett: Counselor. Huh.
Beckett then stares back at the librarian, who then looks up at Miller. Miller stares down the librarian and, in a gesture of challenge, nods his head. The librarian then drops his eyes to Beckett.
Librarian (to Beckett): Whatever, sir.
The librarian turns to leave, and then so does the other patron sitting at Beckett’s table. Miller stays to review the material that Beckett has gathered, and he decides to take the case.
The scene lasts two minutes and was filmed at the Fisher Fine Arts Library, in the Furness Building on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia. As it’s a pivotal scene — one that sets up the rest of the film — and the librarian makes an (unfortunately) memorable impression, this film and librarian portrayal land in the Class III category, films in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role, including a minor character in a memorable or significant scene.
You can watch the entire library scene here in this YouTube video:
Assessing this library scene and its significance
This scene is awkward, and purposefully so. There’s not a lot of dialogue in this scene, but a whole lot of long stares, silence, and sub-text that speak volumes in-between the gaps of spoken text. The camera angles also shift, reflecting each person’s perspective. I want to break down what I imagine is happening with each major character in this scene: the law librarian, Miller, and Beckett. Full disclosure: I am writing from the perspective of a White, cisgender, heterosexual woman, so my perspectives are limited. If you have alternative, different, and/or more nuanced ideas of what’s happening in this scene, please leave a comment and share!
Law librarian (Tracey Walter):
What is going on in this reel librarian’s head as he decides to keep standing and asking Beckett if he wants a private room? He’s clearly connected the dots between the request for an AIDS discrimination case and Beckett, who is visibly pale, with watery eyes and a cap to cover what is presumably a bald head. The librarian believes Beckett himself has AIDS. Therefore, I can imagine he is rationalizing to himself that he is being kind to this patron, by framing his recommendation as a question (“Wouldn’t you be more comfortable…?”) rather than as a command. I can also imagine that he is rationalizing to himself that he is protecting other patrons from this person who has AIDS. These kinds of rationalizations reflect the time period and the uninformed attitudes about AIDS, but they are not excuses for discrimination.
I wonder what’s going on in this reel librarian’s head as he processes the collective stare-downs from Beckett and Miller. Who has the power in this situation at the beginning, and does that shift during this scene? I think the librarian is weighing his options and ultimately decides that it’s not worth his effort to continue trying to hassle Beckett into a private room, because (a) he’s outnumbered, and (b) he doesn’t want to call attention to himself and also be accused of racism — although when it was just homophobia, he was fine with it — because it’s clear Miller, a Black man, is a lawyer and supports Beckett. In that moment, the power shifts from the librarian to Miller and Beckett, and it’s all done through stare-downs and sub-text.
The librarian also tries to have the last word in this low-key stand-off, but it’s weak: “Whatever, sir.” He also sighs and shrugs as he turns away. It’s clear that he hasn’t learned any positive lesson from this interaction.
The camera angles used in this scene also make the audience feel like we’re in Beckett’s position, too, and that we’re being looked down on by the librarian.
Joe Miller (Denzel Washington):
At the beginning of this scene, Miller stops chewing, and his entire body gets very still. He recognizes the librarian’s discrimination even before Beckett does.
After overhearing the librarian recommending a private room, he pushes his stack of books in front of him. Why? To disassociate himself from the situation? To assess the situation without being spotted himself? To deflect any other discrimination the librarian may be tempted to dish out? To see and assess how Beckett handles himself in that situation?
When he overhears Beckett standing up to the librarian, that’s when Miller’s face shifts and changes. That’s when he stands up and joins Beckett. Miller, a Black man, faces discrimination due to the color of his skin. Beckett is facing discrimination due to his sexuality and AIDS status. Together, they are stronger.
Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks):
Beckett seems to be taken aback at first by the librarian’s reaction. Beckett thanks the librarian warmly at the beginning of the scene for the book he requested, and then he settles back into working. But he quickly reassesses the situation when the librarian will not leave.
He does not allow the librarian to put the onus on him regarding the private room. Instead, Beckett redirects the librarian’s question back onto the librarian: “Would it make you [the librarian] more comfortable?” He’s not going to play this game that the librarian is trying to play. He is calling out the librarian and his real motives.
Beckett also ensures the librarian knows that Miller is a lawyer. When Miller comes over, Beckett pauses before referring to him as “Counselor.” Such a smart move! This signals to the librarian that he’s up against two lawyers, and he, the law librarian, is not going to win this fight today.
Why this scene matters
It is a small battle, sure, but this is no ordinary fight — this is a battle of wills, a battle against discrimination. This scene sets up an everyday kind of discrimination, in perhaps the least likely place: a law library. Libraries are usually viewed as safe, quiet spaces. But even in a so-called “safe” space, biases and discrimination and micro-aggressions lurk. And it’s important to show to the audience that neither Beckett nor Miller will allow this small act of discrimination to go unchallenged. If the audience can understand and buy into the fact that this librarian was wrong in this small act of discrimination, then they can understand that the bigger acts of discrimination, like being fired, are wrong, too. It is a pivotal moment in the film, and this film reflected a pivotal moment at that time, when we needed mainstream films that humanized gay men, that exposed the everyday discrimination that LGBTQ+ persons faced (and continue to face), and pushed back against the baseless fears that people at that time had about AIDS and homosexuality.
It is not like we’re post-discrimination today — we are in the streets protesting against discrimination right now — but films and moments like these are important in broadening the message of inclusivity and exposing the ripple effects of discrimination and micro-aggressions.
This statement is applicable here, too. The reel librarian in Philadelphia (1993) is demonstrating anti-LGBTQ+ bias. Plain and simple — and oh-so-devastating. He reflects society at large in this moment. As such, he serves as Information Provider. He is providing information to the audience that LGBTQ+ discrimination can, and does, happen anywhere. Even in a library. Even from a librarian. It is a sad and uncomfortable truth that librarians can be as discriminatory as anyone else, which is especially disheartening because our job is to help people.
This month, our country is better for expanding employment rights and protections to gay and transgendered people. But we cannot cease fighting for progress, equality, and equity. And we cannot shy away from our own failings, reel and real, past and present.
Last month, in the “Spring training and special collections in ‘Major League’ (1989)” post, we ran the bases delving into the reel librarian character in Major League (1989). In that film, Rene Russo — in her feature film debut! — plays Lynn Wells, the world-class swimmer-turned-special collections librarian. Going through Russo’s film credits, I hadn’t realized she also returned in the sequel, Major League II(1994). It felt fitting, therefore, to continue the spring training. Shall we?
Major League II was available to watch for free via Amazon Prime.
*MILD SPOILERS BELOW*
The sequel, although released 5 years after the original (and far superior!) film, is set just one year later, as radio commentator Harry Doyle (Bob Uecker) gets us all caught up. Omar Epps has replaced Wesley Snipes as Willie Mays Hays, Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) has sold out to corporate sponsorship, and Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen) has retired and is the new owner of the Cleveland Indians team. Will they make it to the World Series this year? No pennants for correct guesses. 😉 This sequel is strictly by-the-numbers, with no surprises, or originality.
The sequel begins again during spring training, and catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) learns he has been cut from the team. His knees have finally given out, but he’s been mentoring a younger player. Therefore, Dorn and head coach Lou Brown (James Gammon) ask him to join the team as an assistant coach.
At 19 minutes into the film, he finds himself at home with Lynn. They’re seated around the kitchen table, talking about his future.
Jake: Called everywhere, but nobody’s looking for a 41-year-old catcher with bad knees.
Lynn: Well, it’s not like you don’t have other options. Alan Bellows wants you to join his brokerage firm.
Jake: And Jack Pursoff wants me to head up one of his Pepsi distributorships.
Lynn: And you’d be close to home.
Jake: Yeah, and I’d make a hell of a lot more money than I would as a coach. So what if I never made it to a World Series?
Lynn: Well, I think it’s pretty obvious what you ought to do.
Lynn says this last line softly and in close-up. This scene only lasts a minute, and Lynn has three lines total, but she makes them count. It’s clear that they are still committed to each other, and she supports Jake going back to the team. Plus, this scene sets up the World Series plotline. Reel librarians are so efficient! 😉
We NEVER see Lynn again in this film. Russo’s star had risen in-between the original film and the sequel — she had co-starred in Lethal Weapon 3 in 1992 and In the Line of Fire in 1993, and she was gearing up for the one-two punch of Outbreak and Get Shorty in 1995 — so I suppose they were lucky to get her for one day to make this cameo. It’s odd, though, to me that Rene Russo went uncredited for this cameo.
And of course, there’s no mention of any library in this short scene. You would never know from watching this sequel that Lynn is a librarian. But because we know that from the original film, I’m classifying this sequel as a Class IV film, in which reel librarians make a cameo appearance.
Had you forgotten about the Major League IIsequel? Did you ever know that a third outing, Major League: Back to the Minors (1998) even existed?! If you’re tempted to watch the sequels, I would suggest just going back and rewatching the original comedy classic!
Major League II. Dir. David S. Ward. Perf. Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen. Warner Bros., 1994.