I have done a few “first impressions” series of posts over the years, which focus on more current films that I have watched in theaters that include reel librarians and/or library or archives scenes. The resulting “first impressions” posts are necessarily less detailed, as I don’t have the luxury of rewatching scenes and taking notes, but they turn out to be some of my more consistently popular posts.
A little over a month ago, I was able to watch Spike Lee’s latest film, BlacKkKlansman, at The Grand Cinema, which is an awesome, independent, arthouse-type movie theater in Tacoma. The film is based on the 2014 memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth, and John David Washington (the son of Denzel Washington and Pauletta Washington) is perfectly cast in the title role.
Basic plot and trailer:
In the early 1970s, Stallworth is hired as the first black officer in the Colorado Springs, Colorado police department. Initially assigned to work in the records room, he requests a transfer to go undercover and gets reassigned to the intelligence division. While reading the newspaper, he finds an advertisement to join the Ku Klux Klan. He calls and pretends to be a white man, and eventually becomes a member of the Colorado Springs chapter. Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) acts as Stallworth in order to meet the KKK members in person.
This is a film that punches you in the gut, and keeps you thinking and feeling and reacting. It is VERY timely. Highly recommended.
Below is a trailer for the film:
So what does this film have to do with reel librarians?
Records room scenes:
As mentioned in the summary above, Stallworth is initially assigned to work in the records room. There is a small nameplate on the front of the shelving units that says “Records librarian” (which is visible in the screenshot below), although the records room is essentially the archives of the police department. Stallworth is really bored working in the records room, and it’s clear that the records room is like a “right of passage” for rookie cops. It’s not a prestigious job, and the “real” cops look down on their co-workers stuck behind the desk.
(Never mind that detectives could NOT do their jobs or background research without those records and archival materials, and someone to help them locate those records, but WHATEVER. SIGH. >( )
There are two major scenes set in the records room, scenes in which Stallworth endures racial slurs and harassment from his co-workers, particularly from patrolman Andy Landers, a corrupt, racist officer in Stallworth’s precinct. Stallworth lets out some steam after his initial encounter with Landers, as seen in this screenshot from the above trailer:
We also see another records room officer, played by Jeremy J. Nelson, in one of the records room scenes.
Library research scene:
There is also a very brief scene — perhaps two-thirds of the way through the movie? — where the president of the Black Student Union (Laura Harrier as Patrice Dumas) goes to what looks to be an academic library and looks up microfiche. In that brief library research scene, you can catch a glimpse of a reel librarian, played by Elise Hudson, who helps set up the microfiche machine for Patrice.
Patrice is researching materials and photos for an upcoming speaker (Harry Belafonte as Jerome Turner), and in a later scene featuring Turner’s moving speech, you see the archival photos she found and used displayed around him.
Reflecting on BlacKkKlansman, I realized that this film falls into the Class II category, films in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, but the librarian’s occupation does not directly affect the plot. This is because John Stallworth, the lead character, worked as a “records librarian” — but more accurately, the records archivist. I would say his character reflects the “Liberated Librarian” character type pretty well, as he is literally liberated from the Records Room and promoted into the intelligence division.
There are two other reel librarians/archivists in the film as well, Jeremy J. Nelson as another Records Room Officer and Elise Hudson as a (more traditional) librarian, although we only see them collectively for a few seconds on screen. They function as your basic Information Providers, there to establish the library/archives settings of specific scenes.
“My name’s Jonathan Harker. I’m the new librarian.”
As per the winning entry in the most recent reader poll, this week I am analyzing Horror of Dracula (1958)! The first in the series of Hammer horror films starring Christopher Lee as Count Dracula, Horror of Draculawas a critical and commercial success when it was first released in 1958 — and it has remained a go-to classic ever since. The film was directed by Terence Fisher and clocks in at a brisk 82 minutes long.
This film adaptation differs in several ways from Bram Stoker’s original and groundbreaking source novel. I will not take time out here to enumerate those differences; for a list of them, visit the film’s IMDb.com trivia page. The broad strokes of the main storyline remain relatively intact, however, so I will also not go into detail about the plot. I am also assuming that the reader is familiar with the basic storyline of Dracula and characters like Harker, Lucy, Van Helsing, and Arthur Holmwood.
***SPOILER ALERTS THROUGHOUT***
Meet Jonathan Harker, librarian (?)
John Van Eyssen, a South African actor who later became a literary agent-turned-movie producer, plays Jonathan Harker. Although he only earned seventh billing in the film’s credits, he essentially opens the film, narrating from his diary upon arrival at Count Dracula’s castle in Klausenburg. (Note that the entire film takes place in Germany.)
His first words:
The Diary of Jonathan Harker. The 3rd of May, 1885. At last, my long journey is drawing to its close. What the eventual end, I cannot foresee. But whatever may happen, I may rest secure that I have done all in my power to achieve success. […] I deemed myself lucky to have secured this post and did not intend to falter in my purpose.
Right away, it’s clear that Harker is on a mission.
While Harker eats dinner in the castle and waits for Dracula, he takes out a couple of books from his case. The slim volume with the red cover is Harker’s diary — we will see that volume several times throughout the film. In fact, that diary is so important and onscreen so frequently it’s kind of a wonder the film wasn’t retitled The Diary of Jonathan Harker!
A beautiful but mysterious woman enters the room. Harker hastens to introduce himself.
My name’s Jonathan Harker. I’m the new librarian.
This is the first mention of Harker being a librarian. And tellingly, the word “new” in that introduction indicates there has been a prior librarian. This thread is never followed, but it’s an interesting idea to think about. (The fan fiction practically writes itself, right?! “To all the librarians I’ve loved and lost, XOXO Dracula” ♥ )
His next words are also interesting:
How can I help you?
What I found intriguing about this line is that this is TOTALLY what a (real) librarian *would* say, but Harker says this line in a completely different context than how a librarian would mean it while at, say, a reference desk. Harker says this in response to the lady’s distress, who is insistent that she is being kept in the castle against her will.
She runs away, and then we get our first glimpse of Christopher Lee’s iconic portrayal of Dracula, as he pauses for full dramatic effect at the top of the stairs. (My husband mused at this point, “Why did capes EVER go out of style?!” 😉 )
Dracula and Harker then “meet cute,” and Harker puts away his diary.
These next exchanges between Dracula and Harker constitute the bulk of the context of Harker’s position as the librarian.
They continue talking as Dracula shows him up the stairs to his room, when Dracula references his private library collection.
Harker: How soon may I start work, sir?
Dracula: As soon as you wish. There are a very large number of volumes to be indexed.
When they get into his room, Dracula reveals Harker’s qualifications to be engaged as his private librarian.
Dracula: I consider myself fortunate to have found such a distinguished scholar to act as my librarian.
Harker: I like quiet and seclusion. This house, I think, offers that.
Dracula: Then we are both satisfied. An admirable arrangement.
Dracula then leaves. But after Harker unpacks a few things, Dracula comes back into the room and gives him a key.
Dracula: As I shall be away so long, I think it’s better that you have a key to the library, Mr. Harker. You will find the library to the left of the hall.
Dracula then leaves for the night, and he utters the last words we will hear him speak onscreen, “Sleep well, Mr. Harker.” (Dracula only speaks 13 lines in the entire film, all to Harker!)
Harker then sits down to write in his diary, and he reveals to the audience the specifics of his mission — and his subterfuge!
At last, I have met Count Dracula. He accepts me as a man who has agreed to work among his books, as I intended. It only remains for me now to await the daylight hours, when with God’s help, I will forever end this man’s reign of terror.
Ending at less than 15 minutes, this is quite an efficient opening sequence.
First fight in the castle library:
Harker dozes off in a chair by the fire and awakes when he hears his door knob start to turn. He goes downstairs and into the library, the room opposite the main dining hall. It’s our first peek at the library, and considering what we had heard Dracula say before (“There are a very large number of volumes to be indexed“), the first impression is… underwhelming. There look to be only a few rows of bookshelves along the back wall. I think the fireplace in this set may be larger than Dracula’s private library!
As Harker enters the room, he is startled to find the mysterious woman behind him.
Once again, she pleads with him to help her escape Dracula… and of course she turns out to be a vampire! (The three brides of Dracula in the novel are condensed into this sole role.) After she bites his neck, Harker pushes her away as Dracula rushes in through a door in the middle of the bookshelves. Harker attempts to stop Dracula from hurting the woman, but Dracula pushes him away and then grabs his bride and takes her through the door in the library.
Harker then wakes up on his bed, still fully clothed, and realizes that he has been bit. He takes out his diary again and writes:
I have become a victim of Dracula and a woman in his power. It may be that I am doomed to be one of them; if that is so, I can only pray that whoever finds my body will possess the knowledge to do what is necessary, to release my soul. I have lost a day. Soon it will be dark. While my senses are still my own, I must do what I set out to do. I must find the resting place of Dracula and there, end his existence forever.
He then hides his diary in a boulder outside the house. This detail will be important later!
Harker then discovers a door to an underground lair, where he finds caskets for both Dracula and his bride. He has a wooden stake and hammer, yet his instincts are not as sharp as his stake. Instead of fulfilling his stated mission — “I will forever end this man’s reign of terror” — he starts by staking the woman.
Dracula wakes up, and OF COURSE night then falls, right on cue. Harker’s brain starts to work again, as he realizes the mistake he’s made when he finds Dracula’s casket empty. But it’s too late, and it’s (literally) lights out for Harker.
And I know what y’all must be thinking right now… will Dracula’s books NEVER get indexed now?! 😉
The diary of Jonathan Harker:
But never fear, at least ONE book doesn’t get forgotten — Harker’s diary!
The next scene takes us into the village, where Dr. Van Helsing, played by top-billed Peter Cushing, enters a local inn. Van Helsing starts immediately asking questions about his friend, but the innkeeper is reticent to tell him any information. Inga, the innkeeper’s daughter, lets slip, however, that she remembers Harker and a letter he had her post.
The innkeeper and Van Helsing continue talking, and Van Helsing reveals more information about why and how he and Harker were working together.
Innkeeper: Look, sir, you’re a stranger here in Klausenburg. Some things are best left alone, such as interfering in things which are beyond our powers.
Van Helsing: Please don’t misunderstand me. This is more than a superstition, I know. The danger is very real. If the investigation that Mr. Harker and I are engaged upon is successful, then not only you, but the whole world will benefit.
The innkeeper’s daughter then comes back to serve Van Helsing dinner, with a little extra on the side.
Inga: This was found at the crossroads near that place. He told me to burn it. But your friend was such a nice gentleman, I couldn’t.
This then leads Van Helsing to Dracula’s castle, where he finds the underground lair… and his friend, Harker.
As a distraught Van Helsing takes up the stake and hammer Harker had left on the floor, the camera fades.
The next scene reveals Van Helsing informing Arthur Holmwood and his wife, Mina, about Harker’s death. In this film, Arthur is the brother of Lucy, Harker’s fiancée. In this short scene, when learn that Arthur is suspicious of Harker’s death; that Harker died 10 days ago; that Harker was cremated (“As his friend and colleague, he told me some time ago that he would wish it“); that Arthur and his wife will tell Lucy the news; and that Lucy is ill. This film is certainly efficient in its storytelling, isn’t it?!
Thirty-five minutes into the film, Van Helsing reviews Harker’s diary while a recording plays on a gramophone. The recording is Van Helsing’s own voice, detailing the dangers and signs of vampires. Again, a clever way to include a lot of expository details in a short amount of time!
Van Helsing then starts recording himself, likening vampirism to drug addiction. He also invokes the death of Harker as further reasons to kill Dracula:
Since the death of Jonathan Harker, Count Dracula, the propagator of this unspeakable evil, has disappeared. He must be found and destroyed.
So although Harker is no longer physically part of the film, he and his diary remain central to the film and propel the plot forward. This time, it’s personal!
The last mention of Harker’s diary occurs at 47 minutes into the film, when Arthur is upset at Van Helsing and blames him for (SPOILER!) Lucy’s death. Van Helsing gives Jonathan’s diary to Arthur, stating:
I cannot expect you to believe me, but you will I know believe Jonathan. Here are his last words, his diary. When you have read it, you will understand.
Final fight in the castle library:
The final scene and showdown between Van Helsing and Dracula occurs five minutes before the end of the film.
As Van Helsing follows Dracula to this castle, they meet up in the library — where else?! — and Van Helsing spies sunlight peeking in through the heavy curtains at one end of a large table scattered with piles of books. Van Helsing dashes across the table and throws upon the curtains. Van Helsing leaps back upon the table — scattering books in his wake, and the librarian in me could not help but exclaim, “Don’t take it out on the books!” — and grabs candlesticks to form a cross and force Dracula into the sunlight. Dracula then starts crumbling to ash in the sunlight.
Why a librarian?
Harker is clearly posing as a librarian, as the line in the opening sequence that Dracula “accepts [Harker] as a man who has agreed to work among his books, as [Harker] intended” reveals. However, it does stand to reason that Harker is a scholar of some merit. It would be too easy to check otherwise, especially as the action takes place in such a limited geographic area. And Van Helsing is a scientist, so it is plausible that he and Harker met because of common scientific, or psychiatric, interests.
The idea that Jonathan is a scholar does, theoretically, provide some kind of plausibility about him being able to pass himself off as a librarian — or rather a freelance kind of indexer or cataloger — for Count Dracula’s private library.
I also wonder if the screenwriter, Jimmy Sangster, chose “librarian” for Harker’s reason for being at Dracula’s castle (rather than as a solicitor arranging real estate transactions for Dracula, as in the source novel) as a way for Harker to throw Dracula off the scent; i.e. that posing as a librarian would not arouse suspicion in Dracula, as librarians are generally (and stereotypically) mild-mannered. Of course, that reasoning only works when Harker goes in knowing about Dracula to begin with, as is obvious from the beginning narration of this film.
Ultimately, although Harker has quite a significant role in this film, his attempts at being a reel librarian really only amount to that of being an Information Provider. He is there to provide context for thwarting Dracula, and his diary provides clues along the way for Van Helsing, as well as for the audience.
Although we don’t really learn much about Harker on a personal level, I was greatly amused by the variety of facial expressions John Van Eyssen packed into his supporting role.
Although Harker’s change of occupation did not get mentioned on the VHS copy I have of this film, I was amused to discover that the first library scene DID make the side cover!
Past classification struggles:
I first saw this film years ago — clearly, when VHS tapes were commonplace! — and I have to admit, that I have found it difficult to classify this film, according to my usual “Reel Substance” categories.
I first classified this film under the Class V category, films in which there are no actual librarians, because Harker is posing as a librarian in this film. But that never felt quite right, so I eventually decided to reclassify the film under the Class I category, because the fact that he’s posing as a librarian serves as the catalyst for the rest of the film’s plot as well as Van Helsing’s (re)commitment to destroying Dracula.
What are your thoughts on this? I’d love for you to leave a comment and share your thoughts on this or other aspects of Horror of Dracula.
And thanks to everyone who voted for Horror of Dracula! It was fun to revisit this horror classic.
Horror of Dracula. Dir. Terence Fisher. Perf. Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Melissa Stribling, John Van Eyssen. Universal, 1958.
Here’s a snippet of the sequel’s plot, from the back of the DVD:
This film “[t]akes you on a globe-trotting quest full of adrenaline-pumping twists and turns — all leading to the final club in a mysterious and highly guarded book containing centuries of secrets. But there’s only one way to find it — Ben Gates must kidnap the President.”
So… in the first film, Ben Gates steals the Declaration of Independence; in the sequel, he “upgrades” to kidnapping the President. Okaaaaaaaaaaay.
That the word “book” is in the movie’s subtitle, that Helen Mirren co-stars in the sequel (she plays an expert on ancient Native American languages), and that the Library of Congress also gets a co-starring role! 😉
What do I NOT like about the film?
Uh, everything else. The talented cast is wasted in this paint-by-numbers, pedestrian action film. And it’s not just me! The film “earned” two Razzie Award nominations: Worst Actor for Nicolas Cage and Worst Supporting Actor for Jon Voight.
Eight minutes into the film, we get a wide shot of a scene that’s clearly set in a bookstore (not a library!). The sidekick, Riley (Justin Bartha), has written a book, and it’s clear he’s trying to cash in on the fame. (But the book he’s written will be an important plot point later.)
However, no one’s really interested in the sidekick.
Trouble in (archives) paradise:
We also learn early one that Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) and Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger, downgraded from 2nd billing in the first film to 3rd billing in the sequel, boo!) have broken up. But Gates needs to break into her house because of PLOT reasons that have something to do with John Wilkes Booth, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and the reputation of the Gates family.
As Gates puts it, “I need to get Abigail’s ID. She has access to the Booth diary page.”
Long story short, they do break in, and Gates pulls open Abigail’s desk drawer to grab her ID badge… which now reads “Library of Congress.”
There’s no explanation given, but it’s clear that Chase has moved from the National Archives to the Library of Congress within the previous three years. My thoughts for the reason why? Because of PLOT. 😉
And OF COURSE Chase comes home early — she’s been on a date! — and we get to see her all gussied up in a fancy dress and heels. She’s been on a date with the “White House curator” (another reel archivist?), and here’s his reaction to her home:
Connor: Wow. You work in a museum, and you live in one.
Chase: Pretty much.
Caught red-handed breaking into her house, Gates tries to smooth-talk his way out of the situation, but Chase sees right through him. The resulting conversation echoes their first conversation together from the first film.
Chase: Hand it over, Ben.
Gates: I need to see the Booth diary page.
Chase: You saw the page yourself. There is no treasure map on it.
Gates: No, it’s a cipher leading to a map. Anyone spectral-image the page?
Chase: No need to. The ink writing on the page is clearly visible.
Gates: It could have been erased or faded. You’re the director of document conservation. You know all this.
Chase: It’s not up to me. It’s not my department.
Gates: That department reports to your department. Come on. One look under infrared.
I do enjoy this bit of conversation, even if only to get a clue about her new job and title!
The white glove returns!
The next scene takes place in what I assume is a lab in the Library of Congress, where Chase is using a computer and infrared scan. The iconic white gloves, an essential tool in the archivist’s toolbox, do make an appearance, but it’s interesting to note that Chase only has a white glove on her left hand, and not her right hand while she’s using the computer.
This short scene is also notable for its use of modern archivist technology this time — no lemon juice or hairdryers this time! 😉
They do find a cipher on the back of the page — DA DA DUMMMMMMM! — and she sends the document to the scanner.
Chase takes off the glove on her left hand and pull outs a copy of the document from the scanner. You can see her white gloves in the background of the closeup.
“In the sequel National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007), we once again encounter Abigail Chase; she performs one “archival” function: she uses a computer to manipulate a digital image of a page torn from John Wilkes Booth’s diary, all the while either wearing or holding a white glove. This humorous image aside, we learn that she is now working for the Library of Congress and is Director of Document Conservation.” (p. 85)
The book of secrets:
The “book of secrets” is solved midway through the film. Remember Riley’s treasure-hunting book that nobody wanted to read? Turns out, he wrote a chapter about “The President’s Secret Book” and a secret seal. (The trio had discovered this seal on an adventure in London, for reasons of PLOT.)
It was definitely a moment for “suspension of disbelief” and massive eye-rolling, because the “President’s Secret Book” and secret seal feels like something both Chase and Gates would already know about, right? But at least Riley gets his moment in the spotlight.
Library of Congress connection:
So all of this secret book nonsense leads Gates to, naturally, have to kidnap POTUS in order to confront him about the book and how to find it. As you do. This leads them to the Library of Congress.
President: The book exists.
Gates: Where is it?
President: Where else do you keep a book? In the Library of Congress.
POTUS then gives Gates a code: XY 234786.
I immediately shouted out at the screen, “It’s a call number!!!!” And of course, it had to be a Library of Congress call number, which start with a combination of letters, followed by numbers. (Dewey Decimal call numbers start with numbers, 000s through 900s.)
And now we know why Dr. Abigail Chase had to switch jobs from the National Archives to the Library of Congress. I had mused it was for reasons of PLOT. And here’s where that plot point pays off…
Library of Congress archivist leading the way:
At 1 hour and 11 mins into the film, Chase leads the way to the Library of Congress. Doesn’t she look totally bad-ass in her black leather jacket? #ArchivistRoleModel
Riley: Where do we start?
Chase: XY is the book classification code. Stands for special collections, which means very special books.
Of course the reel librarian/archivist would figure out straight away that it’s a call number!
Note: The Library of Congress classification system generally follows the alphabet for the first part of its call number combinations, as you can see here, meaning there are potentially 26 major categories of call numbers. However, 5 of the 26 English language letters are not currently used for call number categories, being kept in “reserve” for future use. “X” is one of those letters not currently used for Library of Congress call numbers. (I, O, W, and Y are the other letters not in use.) So it could be possible, theoretically, that the Library of Congress could use the “X” category for secret collections not known to the public.
I loved how, in this screenshot below, you can spot two librarians on duty in the iconic round reference desk in the middle of the Library of Congress Reading Room. This film has both reel archivists AND reel librarians! 😀
We also get a shot of another reel librarian, or rather library assistant, opening up a back door and rolling out a library cart.
None of the reel librarians in this scene, however, recognize Chase.
Chase leads to the way to the alcove, which is labeled “Deck 7, Q-Z.”
But the book is not on the shelf, where the call number indicates it would be.
Riley: Maybe someone checked it out.
Chase: Why would he send us here if there’s no book?
The area of the Library of Congress, in which Gates finds the Book of Secrets, does not exist as an area of book shelves. These book shelves were constructed as a prop library in a previously empty balcony of the Library’s Main Reading Room, and dismantled after the scenes were shot.
And the director confirms this on the commentary track:
We also had to build this room, in the Library of Congress, true to the style of the Library of Congress. The last thing you want to do is destroy the Library of Congress. If a light falls off her, we’re gonna break a library. So the goal here was just to get this room to look like the Library of Congress.
Although the trio are being hunted down by FBI agents — because of that whole “kidnapping the President” thing — there is still time for humor.
Random FBI Agent: So Gates abducts the president, lets him go, and then heads to the Library of Congress? Why?
FBI Agent Sadusky: Maybe he wants to check out a book.
Escape from the Library of Congress:
The trio then try to elude the FBI agents on their tail. Chase leads Riley to the reference desk, where they escape down the secret stairs that lead to the basement of the Library of Congress. And OF COURSE the librarians on duty don’t notice this. Suspension of disbelief, y’all.
The two run past a circular piece of machinery, which you can see in the screenshot below, which the director revealed on the commentary track that he was fascinated by and had to include in the final film:
These are extraordinary places underneath the Library [of Congess]. Go in that door, you down stairs, there’s a whole transport system of books. I mean, look at that. That’s how books get sent around the library on these little elevators that go up and down. All right, I don’t know what that has to do with the library, but we’re shooting it.
I also loved how when the FBI agents came down the central staircase, a librarian immediately points the way to help them catch the adventurers.
Don’t mess with librarians! 😉
Reel archivist and librarian roles:
Once again, Diane Kruger’s portrayal of reel archivist Dr. Abigail Chase in this Class I film lands in the Atypical Portrayal category. She is a major character, and we see her both in and out of library and archival space, interacting with modern archival equipment. She is smart, funny, and not afraid to show her flexibility and resourcefulness when needed. She is a reel archivist role model!
Fun fact! During an American Library Association national conference in Washington D.C. a few years ago and a special tour the Library of Congress provided for librarians only, I actually got to go down those exact stairs and explore the basement of the Library of Congress! It’s amaaaaaaaaaaaaazing! The Library of Congress collection is actually spread out over several buildings, and they are all interconnected by the system of pulleys and conveyer belts you see in the film.
The tour guide was also a librarian who had been at the Library of Congress one of the days they filmed this scene for the film. Cool, huh? 😀
Blade Runner 2049 is not a remake of the 1982 cult classic Blade Runner; rather, it is a continuation, with Harrison Ford reprising his role as Deckard. Ryan Gosling stars as K, a police officer assigned to track down a rogue replicant. He begins by going to the Wallace Corporation’s Earth Headquarter archives.
Here’s a teaser trailer for the film:
Meet the archivist:
The archives scene begins 30 mins into the film. K stands at a long, wrap-around counter, behind which sits the archivist, played by Icelandic actor Tómas Lemarquis. It’s interesting to note that although this character is titled “File Clerk” in the credits, the subtitles refer to him as “Archivist.” I will refer to this character as the archivist throughout the remainder of this post.
Here’s their opening exchange, or rather, their initial reference interview:
K: Just checking in on an old serial number.
Archivist: Confirmation DNA?
K: I got hair. [hands him an evidence baggie]
The archivist then drops the hair into a scanner, which immediately brings up information on a central screen. I found it interesting that the archivist did NOT wear gloves to handle the evidence. (And put a pin in that, as we will revisit that point later.)
The archivist reacts swiftly and strongly to the information on the screen. I *loved* the archivist’s facial expressions during this scene.
Archivist: Oh! An old one. Pre-blackout. Huh. That’s gonna be tough. Not much from then. And what’s there is [clicks tongue] thick milky.
Luv, a replicant who is assistant to Mr. Wallace — remember, they’re at the Wallace Corporation’s Earth Headquarters — then gets an auto alert about the serial number and DNA scan. She asks to reschedule the client meeting she had been conducting.
We then cut back to the archivist, who is leading K down rows and rows of what look very similar to old-fashioned card catalog drawers. The cinematography is quite striking in the film in general, but particularly so in these scenes. The atmosphere feels almost holy and reverential, with the rows of card catalogs akin to pews in a church. But instead of feeling warmth or comfort from the reverence, we instead get a feeling of severity and sterility… perhaps because all the pre-Blackout data has been wiped? All of these records are blank, useless, broken. Yet they remain a monument to what was.
While they walk, the archivist chatters to K.
Archivist: Everyone remembers where they were at the Blackout. You?
K: That was a little before my time.
Archivist: Mmmmm… I was home with my folks, then ten days of darkness. Every machine stopped cold. When the lights came back, we were wiped clean. Photos, files, every bit of data… Fttt! Gone. Bank records, too. [Chuckles] Didn’t mind that. It’s funny it’s only paper that lasted. I mean, we had everything on drives. Everything, everything. Huh. My mom still cries over the lost baby pictures.
K: Well, it’s a shame. You must have been adorable. [deadpan sarcasm]
The archivist then opens a drawer and rifles through what looks like plexiglass microfiche, even holding one up to the light.
Archivist: Pretty fractured. Not much on it. One of the last gens, pre-Prohibition. Standard issue. Made by Tyrell.
Their exchange is then cut short, as Luv appears behind them at the end of the row. The archivist immediately shuts down, and in silence, bows to Luv, walks over, hands her the file, and then walks away. There is no question who holds the power in this scenario.
Luv then closes the drawer, introduces herself, and offers more help to K:
Luv: Another prodigal serial number returns. A 30-year-old open case finally closed. Thank you, officer. I’m here for Mr. Wallace. I’m Luv… Follow me. The ancient models give the entire endeavor a bad name. What a gift, don’t you think, from Mr. Wallace to the world? The outer colonies would never have flourished had he not bought Tyrell, revivified the technology. To say the least of what we do.
During this exchange, they walk through another collection of Mr. Wallace’s, a collection of rogue replicants encased in glass. This is the second peek into the Wallace Corporation’s archives, which are eclectic indeed. And not a little creepy.
Luv and K then continue down a shadowy corridor, the off-site storage for archives. No longer in the main cathedral of the archives, it’s like they are now walking along the cloisters.
Luv: Here. All the junk is in here. Lucky for you, Mr. Wallace is a data hoarder. [the door sticks.] No one’s been down here in ages. [shoves open the door] Sorry about that.
The lights automatically come on as they step in the room.
As Luv walks over to a specific drawer, she slips on a white glove to handle a “memory ball.” So the iconic white glove of the archivist DOES appear in the film — just not on the archivist! 😉
Luv: All our memory bearings from the time. They were all damaged in the Blackout. But there are sometimes fragments.
As the memory ball is read by a scanner, a computer screen reads: “Tyrell Archives: Video document.” I appreciated that this screen did confirm that we were, indeed, in the archives. 🙂
The video flashes fragments of an interview between Rachael and Deckard, an interview from the original film. This then sets up the eventual connection between Deckard and K.
The archives scene lasts about seven minutes in total, but sets the rest of the film’s plot in motion. It also emphasizes how vital archives are in society — and how the loss of archives adversely affects a society — as well as how important access is to archives.
Librarian: This is embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to misplace things.
Jonathan: Misplaced some data?
Librarian: Hmmm, the whole of the 13th century.
It’s clear that more than just the 13th century was wiped out in the Blade Runner universe, but there is a hint that some paper archives still exist, as when the archivist mused, “It’s funny it’s only paper that lasted.“
This is a major theme in the movie, that data is the soul of memory. And with no data or records, what happens to memory? What happens to our souls?
And I’m not the only one who thought along these lines. I came across this tweet from Dan Cohen, Dean of Libraries at Northeastern University:
Let’s talk about archives in Blade Runner 2049. There are multiple archives accessed during the film, and *implied* archives that no longer exist. They are all critical to the story.
Indeed, the story of archives parallels the story about memory.
Finally, I want to revisit the character of the archivist. While revealing vital background information about the world they live in now, the archivist reveals his personality. The archivist, although he looks quite severe with his leather shirt and bald head, comes across as animated, chatty, a little nerdy, even humorous. He definitely has no problem attempting to have a conversation with K, and it is not until Luv shows up that the archivist shuts down emotionally, like he has been “put in his place.”
Before Luv shows up, the archivist smiles quite a bit and infuses his lines with real feeling, as well as making amusing sound effects (like clicking his tongue), and making hand gestures. His vivid personality is notable in a film of blank demeanors and flat line reads from the replicant characters. My hat is off to the actor, Tómas Lemarquis, who makes quite an impression for just a couple of minutes of screen time.
Ultimately, the reel archivist in this film winds up in the Information Provider category. And the personality that shines through this reel archivist’s portrayal lands the film in the Class III category, film in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role, ranging from a supporting character to a minor character with perhaps only a few lines in one memorable or significant scene.
Have you seen Blade Runner, the original or the recent sequel? What are your thoughts about this reel archivist character? Please leave a comment and share!
Blade Runner 2049. Dir. Denis Villeneuve. Perf. Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto. Warner Bros., 2017.
The short library scene is very efficient, and the reel librarian is a classic kind of Information Provider.
This week is finals week for summer quarter, and then I’m off for a few weeks! (In real life — I am scheduling posts for the blog during my summer break, no worries.)
And on the theme of vacation… I recently rewatched the adaptation of Evil Under the Sun from the long-running series (1989-2013) of Agatha Christie’s Poirot starring David Suchet. (And in my humble opinion, Suchet is THE Hercule Poirot for all time. Absolute perfection as the little Belgian detective.) The TV movie aired in July 2003, and it’s based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie.
Evil Under the Sun is set at a luxury island hotel off the coast of Devon, where Poirot is on holiday. During his stay, a beautiful young woman, Arlena Stuart Marshall — who has been flirting with another guest, a married man, and generally upsetting everyone in her vicinity, including her own husband and stepchild — winds up strangled on a secluded beach. Poirot is ALWAYS going on a busman’s holiday!
Here’s a video review of the book:
Fun fact: The setting for this story was inspired by the Burgh Island Hotel, where Christie actually stayed in real life! And this adaptation was actually filmed at the Burgh Island Hotel!
So what does this movie adaptation have to do with libraries or librarians? Just a little over one hour into the movie, Poirot visits the mainland and has lunch with Captain Hastings and Inspector Japp. During lunch, Poirot reels off a list of questions about the murder, including:
“Also I wonder what was in the book that he [Arlena’s stepson, Lionel] was reading.”
Lionel had stated that he went to the mainland the morning of the murder to get a book.
Next stop? The public library!
We hear the librarian stamping in the moment we are introduced to her. Harriet Eastcott plays the Librarian; her character has no name, just the name of her profession.
Poirot has asked about the book Lionel has checked out, and the librarian immediately recognizes the name.
Librarian: Lionel Marshall, a young man staying on the island. Let me have a look.
She then goes to the card catalog and flips through cards.
Librarian: He borrowed a book yesterday morning.
She then looks at the card more closely and has a puzzled, thoughtful look on her face.
Librarian: Oh, yes, of course I remember now. I thought it was a rather strange choice, but he said it was for a homework project.
Poirot: And the name of the book, if you please, madame?
Librarian: Dangerous Chemicals and Poisons.
Duh duh dummmmmmm! SUSPICIOUS. This scene lasts only 30 seconds total, but it does move the plot along and serves to establish a potential suspect. The reel librarian serves as an Information Provider.
NOTE: I have written about this before, but this scene exhibits completely unethical behavior on the part of the librarian. At least here in the United States (although it may be different in the United Kingdom), you need a court order to view patrons’ library records. It may be convenient as a private detective or a police officer to go into a library and ask for a patron’s library records, but it is unlawful without a court order or warrant. And it is certainly unethical for a librarian to give out that information without requesting proof of a court order or warrant! I just had to do my duty in helping protect patrons’ privacy and reiterate that.
A couple of more notes from this short scene:
I appreciated how the costume designer matched the color of the librarian’s cardigan to the color of the curtains. This immediately and succinctly ties her visually to the setting of the library.
The set designer didn’t need much to establish the library setting, just a row of bookcases behind the librarian, a second row of bookcases (with organizational signs along the top in an Art Deco font, nice touch) behind Poirot, a table with card catalog drawers, and a few props like a stamp, pencils, and a notice board. I don’t know if this scene was filmed in an actual library — I couldn’t see any credits to that effect or anything mentioned online — but it could just as easily have been filmed on a set.
How does this scene compare with the book?
*POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERTS*
There is a public library mentioned in the book source material, and Arlena’s stepchild does check out a book that elicits suspicion.
However, there are some key differences, including:
Arlena has a stepdaughter in the book, Linda Marshall, which got changed to stepson Lionel in this film adaptation
Linda is obsessed with witchcraft and checks out a book on witchcraft, not poisons — still suspicious, but in a totally different way
Linda also later attempts suicide, but that is scrubbed entirely from the film adaptation
All in all, this short library scene is very efficient, and the reel librarian is a classic kind of Information Provider. She also looks fairly stereotypical for a reel librarian, being a white, middle-aged woman dressed in conservative clothing. Her demeanor is one of trying to be helpful (although winds up being inadvertently unethical). No glasses, but her hair is pulled back in a low chignon bun.
Are you a fan of the David Suchet Poirot series of episodes and TV movies? Have you seen this particular adaptation of Evil Under the Sun? Please leave a comment and share!