The fastest librarian in the West, as seen in ‘The Changeling’

He personifies the concept of “efficiency” for all librarians ever after.

My vote for the quickest reel librarian EVER? The Microfilm Clerk in The Changeling (1980). Behold (and please excuse the grainy quality of my screenshots):

Microfilm librarian in The Changeling
The clerk takes the microfilm box… starting the timer…
Microfilm in The Changeling
… and 4 seconds later!

If this library clerk (played by David Peevers) had set up this microfilm in 4 minutes, I would have been impressed! But this scene demands suspension of disbelief, as the young clerk is able to take the microfilm box out of the drawer (top screenshot), roll the microfilm out of its box, thread it through the microfilm reader in the next room, AND spin it through to the requested article — all in 4 seconds (!!!!). WOW. He personifies the concept of “efficiency” for all librarians ever after.

Not sure what microfilm is? Read more about it here. The microfilm reader — kind of looks like a computer, right? — can be seen in the 2nd screenshot above.

Where were we? Oh yes, the fastest reel librarian ever. The library clerk is a young, white male with short brown hair and mustache, and he wears a fairly conservative brown sweater and dark collared shirt. He begins the reference interview with “1909? I’ll set it up for you” and leaves them with “It’s all ready to go, and the scanner’s on the right.” They thank him for his help (yay!).

Ok, a little context. In this atmospheric thriller, George C. Scott plays John Russell, whose wife and daughter are killed in a freak road accident. He rents a house with a mysterious — and murderous — past and goes about researching the tragedy he believes the house is trying to communicate to him. John first goes to the local Historical Preservation Society and meets Claire (played by then-wife in real life, Trish Van Devere), who joins him on his research quest. Their next step is the local library, to look up newspaper articles from 1909.

Note: This is in a time period before full-text articles become available through electronic library databases — but some newspaper archives are still only available through microfilm or microfiche. Not sure what an electronic library database is? Read all about ’em here.

The label on the microfilm box? It reads “Seattle Daily Times, Jan. 13, 1909 thru Feb. 22, 1909,” which fits John’s inquiry. However, this drawer of microfilm is not organized very well, as one box of the Seattle Daily Times sits next to Farm Electrical Studies in the Pacific Northwest. But hey, with the fastest librarian in the West on your staff, who needs organization?!

John gets more help when he goes to the Hall of Records. The Archives Clerk (Robert Monroe), an older white male with glasses, thinning hair, and white beard and mustache, is quite tall and wears a dark shirt and grey blazer. He shows John property atlases of Seattle and helps explain the system of maps and legends.

Although the two male librarians in this film combine for very little screen time, they are helpful and efficient Information Providers — supplying information vital to John’s discovery of the film’s central mystery. It is also refreshing how the film showcases an effective research strategy. Remember, ask a librarian!


Sources used:


  • The Changeling. Dir. Peter Medak. Perf. George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas. Image Entertainment, 1980.
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The shush heard ’round the world in ‘The Good Companions’

The first occurrence of a reel librarian uttering, “Shush!” onscreen

The 1933 film The Good Companions, adapted from J. B. Priestley’s novel of the same name, tells a story of three wayward souls finding their way to a variety troupe called the “Dinky Doos” (no, I do not make this stuff up). Thankfully, they change the name straightaway to “The Good Companions,” hence the film’s title. This decidedly minor film, remade in 1957, takes its time setting up the characters and the plot.

The Good Companions (1933) clip” video uploaded by films411 is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

The librarian (Hugh E. Wright) shows up for less than a minute, and we never see his face — only the back of his head (see below). His appearance is notable only because it appears to be the first occurrence of a reel librarian uttering, “Shush!” (as determined by Ray & Brenda Tevis in their book, The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999). The Tevises also take note at how the low camera angle — revealing only the back of the librarian’s head — visually de-emphasizes the reel librarian.

The reel librarian is a white male, older, and quite thin. He is wearing a black coat, and his hair is short, grey, and appears to be thinning. We see a glimpse of spectacles as he turns slightly to the side at one point.

View over the reel librarian's shoulder, in The Good Companions (1933)
View over the reel librarian’s shoulder, in The Good Companions (1933)

The library scene occurs one hour and 17 minutes into the film (the 113-minute UK version, NOT the 95-minute US version). Right before the library scene, the two female leads, Miss Elizabeth Trant (Mary Glynne) and Susie Dean (Jessie Matthews) enjoy a picnic; the older woman laments a long-lost love, and Susie schemes to bring the two former lovers back together. The gentleman in question is a doctor, and the Susie muses that “there’s a medical register at any public library.” Next, we see a shot of Susie looking up the medical register and finds the name she’s seeking and the town where the doctor lives, Dingley. She then asks in a loud voice, “How far’s Dingley?”

Immediately, we hear a “Shush!”, then the camera pans back to reveal the library and the back of the reel librarian, who then answers “20 miles” to her question. Susie, quite unconcerned at her mild reprimand, tosses off a quick thanks. She then brings the big book back to the Circulation desk and asks the librarian what kind of illness would bring a doctor in from 20 miles away. He seems puzzled — who wouldn’t be? — and replies, “Well, I don’t know. Heart attack?” Susie seems quite pleased with his response, thanks him, and leaves. He fulfills the basic Information Provider role, one punctuated by the inaugural and soon-to-be-infamous (and oft-repeated) “Shush!”

The back of the reel librarian in The Good Companions (1933)
The back of the reel librarian in The Good Companions (1933)

We see one wide shot of the library itself, with the reel librarian perched on the edge of the stool at the far right. Anybody else visualizing Ebenezer Scrooge?! The long, wooden Circulation desk spans the bottom part of the frame, and the obligatory card files flank both sides of the librarian — another visual barrier. The left side of the frame reveals a fairly populated reading room, most likely for newspapers and other periodicals, while the larger space to the right is empty except for the girl. Is it just me, or does the library backdrop almost look painted? There are tall stacks of books, and we spy a second floor with more bookshelves, tables, and library lamps; in the close-up, we see thick velvet ropes — yet another visual barrier — curtaining off the tall stacks.


Sources used:


  • The Good Companions. Dir. Victor Saville. Perf. Jessie Matthews, Edmund Gwenn, John Gielgud, Mary Glynne. Gaumont British Picture Corporation, 1933.
  • Tevis, Ray, and Brenda Tevis. The Image of Librarians in Cinema 1917-1999. McFarland, 2005.

The horror of an unethical librarian in ‘The Seventh Victim’

The librarian sells her soul for a few cheap compliments

In honor of Halloween, I’m exploring the first horror film (at least, the first one I have been able to find) that features a librarian. The Seventh Victim (1943) is a creepy thriller about a woman, Mary Gibson (Kim Hunter), who is desperate to find out more about her sister’s (Jean Brooks) disappearance and mysterious involvement with a cult. For me, the scariest thing is probably Jean Brook’s hairstyle in the film (which you can see in the image, at left, and in the trailer below).

Jason Hoag (Erford Gage) is a book clerk by day, poet by night. He wrote a bestseller 10 years ago, but now has nothing much to his name. Following a lead in an effort to impress Mary, he tries to gather clues from the circulation records of suspected cult members. (By the way, do NOT try this at home. This is highly unethical and illegal behavior. Library circulation records are private, even concerning members of a mysterious cult.)

Reel librarian in The Seventh Victim
Reel librarian in The Seventh Victim

The librarian, Miss Gottschalk (Sarah Shelby in an uncredited role), is only in this scene, which lasts just under a minute. She is white, late 30s or early 40s, with her hair rolled up in an unflattering style. She is wearing makeup and seems to be attempting a modern style in her dress — she’s even wearing nail polish! — but the end result is an ill-fitting suit that comes off as conservative when combined with her old-fashioned updo. Ultimately, she seems a bit desperate.

In mild Naughty Librarian fashion, she quickly responds to Hoag’s flirting, who shamelessly seizes the opportunity to obtain the books the cult members have checked out. He uses the pretense of giving gifts because “nothing nicer than a book for a gift” and gets on her good side by complimenting her hands as “so slim and capable” (such flattery!).

At first, she demurs, “I’ll have to get permission” to look at the closed-shelf books, but soon breaks out an attempt at a coquettish smile. But “since [Hoag] is over 21”, she gets the books he’s looking for, after first flipping through her card catalog files to find the names and titles he’s seeking. Basically, Miss Gottschalk sells her soul — in less than a minute! — for a few cheap compliments, breaking the rules to provide him restricted books taken from the private records of library patrons (aarrggghhhh — again, totally unethical and illegal behavior). As Ray & Brenda Tevis sum up this scene in The Image of Librarians in Cinema 1917-1999, “the extent to which filmgoers believe Gottschalk’s behavior is transferable to working librarians depends upon whether they believe that reel librarians accurately reflect the ethics of working librarians” (46). In this case, let’s hope they don’t!

She is a less extreme version of the Naughty Librarian — you can tell she wants to let her hair down after work and is seeking opportunities to do just that, with her (sadly inept) flirting. And she does engage in illegal behavior — for shame! — but it’s not to the extremes of violence as other Naughty Librarians (see Personals).  She also serves the role of the Information Provider, providing Hoag with the clues he uses to follow the cult’s trail.

The Seventh Victim (1943)” video uploaded by KmanCosmo is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Sources used:


  • The Seventh Victim. Dir. Mark Robson. Perf. Kim Hunter, Jean Brooks, Tom Conway, Isabel Jewell, Erford Gage. RKO, 1943.
  • Tevis, Ray, and Brenda Tevis. The Image of Librarians in Cinema 1917-1999. McFarland, 2005.

‘Killer Movie,’ scary librarian

“You two have to leave. NOW.”

It’s almost Halloween! I’ve been thinking about costumes, and if I were to dress up as a librarian, who would I pick? Who would YOU pick? One librarian I will NOT dress up as is the librarian in Killer Movie (2008).

Screenshot of the librarian from 'Killer Movie' (2008)
Scary movie indeed. Screenshot of the librarian from ‘Killer Movie’ (2008)

Yikes.

In this film, a reality TV shoot at a small town in North Dakota turns into a murder game for a crazed-yet-cunning killer. I caught this film on my cable’s on demand list, and the movie, which was shot in 21 days, was better than I was thinking it would be. Faint praise. I was thinking it was going to be like those Date Movie parodies, but the movie seemed like it wanted to play it straight. It has elements of black humor (“What greater truth is there than reality? Even when it’s scripted”), and it borrows heavily from the Scream movies, especially in the characters and basic plot points — and the Scream movies themselves gleefully borrowed from the (cheesy) tradition of modern horror films. But everyone in the film seems like they’re acting in a different movie from each other. Paul Wesley, as TV director Jake Tanner, plays his role totally straight and serious, like he does on The Vampire Diaries; Cyia Batten, who plays the TV show’s producer, is way over-the-top; and Kaley Cuoco as spoiled actress Blanca Champion wanders through like she’s doing her best Anna Faris-as-Britney. She fits in the movie as well as her miniskirts and shorts fit in with the freezing temps.

Mary Murphy plays the aforementioned Librarian — her official title in the credits — in a cameo about 24 minutes into the film. Before the library scene, Jake proclaims that “something’s off here,” helping to set up a feeling of unease and suspicion. His production assistant then shows him some newspaper articles on microfilm in the school library. In this one-minute-long scene, she finds the time to diss the school library and the town in one go:

“I’m dying to Google these people. I don’t know if you’ve tried yet, but it’s impossible to get on the internet up here. I’ve tried the dial-up like 30 times, only I get knocked off after 10 seconds.”

After discussing the newspaper articles about several deaths in the area and how they don’t think the most recent death was an accident, they look up from the microfilm reader because of the school librarian’s sudden appearance. There is a long pan to the librarian in the distance:

View of a scary librarian. Screenshot from 'Killer Movie' (2008)
View of a scary librarian. Screenshot from ‘Killer Movie’ (2008)

The librarian does not engage in conversation. She simply gives them a long glare and spits out her one line:

“You two have to leave. NOW.”

At her close-up, my husband and I both recoiled in horror. Score one for the friendly school librarian!

In this character introduction, she is a black, shadowy figure. She looks more like a nun — or a crow — in her long black layers, glasses hanging from a lanyard, black-streaked-with-grey hair pulled back. She is holding a couple of books in her arms, hands clutching her other arm. In the close-up, we see her hands and face only — her pale face with her sour, forbidding expression stands out. Her body is pretty shapeless in her long skirt, turtleneck, and cardigan.

We don’t get to see much of the school library. There is an aisle of dark blue carpet inbetween two rows of bookcases, plus a bookcase seen behind the librarian. The dark woods of the bookcases and walls add to the foreboding feel of the horror movie set-up. The books are not that neatly shelved, but not overly messy, either. We see no signs of any students using the library — and with a school librarian like that, who would?!

There are quite a few cameos in the film, and this one has that touch of black humor when you compare this reel librarian’s image with Mary Murphy herself (seen below). In real life, she is a dancer and choreographer, lending her expertise as a judge on the popular (and addictive) reality TV show So You Think You Can Dance. She is quite dynamic and loud and sparkly on the show, a total opposite from this crow of a reel librarian. Her cameo in this film might also be a clever play on her “Queen of Scream” nickname — if you’ve ever watched the show, you know about her trademark holler!

Mary Murphy photo by Porfirio Landeros via Wikipedia is licensed under CC BY SA 3.0
Mary Murphy photo by Porfirio Landeros via Wikipedia is licensed under CC BY SA 3.0

So what’s the point of this library scene? I think it adds to the “lost in rural America” feel of the small town, as the main characters won’t be able to rely on technology to seek help. The librarian’s appearance and behavior definitely contribute to the creepy mood of the town and backlog of suspicious deaths. With the long camera pans in the scene, we also get the sense of someone (the killer?) watching others. This is a camera trick used throughout the film, as in a scene later on in a convenience store, where we get a long pan down the grocery aisles and see a flash of the killer walking by. This subtly mirrors the visual introduction of the librarian. The school librarian also serves as a possible suspect. As the victims piled up — and they do, believe me — I shouted out several times, “Is it the librarian? There’s almost no one left!” Is she the killer? Hmmm….

So as the main function of this librarian is to contribute to the atmosphere, she serves the primary role of an Information Provider. But the director still can’t help but to resort to the physical characteristics of the Spinster Librarian! So if a librarian is going to be onscreen for a short time, the trend is to go for the stereotypical image.

I’ve written a lot for such a small role. Quite a(n unfortunately) memorable impression for a reel librarian onscreen for 4 seconds!


Sources used:


  • Killer Movie. Dir. Jeff Fisher. Perf. Paul Wesley, Kaley Cuoco, Jason London, Leighton Meester. Peace Arch Home Entertainment, 2008.

‘City of’ librarians

Bonus points for the angels in this film, as many like to hang out in the public library

City of librarians… not really! We only get to see one librarian in City of Angels (1998), a dramatic weepy starring Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan. Basically, an angel (Cage) becomes romantically involved with a doctor (Ryan). My memories of the film immediately bring to mind the following:  1. Cage and Ryan having almost no romantic chemistry, kind of a necessity in this kind of film, and 2. Meg Ryan having an overly fussy hairdo. Not a great movie, but I remember the soundtrack being really popular.

Although the film is set in Los Angeles, the library showcased in the film is the quite picturesque San Francisco Public Library. (And fun side note: I’ve actually been inside the main branch, which is quite breathtaking in real life, too.)

Below is a trailer for the film, which does include footage of the library scene!

City of Angels – Trailer” video uploaded by YouTube Movies is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Bonus points for the angels in this film, as many like to hang out in the public library (see above in the trailer). There are several short scenes set in the library, including one in which Ryan asks a young male circulation clerk about a particular book. She asks if he can tell her who it belongs to. The clerk can’t tell her who, but can tell her when. The clerk is bald-headed, clean-shaven, and wears thick glasses. In a rare display of library technology (although he says, “Give me five minutes“), the clerk scans the book’s barcode and looks it up in the computer system. He is your basic Information Provider, following the rules, no more, no less.


Sources used:


  • City of Angels. Dir. Brad Silberling. Perf. Meg Ryan, Nicolas Cage, Dennis Franz. Warner Bros., 1998.