First impressions: ‘Monsters University’

“What are you afraid of? You just angered a 40-foot librarian!”

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned how two members of my family had tipped me off to a reel librarian featured in the recent release, Monsters University (2013). Since that post went live, I have had five additional friends recommend I watch the movie, which I did over the Independence Day long weekend.

And once again, here’s the film trailer that features the librarian:

Monsters University – Official Trailer #3 (HD) Pixar” video uploaded by JoBlo Movie Trailers is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

First impressions? I loved it! Yes, it is VERY over-the-top, but as my fellow reel librarian blogger Maria states over at her Pop! Goes the Librarian blog, “I just can’t bring myself to roll my eyes. Sometimes you just have to laugh.” 😀

Monsters University serves as a prequel to the 2001 hit Monsters, Inc., and has shades of the creation story in it, specifically about the wee monster, Mike (Billy Crystal). He’s thrown out of the School of Scaring because he’s… well, not scary. But to get back into the program, he assembles a team out of fellow rejects, including Sullivan (John Goodman) to enter the Scare Games, a series of trials to crown the top scarer at the university.

So where does the library come into the story? It’s the setting for the second challenge of the Scare Games, and the challenge is… wait for it… “Don’t Wake the Parent.” And standing in for the parents — at 40+ feet tall! — is the ugliest monster librarian EVER on screen. I think I can state that with confidence.

From the trailer, you only get the front view, but from the side, there’s the additional bonus of a grey bun perched on the back of her head.

Monsters Librarian screenshot
A ‘Monster’ librarian

And SPOILER ALERT, what is this university librarian’s monster power? The ability to hear noises at twenty paces or less — and the ability to make the offenders feel her wrath by scooping them up with her squid-like tentacles and throwing them out the roof into the nearby lake. Another point in the “scaring pros” column is her shushing power.

But an obvious weakness? Her poor eyesight. Ahhh, the bane of almost every librarian. 😉 But I kind of loved how she didn’t wear glasses on a lanyard, but instead carried the horn-rimmed spectacles around on a stick, like they were opera glasses, or like a masque at a fancy ball. YES.

Side note:  The end credits featured rookie cards for each monster, and I was so wishing there had been one for the librarian. Like when she retired, she became the resident scarer at the university library. She WAS scary, so she was fulfilling her monstrous destiny.

I also liked how she unfolded herself from the desk; at first glance, she may look meek and small, but when angered, she turns out to be almost as big as the library! Also, her tentacles make her the best shelver EVER. 😉

The only downer for me was that while the challenge seemed to be about who could be the quietest, it turned out to be a challenge for who was able to not get caught. SIGH. Mayyyyyyybe not such a great lesson in the end. The ends do not always justify the means.

Fun tidbits about the Monsters University library and librarian:

  • The library is on the main quad, perpendicular to the School of Scaring (click here for a map of MU)
  • There are 89,000 books in the MU Library (click here for “MU At a Glance“)
  • The Monsters, Inc. wiki lists one of the librarian’s enemies as “People making loud noises in the library”
  • The librarian is a cephalopod, with six tentacles (Pixar Wiki)
  • To me, the librarian looks like a cross between Roz from Monsters, Inc. and Ursula from The Little Mermaid.

And, parting quote, courtesy of Mike:

“What are you afraid of? You just angered a 40-foot librarian!”

😉


Sources used:


‘Waitress!’ Librarian! Action!

“I feel violated.”

You know by the exclamation point in the title that this is a classy movie, right?! Oh, how I wish that were true. Actually, that’s not true. I did not enjoy this movie, not even for the camp factor of a raunchy comedy as only the ’80s could make ’em. Waitress! (aka Soup to Nuts, 1981) is a film by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Hertz of Troma Entertainment, the creators of those craptastic “Toxic Avenger” B-movie series. I remember reading a few years ago how “Toxie” keeps intoxicating Cannes (see what I did there?!). This movie even premiered at Cannes in 1981, with its American release over a year later, in September 1982 (hence the discrepancy in release dates).

My Facebook status documenting my personal reaction to this movie? “I feel violated.”

On that positive note ;)… The plot revolves around different young women working as waitresses, including one woman trying to make it as an actress and another trying to make it as a writer in New York City. Both work at the WORST restaurant ever, which was filmed after hours at an actual restaurant in Manhattan called Marty’s (the worst advertising I can think of, really, as the sign is clearly visible throughout the restaurant scenes). The “comedy” bits include sight gags, vaudeville schtick, slapstick comedy, anything to elicit a laugh… or a groan. There are also tons of cameos and bit parts, including Chris Noth (!) and Anthony John Denison, who plays Lt. Flynn on The Closer TV series.

Almost a half-hour into the film, Jennifer (Carol Bevar), the girl who wants to be a writer, goes to the library to follow the advice of a teen magazine article on how to find guys. The narration illuminates her mission:

Remember, the mature teen goes for a man with a mind not just a body. Do some browsing at the public library. That’s where you’ll find your cosmopolitan intellectual.

Quiet! This is a library in Waitress!
Quiet! This is a library

She immediately heads on over to the wall o’ card catalogs, and meets a boy with a finger up his nose. (NOT kidding, see below). There’s your typical “cosmopolitan intellectual” at the library, eh? Sigh.

Nose-picking in the library in Waitress!
Nose-picking in the library? Don’t touch that card catalog with that finger!

Jennifer starts asking him questions, which irritates the guy — until the light bulb comes on — and he asks if she’s making a pass at him. “I can’t believe it! I’ve never had a lady come up to me before!” Of course, all of this highly excitable babbling occurs right underneath the sign atop the card catalog, with “QUIET” in huge black letters (see above). He’s so loud that the other patrons start shushing him and telling him to be quiet, and we see Jennifer booking it out of there (I am on fire with the puns today!). And you guessed it… here comes the librarian, played by Lola Ross.

Reel librarian to the rescue! in Waitress!
Reel librarian to the rescue!

Librarian:  Young man , you should be more quiet.

Dorky guy: I know, I’m just very happy. This young lady she just made a pass at me.

Librarian:  What young lady? [puts on huge glasses handing on a lanyard and pokes his shoulder with her pencil]

Dorky guy:  What do you mean what young lady? This young lady. Oh my god, I’ve lost her! Wait!

And turning in panic, the guy runs into a book cart (supplied by the librarian, no doubt), flips over it in spectacular gymnastic fashion, then runs straight into another patron. He scampers off as the librarian puts a hand to her chest. This is obviously the most excitement she’s seen in the library in a long time!

Props in the library in Waitress!
Props in the library

So Jennifer the wannabe writer was NOT successful in finding a cosmopolitan intellectual guy at the library. Sigh.

And Lola Ross, the actress playing the librarian — in stereotypically buttoned-up, lanyard-wearing fashion — looked so similar to the librarian in The Last American Virgin (1982) that I had to look both movies up again. Don’t they look similar at first glance, right down to the extreme winged collars?

The Last American Virgin:

Waitress!:

Librarian from Waitress!
Librarian from Waitress!

As the librarian character is used to contrast with the younger woman and to set up the slapstick comedy in this scene, I would argue she best fulfills a combination of the Spinster Librarian and Comic Relief character types. She, her lanyard, and her pencil also join the other librarians in bit part roles over in the Class IV listing of films.

Below are the opening credits, which is pretty much all you EVER need to watch from Waitress! (1981):

“Song “Dancin’ Tonight” from the movie “Waitress!” (1982)” video uploaded by kot347 is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Sources used:


  • Waitress! Dir. Michael Herz, Lloyd Kaufman. Perf. Jim Harris, Carol Drake, Carol Bevar. Troma Entertainment, 1981.

‘The Last American Virgin’ librarian

Like this movie, the school librarian herself is a time capsule.

When I noticed that The Last American Virgin (1982) was available for free on our Video-on-Demand list, I told my husband that we had to watch it because it was on my Master List. Can you guess his reaction?

“Is the librarian the title character?”

I should have seen that one coming. (Sigh.) 😉

So who IS the last American virgin of this film? That would be Gary (Lawrence Monoson), the main character in this quintessentially ’80s movie. It’s like a walking, talking time capsule. The music, the clothes, the hair, the makeup, the naivety. The plot is almost interchangeable with the cult classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which was released the same year as this film —  teenagers trying to have sex and then dealing with the consequences. Half of the time, I felt the movie nailed (tee hee) the awkwardness of teenage life, and half the time I was shouting at the screen, “Who ARE these people?”

Anyways… a little over an hour into the movie, the main characters finally visit the school library, where everybody seems to be hanging out right before the Christmas holidays. What’s the attraction? Certainly not the warm, fuzzy feeling you get from this “LIBRARY CLOSED!!” sign hanging on the door (see right). This is our first shot of the school library (!), and Sam and I spent waaaay too much time deciphering this sign. We finally figured out it was a drawing of the library doors locked up, with a bomb and some kind of hammer or axe trying to break through.

Library sign in The Last American Virgin
Library Closed!! Because without the second exclamation point, students wouldn’t know we mean business.

We hear the school librarian before we see her. Again, the recurring theme is all about service.

Next time, bring that book on time if you don’t want to pay a fine. We charge for every day overdue.

Gary then asks the librarian (played by Blanche Rubin, who gets listed right above “Soda Jerk” in the credits) a question.

Reference interview in The Last American Virgin
That Christmas tree on the counter is the saddest thing since Charlie Brown’s Christmas special.

You can bet there’s no welcoming chit-chat at this library counter.

Gary:  Do you have the October Consumer Reports?

Librarian:  What year?

Gary:  1980.

Librarian:  I’ll look. [turns to open up a card catalog drawer behind the desk]

Gary then spies one of his best friends, Rick (Steven Antin), who’s busy being a douchebag to the main love interest, Karen (Diane Franklin). No spoilers here; let’s just skip the plot and get straight to the money shot. That lovely wooden card catalog in the background is such a scene-stealer, right? Ohhhhh, yeah. 😉

Card catalog sighting in The Last American Virgin
Stop looking at that card catalog and listen to me!

So, the two friends get into a loud argument (in the shot above, do you see the guy on the left giving them the evil eye?) and gasp! start a fist fight in the library. The librarian is SHOCKED! Let’s check out her reactions:

First comes surprise…

Reel librarian facial expression in The Last American Virgin
Reel librarian facial expression in The Last American Virgin

… then comes anger!

Librarian facial expression from The Last American Virgin

Never moving from her counter, she slams her fist on the counter and shouts out:

Stop it! I will not have that in here!

Then she pulls out the big guns:

Get out of here! I will call the principal if you don’t get out of here!

Apparently, the librarian is shouting at Gary specifically, and as he slams the door on his way out, we hear an extra-loud “Oh!” from her. (Maybe she was worried the LIBRARY CLOSED!! sign would fall off.) So we get to hear the librarian coming and going.

The library scenes are quite brief, lasting only about 3 minutes total. But due to those priceless reaction shots, she makes it into the Class III category. And as her scenes both begin and end with an emphasis on rules — and rule-breaking — she exemplifies the Spinster Librarian type. And let’s face it, she’s pretty dowdy in that drab outfit. My husband made an astute observation that the top might have been considered fashionable… like 20 years prior! Like this movie, the school librarian herself is a time capsule. Secondarily, she also serves as an Information Provider.

The school scenes were filmed at Birmingham High School (now known as the Birmingham Community Charter High School), which has starred in several films, TV shows, and music videos. I’m going to assume the school library scenes were also part of the high school.

Throughout the short scene, we get to see quite a few wide shots of the library interior, even during the fight.

School library in The Last American Virgin
Fight in the school library! in The Last American Virgin
Fight in the school library!

This movie, generic plot and all, is actually a remake of a popular 1978 Israeli film called Eskimo Limon (aka Lemon Popsicle), which itself spawned 8 sequels. Seems there’s a lot of fondness out there for The Last American Virgin.

Below is the original theatrical trailer, which includes a flash of the library fight!

The Last American Virgin (1982) Trailer” video uploaded by Tina85ok is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Sources used:


Out of the habit

Reel librarians who echo religious figures

Continuing the theme of deeper representation (click here and here), some reel librarians cinematically echo religious figures, such as the nun or monk. This correlation is most obvious in the film The Name of the Rose (1986), in which the librarians are LITERALLY monks, but less direct examples also exist. Reel depictions of nuns and monks tend to go medieval on us, focusing on celibacy (or at the very least, self-restraint of the “sins of the flesh”), hidden or conservative views, and power over knowledge (or access to that knowledge), usually of a secret or mystical nature.

Note:  I am NOT passing judgment on clergy folk, librarians, or those who are both, mmmkay? So don’t shoot the messenger. Or friendly librarian blogger. 🙂

The above qualities are most widely seen in the Spinster Librarian or the Anti-Social Librarian character types. Philadelphia (1993), In the Name of the Father (1993), and Sophie’s Choice (1982) all include librarians who hoard knowledge, although that knowledge is of a secular, not mystical, nature. Hidden views? Look no further than Soylent Green (1973) or Homicide (1991).

Citizen Kane (1941) features the strongest modern image of the librarian as representative of the nun/monk figure (although Lindgren in 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo comes a close second). Miss Anderson (Georgia Backus) appears as an undesirable — and therefore undoubtedly single — woman unwilling, or at the very least reluctant, to share information from the library with a reporter. Her severe suit and helmet of hair (perfectly silhouetted in the clip below) function as a modern update of the nun robes and habit. She embodies the hoarding of knowledge; the conservative dress and demeanor — wearing both as a costume or uniform; as well as the stripped-away sexuality (in her case, celibacy probably is self-imposed). Unwilling to yield to prying eyes or questions that might upset the world she controls, Miss Anderson cinematically represents the image of the (stereotypical) nun in a secular society.

Citizen.Kane.(1941).WMV” video uploaded by deanxavier is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Sources used:


  • Citizen Kane. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Ruth Warrick, Alan Ladd. RKO, 1941.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård. Columbia, 2011.
  • Homicide. Dir. David Mamet. Perf. Joe Mantegna, William H. Macy and Vincent Guastaferro. Triumph Releasing Corp., 1991.
  • In the Name of the Father. Dir. Jim Sheridan. Perf. Daniel Day-Lewis, Emma Thompson, Pete Postelthwaite. Universal, 1993.
  • The Name of the Rose. Dir. Jean-Jacques Annaud. Perf. Sean Connery, Christian Slater, F. Murray Abraham, Ron Perlman. 20th Century Fox, 1986.
  • Philadelphia. Dir. Jonathan Demme. Perf. Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Jason Robards, Joanne Woodward, Antonio Banderas, Mary Steenburgen. TriStar, 1993.
  • Sophie’s Choice. Dir. Alan J. Pakula. Perf. Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Peter MacNicol. Universal, 1982.
  • Soylent Green. Dir. Richard Fleischer. Perf. Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young, Edward G. Robinson, Brock Peters, Joseph Cotton. MGM, 1973.

Between perfect order and perfect chaos

Why are reel librarians so often portrayed with anal-retentive qualities?

Does “anal-retentive” have a hyphen? (Yes, usually, but it depends — probably on whether you’re British or American, as the Oxford English Dictionary does not include a hyphen, whilst Merriam Webster does, see below). But that’s not the point… or is it? 😉

Merriam Webster's definition of "anal-retentive"
Merriam Webster’s definition of “anal-retentive”

Having watched this week the most recent David Cronenberg film, A Dangerous Method (2011) — all about Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, Sabina Spielrein, and the early years of establishing psychology as a science — it felt like a good time to explore more into why reel librarians are so often portrayed with anal-retentive qualities.

I’ve touched on this subject before, including this post about Myers-Briggs types of real librarians, the librarian as nightmare image, as well as in my explorations of the Spinster Librarian and Anti-Social Librarian character types. And please note that I’m talking here about broader archetypes and stereotypical characteristics; I’m not making a critical judgment on the profession in general or commenting on any specific person.

There are many kinds of onscreen tension lurking behind the cinematic portrayals of librarians (power struggles, battle for knowledge vs. battle between the sexes, etc.). One such tension is anal-retentiveness, a trait that shows up quite often in film portrayals of librarians, usually in smaller roles. Examples of anal-retentive behavior include loudly shushing any noisemakers in a library (City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold, 1994, see below); expressing anxiety when a book is late or damaged (as parodied in UHF, 1989); and showing reluctance to check any books out, thereby hoarding knowledge (for a most extreme example, see The Name of the Rose, 1986).

Shushing Lady in City Slickers II
Shushing Lady in City Slickers II

Poor social skills also show up in conjunction with these characteristics, which seem to be rooted in the conflict or tension between order and chaos. In their 1997 article “Power, Knowledge, and Fear:  Feminism, Foucault, and the Stereotype of the Female Librarian,” the Radfords have noted that libraries, and thus librarians, are “structured by the values of order, control, and suppression” (p. 255). Studying cataloging and organizational systems is standard practice for librarians, and shelving, carding, and stamping materials become essential in any well-organized library (see my post on library qualifications and job duties). It is this want — this need — of an organized system of resources that makes it easy, or at least manageable, for any user to find a resource he/she wants in a library’s system.

Mary (Parker Posey) in Party Girl (1995) throws a funny light on the serious business of shelving when she yells at a patron for randomly shelving a book.  “Let’s put the book any damn place we want!”

The librarian is also charged with compiling the most complete collection he/she possibly can — whether that means digital or print resources — that reflects the community that library serves. But that collection can NEVER be complete, because users continuously check out those materials — thereby “disrupting” that so-called perfect harmony of the complete and ordered collection. Thus, cinematically, the librarian often displays characteristics of an uptight, sheltered, and, at times, almost manic personality in order to eliminate, sometimes at all costs, the potential disruption of stability. In The Name of the Rose (1986), abbey librarian Malachia strives to hoard the books in the abbey’s library. However, “it is this knowledge, rather than the texts themselves, that is so fanatically protected by the monks” (Radford and Radford, p. 257), leading to murder, arson, and chaos — or freedom, depending on whether you root for Malachia or not.

This tension between order and chaos felt by librarians (who want to protect the materials and their organizational order) and the users (who strive for knowledge by borrowing or accessing those materials) finds itself depicted in many screen portrayals of librarians. This tension is not gender-driven, however; both male and female librarians are depicted onscreen as people who are “obsessed with the order that rationality demands of them” (Radford and Radford, p. 261). Among others, Miss Anderson in Citizen Kane (1941), the librarian played by John Rothman in Sophie’s Choice (1982), and Elvia Allman in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) all exhibit the hypertension caused (or created?) by the inherent conflict between perfect order and perfect chaos.

What do you think? If you’re a fellow librarian, have you been able to find a personal balance between order and chaos? Or, like the question about the hypen in “anal-rententive” that started us off, does it even matter in the end? (Hee hee.) 😉

And now for something not-so-completely-different… the patented shushing super power from the librarian action figure.

Librarian Action Figure from Archie McPhee” video uploaded by Archie McPhee is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Sources used:


  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Dir. Blake Edwards. Perf. Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Mickey Rooney, Patricia Neal. Paramount, 1961.
  • Citizen Kane. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Ruth Warrick, Alan Ladd. RKO, 1941.
  • City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold. Dir. Paul Weiland. Perf. Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, Jon Lovitz, Jack Palance. Castle Rock Entertainment/Warner Home Video, 1994.
  • The Name of the Rose. Dir. Jean-Jacques Annaud. Perf. Sean Connery, Christian Slater, F. Murray Abraham, Ron Perlman. 20th Century Fox, 1986.
  • Party Girl. Dir. Daisy von Scherler Mayer. Perf. Parker Posey, Sasha von Scherler, Guillermo Diaz, Liev Schreiber. First Look, 1995.
  • Radford, Marie L., and Gary P. Radford. “Power, Knowledge, and Fear: Feminism, Foucault, and the Stereotype of the Female Librarian.” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy 67.3 (July 1997): 250-266.
  • Sophie’s Choice. Dir. Alan J. Pakula. Perf. Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Peter MacNicol. Universal, 1982.
  • UHF. Dir. Jay Levey. Perf. Weird Al Yankovic, Victoria Jackson, Kevin McCarthy, Michael Richards. Orion, 1989.