A ‘disappear’-ing reel librarian

“I am a part-time librarian out in Westport, so… I have that going for me.”

I had heard good things about the 2014 film The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, when it premiered two different versions, Him and Her, at the Toronto Film Festival. I was intrigued by the concept: the two versions of the film reflect different perspectives of a married couple, played by the always excellent Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy, as they struggle to cope emotionally after a traumatic experience. The writer/director, Ned Benson, then did a third version (!) combining the two perspectives, entitled Them. I had never gotten around to watching the film(s), but then I picked up a copy I spied at our local public library.

Here’s a trailer for the film:

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby TRAILER 1 (2014) – Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy Movie HD” video uploaded by Movieclips Coming Soon is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

My husband and I were planning on just watching the combined version, Them, when surprise! Eleanor’s sister, Katy, played by Jessica Chastain’s real-life friend Jess Weixler, turns out to be working at a public library! You know what that meant… I had to watch all 3 versions! Fortunately, each film is distinctly different, albeit with a few overlapping scenes, and it is collectively an impressive artistic achievement for all involved.

Therefore, I have structured this post starting first with Them, and then I will delve into the Him and Her versions to see what else we glean about Katy’s character and backstory.

*POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERTS THROUGHOUT*


Them:


This combined version is 2 hours long, and we don’t find out until 1 hour and 19 minutes into the film that Eleanor’s sister Katy works at the library!

So let’s back up to when we first see Katy in the film, which is within the first few minutes. After a suicide attempt, Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) is in the hospital, and Katy comes to pick her up. She hugs her, quickly establishing the warm, caring relationship between the two sisters.

The two sisters, Katy and Eleanor, hug in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014)
The two sisters, Katy and Eleanor, hug in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014)

Katy, who lives at home with their parents and her young son, then brings Eleanor back home. The brief scenes of Eleanor’s family welcoming her home further establish how much Eleanor is loved by her family. She also has a good relationship with her nephew, and it’s sweet to witness how Katy gently corrects her son’s grammar and language and calls him “Lovey.”

Eleanor's family in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014)
Eleanor’s family in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014)

Of course, not all is sunshine and roses, as Eleanor works through her depression. Her father, played by William Hurt, is a psychology professor, and he brings the head of the department home one day, in hopes of helping his daughter. Eleanor does not respond well to this idea. Katy is right beside her sister in these scenes, coming across almost like her sister’s protector and bodyguard.

Katy also gives Lindy Booth in the TV movie The Twelve Trees of Christmas a run for the title of “most adorable reel librarian ever,” as evidenced by facial expressions like the one below when she admits to having a date with a dentist.

An adorable facial expression from Katy, played by Jess Weixler
An adorable facial expression from Katy, played by Jess Weixler

Fifty minutes into the film, Katy is getting ready for her date, and she admits to feeling fat. She’s trying on a sheath dress, and her sister helps her smooth out the dress over her Spanx underwear. How many other times do we see reel librarians in their underwear?! Of course, we don’t know yet watching this version of the film that she is a librarian…

A reel librarian in her Spanx underwear, trying on outfits for a date
A reel librarian in her Spanx underwear, trying on outfits for a date

A few minutes later, after she returns home from the date, Katy admits that she’s drunk. She giggles after telling her sister, “I could’ve given him a normal kiss good night instead of jamming my tongue down his throat.”

That then lead to a heart-to-heart conversation between sisters, in which Katy admits to being mad at her sister (for attempting suicide):  “You are kind of a selfish bitch. I was really mad at you.”

A heart-to-heart conversation between sisters
A heart-to-heart conversation between sisters

She also reveals that Eleanor’s husband, Conor (James McAvoy), came by the house looking for her. Katy also expresses empathy for Conor and how badly Eleanor has treated him.

Finally, at one hour and 19 minutes into the film, Eleanor surprises Katy at the public library. Katy is shelving magazines — but really reading them instead! 😉 (We’ve all been there.)

Shelving periodicals at the public library
Shelving periodicals at the public library

Eleanor, tapping Katy on the shoulder:  Ma’am?

Katy gasps, turned around:  Yes. [Realizing it’s Eleanor.] You’re a dick.

Katy:  You look like ass. Where were you last night? You want to take a load off?

Periodicals section at the public library
Periodicals section at the public library

[Katy and Eleanor walk to a niche beside a stair’s landing]

Katy:  I come here on breaks. One of the librarians advocates a whole nap philosophy.

Eleanor:  Nap philosophy?

Katy:  Yeah, naps throughout the day, like, help with productivity and stuff. If you.. want to read this. [hands her a magazine] What?

Eleanor:  I was hoping you could read my mind.

The two sisters take a break in the library
The two sisters take a break in the library

Katy:  Wouldn’t that be nice?

Eleanor:  You want to do something stupid this weekend?

Katy:  Yeah. I’m the queen of doing something stupid. What are you thinking?

Eleanor:  Get bent, take a train to the city, save the world.

Katy:  When did you become an idealist?

Eleanor:  A couple of seconds ago.

Katy:  I have a date with the dentist this weekend… I should get back to work. I’ll come wake you up in a little bit.

Periodicals closeup
Periodicals closeup

Side note:  I laughed out loud at how the magazines were placed on the periodical shelves, which you can see better in the closeup above of Katy. I am very familiar with that kind of magazine holder with the red spines, but I have NEVER seen magazines placed on their side like that in a library before. At least, not when there’s enough room to place them upright so that patrons can, you know, READ THE TITLES. Did this film not employ a real librarian consultant? But at least you know they filmed in a real library, because there are call numbers on the spines of the books!

Eleanor and Katy then go to a club, along with Katy’s dentist date, and they have fun dancing together. They both admit they feel old, which is a charming bit.

A reel librarian dances in a club scene
A reel librarian dances in a club scene

Eleanor starts kissing another guy while Katy looks on in concern, and we don’t see Katy again until almost the very end of the film, when she drives Eleanor to their airport.

Katy drives Eleanor to the airport near the end of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014)
Katy drives Eleanor to the airport near the end of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014)

Him:


This version of the film is an hour and a half long. We never get to see Katy in this version, as she and Conor never have any scenes together. This version should be subtitled The Disappearance of the Reel Librarian, right?! 😉

However, we do get many more scenes with Ciarán Hinds, who plays Conor’s father. That almost makes up for the lack of Jess Weixler in this version.

Her:

This version of the film is an hour and 40 minutes, and we get many more details and backstory about Katy. Many scenes we see in the Them version that feature Kay are also extended in the Her version.


Extended scene in the car:


Even though Katy is the younger sister, it’s obvious that she’s very protective and motherly toward Eleanor. When she picks her up at the hospital, the scene continues to them getting into Katy’s car. Katy attempts to buckle her seatbelt for her, as Eleanor’s arm is in a sling, but Eleanor isn’t having any of it.

Sisters Eleanor and Katy in an early scene from The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014)
Sisters Eleanor and Katy in an early scene from The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014)

New scene in the bathroom:


A few minutes later, at 17 minutes into the film, Katy is washing her sister’s hair in the bathtub. I think this is the first scene I’ve ever seen in which a reel librarian is washing someone’s hair! This scene also reveals that Katy works at the library. (Remember, we don’t find out that fact in the Them version until well over an hour!)

Katy is trying to convince Eleanor to come with her to Charlie’s, a mutual friend, because “it would be good” for her to get out and be social after her depression.

Katy washes Eleanor's hair
Katy washes Eleanor’s hair

Katy:  Ok, there was an article.

Eleanor:  Oh my god, you’ve been reading stupid shit online again.

Katy:  Yeah. But there was something in Psychology Today that I saw at the library, and you should take a look at it. I’m managing the periodicals. I’ll give you a copy.


New scene at a friend’s place:


The next scene then takes place at Charlie’s place, where we get many more details about Katy, including the fact that she used to be an actress. We also see Katy dressed in a casual outfit of sandals and a floral romper. (!!!)

Reel librarian Katy in a floral romper
Reel librarian Katy in a floral romper

Charlie:  What have you been up to, Katy?

Katy:  Um, what do you mean?

Charlie:  I mean, what have you been up to?

Katy:  Well… Philip, uh, is going into the second grade. And… he’s about to be eight. I’m also studying to take the LSAT. And I am a part-time librarian out in Westport, so… I have that going for me.

Charlie:  No more with the acting?

Katy:  No, I mean… life just… kind of put a damper on it.

Charlie:  Whatever happened to dreams?


Extended scene at the house:


At 30 minutes into the film, we get an extended scene of when Eleanor’s father brings home the chair of his psychology department. Katy literally blocks her sister from storming out of the house, and they get into a fight. In the Them version, it comes off like Katy is protecting her sister from their dad’s interference; in the Her version, we understand that Katy is physically making sure her sister doesn’t run away again!

Eleanor:  I will bite you!

Katy:  I will bite you back!

Sisters Katy and Eleanor get into a fight
Sisters Katy and Eleanor get into a fight

Extended scene getting ready for a date:


The next scene is an extension of the scene in the Them version, in which Katy gets ready for her big date. We learn more about her acting career and her life as a single mom.

Katy:  Oh fuck, I don’t understand why this asshole walked into my library. … We’re just going to pretend to be interested in each other over cheap cabernet, and he’s gonna, like, ask me all the same stupid questions that they ask about Philip, like who the dad is, and then look at me like I’m half a moron for the choices that I’ve made. You know, it was easier when I was an actress, because I could just fuck my co-stars, but this real-life, pseudo-adult crap sucks my ass.

Katy [to Eleanor]:  You were always who you were gonna be, I mean, like a woman. I always… wasn’t yet.

At this personal confession, the two sisters embrace again. Their relationship is such a special one, and it’s enjoyable to see on screen a variety of love stories, including the love between sisters.

Two sisters embrace
Two sisters embrace

Same scene in the library:


Interestingly, the scene in the library featured in the Them version is the same as in the Her version. I wasn’t expecting that! I guess I was expecting the library scene to be longer in this version.

Altogether, in Her, we get 3 extended scenes featuring reel librarian Katy — 2 of which reveal more details about working in the library — as well as 2 additional scenes unique to this version.


Extra features and interviews:


One of the special features on the DVD was an interview with Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy. In the interview, Chastain revealed that she and Jess Weixler were best friends and roommates while attending Julliard drama school and were in every play together. After graduation, they never got to work together again, until this film, which Chastain also helped produce.

Jess Weixler also talks more about this, and her role in the film, in a 3-part series of interviews with Multiplex, which you can watch online here.


Reel librarian role and purpose:


So after considering all three versions of this story, what was the purpose of Eleanor’s sister Katy being a reel librarian? It is interesting to note that it is only the Her version that reveals what Katy used to do, and how Katy feels like her life has led to her making different decisions. And what’s more different from an actress than a librarian?! 🙂

There is an element of bemusement that she works in a library, even as it’s obvious that her work is rubbing off on her. This is evident by how she mentions an article she read in Psychology Today, and by the fact that she’s been promoted to managing the periodicals. But even in the Them version, it never feels like Katy is dedicated to the library; rather, it feels apparent that working in a library is a temporary gig. Katy reveals this in the scene at Charlie’s, in which she says she will be going for her LSATs (the entry exam to study law).

Sisters Katy and Eleanor in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014)
Sisters Katy and Eleanor in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014)

Katy is a supporting character, one step removed from the leads, and is seen in several significant scenes in the Them and Her versions of the film. She gets the most screen time in the Her version, of course, and overall, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby winds up in the Class III category of films featuring reel librarians.

So what is Katy’s role in the collective films? There are elements of the Spirited Young Girl to her character: namely, that she is a younger woman and has no intention of working long-term in the library. She also reveals that she feels like she’s never grown up and is still figuring out what she wants to do with her life.

Ultimately, however, I feel that her character — at least in the Her version — winds up as an Atypical Portrayal, in which the reel librarian portrayals go beyond stereotypical constraints. Katy is certainly intelligent, as well as funny and fun-loving, and we see her interact with warmth and kindness with her son, sister, and parents. We also get to see the ballsy side of Katy, like when she fights with her sister. We also see her sweet, goofy side, like when she gets butterflies before her date, and how she dances and admits to feeling old at the club. We also hear Katy curse quite a bit!

In short, we get to enjoy a well-rounded character, one who is a woman first, and a librarian second.


Have you seen any version of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby? If not, are you interested in watching one or more — or all! — versions? Please leave a comment and share. 🙂


Sources used:


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The librarian in ‘The Attic’

“Being a head librarian is not my idea of a lifetime career.”

Continuing our October list of scary films featuring reel librarians… next up is The Attic (1980), starring Carrie Snodgress as jilted librarian Louise Elmore. The film is tagged in IMDB.com as a thriller or horror film, but it’s really more of a suspenseful drama. The original trailer makes it seem waaaaaay scarier than it actually is:

The Attic (1980) – Original Theatrical Trailer” video uploaded by Ryan Clark is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

It’s a strange film, in more ways than one. (MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS throughout.)

This plot summary from IMDB.com hints at the crazy:

Woman librarian devotes life to caring for wheelchair-bound tyrannical father after being stood up at altar. She fantasizes his death and finds joy only with her pet monkey.

This film also extends the storyline of the librarian and her father, two characters featured in The Killing Kind (1973), written by the same screenwriters as The Attic (1980). Neither film was a hit at the box office, and the roles in the earlier film were played by different actors.

The attic — the title of the whole shebang — is also never actually mentioned in the film, and not even seen until the last few minutes. Decidedly odd.

Even though the main character, Louise, is a librarian, the ultimate message is NOT uplifting. Like I said, SPOILER! After watching the film, my husband’s reaction summed it up perfectly:

That was depressing as hell. Based on this film, being a librarian must suck.

Let’s break it down as the reel librarian also breaks down:

The film opens with Louise crying over old home movies of her ex-fiance, and the camera pans over an overflowing collection of stuffed animal monkeys before settling on a closeup of her slashed, bloody wrists. Carrie Snodgress, nominated for Best Actress for 1970’s Diary of a Mad Housewife, really gives it her all in a pretty thankless role.

Screenshot from The Attic
Memories…

The next shot provides another closeup of her wrists, this time bandaged and back to stamping books in the library. This extended scene set in the library introduces several more reel librarians, including a young female librarian, Emily (Ruth Cox), and a male library assistant, Donald (Terry Troutt), who is shelving books as they close up for the day. The scene also uses two older, gossipy ladies to provide background to the plot. One older lady is checking out books from the front counter and notices the bandages on Louise’s hands.

The other lady is busy gossiping to Emily by the card catalog — in full earshot of Louise! — and we learn that Emily has been hired to replace Louise as the head librarian. Louise is retiring, and the older lady insinuates that they’re pushing her out because of a recent, accidental fire in the library. She also links this current fire to a past fire that caused the paralysis of Louise’s father. Hmmmmm…..

Screenshot from The Attic
Reel librarians in The Attic

Emily, as seen above on the left, is definitely a Spirited Young Girl character type — young, stylish, intelligent, and views working in the library as just a job. Her reaction to her new position?

I like it here. Beats being a college librarian.

Being a head librarian is not my idea of a lifetime career.

As Louise, Carrie Snodgress — only 33 herself at the time of filming! — is playing a character who can’t be more than 40 years old. We learn that she has worked in the library for 19 years, which is how long ago her fiance disappeared. Louise is also quite attractive and wears modern, stylish clothing. She also wears her long hair in different styles current for that time period, but her hair seems artificially greyed-out. Being that young an age for retiring does seem suspicious. We also hear the older lady gossip about Louise “in her intoxicated condition.” That is definitely one thing the older lady was right on target about:

Screenshot from The Attic
Drinking in the library!

The friendship between Louise and Emily is also evident early on, as Louise remarks, “I was prepared to hate you, replacing me and all. Instead, you have become my friend.”

And they do become friends, and enjoy several scenes together in the film. Louise and Emily bond over respective, overbearing parents:  Louise’s father vs. Emily’s mother. Emily invites Louise over for dinner as well as for a bike ride to talk over personal issues; Emily wants to go to California to be with her boyfriend, but feels guilty about leaving her younger brother alone with her overbearing mother. Louise keeps urging Emily to seek happiness when she can, to avoid the fate she herself has endured. The film directors, George Edwards and Gary Graver, enjoy visually contrasting the two librarians, including shots that reflect similar wardrobe choices or body positions:

Screenshot from The Attic
Reel librarians meeting outside the library
Screenshot from The Attic
Making friends
Screenshot from The Attic
Librarians celebrating!

Due to a lifetime of criticism from her wheelchair-bound father (Ray Milland in a deliciously cheesy role), Louise has no sense of herself — or doesn’t want to face the truth about herself. She says she’s not much of a drinker, yet is shown drinking in repeated shots throughout the film. She talks about her fiance, Robert, as if he just left — and that was over 19 years ago! She professes to dislike her job — more on that below — yet obviously takes pride in being thorough, as seen when she straightens up the library at the end of the day.

Her account of the library fire, however, is quite disturbing, as is her state of mind leading up to the fire:

Have you ever been seized by a mood of despondency? Sometimes, I feel that I’m in the grip of a huge vise that seems to render me incapable of thought, of movement … Wouldn’t you [feel like that]? If they put you out to pasture, like an old mare.

The books were my enemy. Destroy them, before they destroy you, a voice whispered to me. It felt so wonderful, to see all those books going up in flames. I’d won the battle!

I would do it all over again.

Screenshot from The Attic
Librarian hallucinations

It was interesting that I found myself reminded of so many other films while watching The Attic, including:

  • A scene in which Louise fantasizes about taking a trip, her reflected image superimposed on a poster for Hawaii. This reminded me of the 1932 film Forbidden, in which a spinster librarian (Barbara Stanwyck) quits her job and heads off to Havana with her life savings.
  • The library fire scene made me think of Storm Center (1956), starring another aging librarian (Bette Davis) that others are trying to force out — but because she’s defending the right to keep the books on the shelves rather than burning the library down.
  • In the scene in which Louise and Emily stop outside the pet shop, I was reminded of the pet shop scene in Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963). Emily buys a chimp for Louise — huh? — while in The Birds, Tippi Hedren makes a similar impulse purchase on a pair of lovebirds.
  • In the scene where Louise goes to the movies, the character on screen makes a reference to “Norman Bates,” the main character in Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho — another film featuring a lead character who has psychological problems due to a domineering parent.
  • Also in the movie scene, Louise meets a sailor and goes to his hotel room, pretending he’s her ex-fiance while they have sex. I was reminded of the scenes in Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964), in which Marnie’s adolescent psyche is severely damaged by her domineering mother’s tryst with a sailor.

As Louise is the main character of this film, we are treated to several scenes outside the library, including scenes of home life, a rarity for reel librarians. For example, we see Louise masturbating in bed; having dinner with her father (and then fantasizing about poisoning his drink!); getting dressed in the morning; and brushing her teeth.

Screenshot from The Attic
A reel librarian’s home routine

Two major scenes later in the film also reveal a lot about Louise’s character and her relationship with Emily. The first is the dinner scene with Emily and her mother, who asks about Louise’s job:

Mrs. Fowler:  I understand you’ve been a librarian for … 19 years?

Louise:  Yes. You make it sound so dreadfully long.

Mrs. Fowler:  I wish Emily would settle down to a steady job like that. She’s had three employers since she left college. … Maybe you can hold on to this new position.

Louise:  I wish that I had had the good sense to try some other jobs when I was young. I might not have been a librarian.

Mrs. Fowler:  It’s a perfectly respectable job.

Louise:  Respectable, yes. And often boring.

Mrs. Fowler:  A job is what you make of it.

I know that Mrs. Fowler, Emily’s mother, is described repeatedly as domineering and overbearing. But I have to say, from my personal perspective of being a librarian, I think Mrs. Fowler makes a lot of sense here! If you love being a librarian, then it is NEVER boring.

The other major scene is Louise’s retirement party, in which we meet a fourth, and final, reel librarian:  an older lady librarian played by actress Frances Bay. The four are toasting Louise with champagne — which is ok, because they’ve locked the doors. No one will see they’re — GASP! — drinking in the library. The older librarian, focusing on the rules, fulfills the Spinster Librarian role, whereas the socially awkward male library worker rounds out the group as the Anti-Social Librarian character type.

Screenshot from The Attic
A reel librarian’s retirement party
Screenshot from The Attic
Reel librarians celebrating

They have bought her a corsage, as well as a cake featuring a woman heading off with a suitcase, as seen below. As the older lady librarian states, “You’ve always wanted to travel, Louise. Nothing to hold you back now. Free as a bird.”

Screenshot from The Attic
Retirement cake

This visually demonstrates how Louise’s main role in the film is as a Liberated Librarian, a trapped/naïve woman who discovers herself — and what she’s capable of — under extreme circumstances. The “liberation” can be positive or negative, and Liberated Librarians are usually major characters with their “liberation” often supplying the main plot. This is all true of Louise’s role in this film. As my husband quipped:

That’s a Liberated Librarian on a cake!

As Louise forges a friendship with Emily — and after, in her own words, “getting laid” by the sailor — Louise begins to assert her independence, in different ways, and defying her father’s influence by putting on lipstick (in public!); keeping the chimp that Emily bought her; visiting her friend — twice! — instead of spending time with her father; and spending her severance pay to buy Emily a plane ticket to California.

This later scene, in which Louise buys Emily the plane ticket, is quite sweet — and unintentionally hiLARious. The older lady librarian delivers the letter (and enclosed plane ticket) to Emily at the library, and after reading it, Emily literally runs out the door — unlike Louise, another contrast between the two. Louise gets a cake with a picture of someone going on an adventure; Emily actually does it.

Older librarian:  Emily? Where are you going?

Emily:  To get married!

The older lady librarian looks up and smiles, with a hopeful (or wistful?) look on her face, as seen below. Ahhhhh, the ghosts of the spinster librarian Mary in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Obviously, being a spinster librarian is the ONLY option if you don’t get married. I’m so glad films like these are here to teach us these valuable life lessons. 😉

At the front counter
At the front counter

We also get treated to this gem after Louise’s retirement party, as she straightens her bow tie and shouts out a farewell speech to the books in the library:

Well, goodbye all you bastards! If I never see you again, it’ll be too soon. It’s time.

And on that uplifting (?!#@!) note, perhaps it’s time to wrap up this post. Here’s a look at the many different sides we see of Louise, a Class I reel librarian:

Collage of reel librarian Louse in The Attic
Collage of reel librarian Louse in The Attic

I won’t give the ending away completely, but let’s just say that the final five minutes finally do reveal the attic referred to in the title. We learn the secrets her father has been keeping all these years, which force Louise to finally face her own fears. The ending is a bit open-ended, but Louise does seem to be spiritually liberated, if not literally liberated. Her final words are, “I loved you, Robert.” Finally, she uses the past tense of the verb, “loved,” a recognition of the past itself.

But what does her future hold?


Sources used:


  • The Attic. Dir. George Edwards & Gary Graver. Perf. Carrie Snodgress, Ray Milland, Ruth Cox. MGM/UA, 1980.
  • The Attic (1980) Plot.” Internet Movie Database, n.d.

Twisted librarian love in ‘Twisted Nerve’

A memorable reel librarian in an otherwise troubled film.

Continuing in our series of scary movies featuring librarians, this week’s feature is Twisted Nerve (1968). SPOILERS AHEAD. Whistling past horror — although there are some close-ups of bloodied bodies and hatchets along the way — this decidedly odd film tries to sell itself as a psychological drama, with a main argument that homicidal/psychopathic tendencies are passed genetically. It also attempts to relate this issue of “twisted nerves” to Down’s Syndrome — referred to as “Mongolism” in this ’60s film — as the main star/villain of the film, Martin (played by Welsh actor Hywel Bennett, who looks like Zac Efron in a bad wig) has a brother with Down’s Syndrome living in a mental institution. Martin himself reverts to a mentally  handicapped personality, “Georgie,” throughout the film.

This (controversial and offensive) link to Down’s Syndrome is so badly pieced together that the filmmakers were forced to add a prologue during post-production, stating “that there is no established, scientific connection between Mongolism and psychotic, or criminal, behavior.”

You’re probably wondering… what in the world is a librarian doing in this film? Enter Hayley Mills as Susan Harper, a lovely young librarian who, in the space of an ill-timed smile, becomes the obsessive target of Martin, who assumes the persona of “Georgie” around Susan in order to gain her trust. Which isn’t very hard to do, because again and again, Susan is shown to be incredibly gullible, naive, and easily manipulated (even blaming herself in one scene for Georgie’s behavior!). It’s a credit to Hayley Mills’ acting skills that she comes across as warm-hearted and intelligent as she does; otherwise, you would just want to scream at the screen constantly about how dumb her actions are. Which, now that I think about it, totally fits the tradition for those watching horror movies, to scream at the young girl who walks into a dark house without telling anyone where she is.

A little over ten minutes into this Class II film, Martin/Georgie embarks upon his obsession by following Susan one morning to the public library, whilst whistling a creepy tune:

Library sign in Twisted Nerve
Don’t look behind you!

Susan is a classic Spirited Young Girl character type:  a young, physically attractive, intelligent, and modern girl who is working temporarily at the library. She’s quite open about working for a teaching degree, and she has a conversation later with her mom about school lasting “only one more year.” And along with Ali McGraw in Love Story (1970), she’s one of the best-dressed reel librarians ever! Behold the blonde-haired cuteness:

Librarian style collage from Twisted Nerve
Librarian style collage

Our first introduction to Susan in a library setting is a classic one; while looking for a book atop a library ladder, two young lads enjoy the view up her (short) skirt.

Looking up the librarian's skirt in Twisted Nerve
Looking up the librarian’s skirt

It’s interesting to compare how the behavior of these two boys comes off as cheeky, while Martin’s behavior as alter ego Georgie — a young boy’s personality stunted in a man’s body — comes off as creepy. In small moments like this, this movie can be quite clever and intriguing.

Susan enjoys a nice moment of readers’ advisory with the boys:

Susan:  Here we are. How about this? [hand them book ]

Boy #1: The Tower of London? Get off. That’s history, isn’t it?

Susan:  That’s bloodthirsty enough, even for you, Johnny.

Boy #2:  Any girls in it?

Susan:  Well, there’s Lady Jane Grey. She gets the chopper.

Boy #2:  I’d rather have Lady Chatterley.

Susan:  I bet you would. But you take this. You’ll like it. I promise you.

Also during the few library scenes throughout the film, we are introduced to the head librarian, Mr. Groom, who is portrayed as a textbook example of the Anti-Social Librarian. Again, so clever to juxtapose this decidedly neurotic reel librarian with the name of “Mr. Groom.” Or maybe they’re hinting he’s horsey? 😉

Head librarian in Twisted Nerve
Library manager in Twisted Nerve, Mr. Groom

In this first library scene, Martin/Georgie gets upset at Susan refusing to go to the cinema with him and starts unbuttoning his shirt in distress. While trying to help him button his shirt back up, Susan manages to then upset Mr. Groom, who rushes over with a stack of books, hissing in a loud stage whisper:

Look, I don’t know whether you are dressing or undressing your friend, but I do wish you wouldn’t do it in the public library.

In a later library scene, Martin/Georgie is waiting in the library for Susan after hours. Of course, this rattles Mr. Groom’s cage, who quickly scuttles over to him to point out the library’s been closed for the last 10 minutes. Martin doesn’t waste any Georgie mannerisms on Mr. Groom; rather, he calls him “Ratface” and later yells at the hapless reel librarian to “Get stuffed!”

Reel librarian in Twisted Nerve
Poor Mr. Groom, he has no idea what he’s in for

After Martin/Georgie has killed a few people, the drama increases as Susan finally starts putting all the pieces together. But even after figuring everything out and returning to an empty house all by herself (insert shouting at the screen!), she gets trapped in the attic in an effectively tense climax scene. The film ends on a plaintive note, as Martin/Georgie continues to call out for, “Susan, Susan.”

A memorable reel librarian in an otherwise troubled film.

Here’s a clip of the whistling scene (later echoed in Kill Bill: Vol. I), and our first glimpse of the public library:

Twisted Nerve whistling scene (better quality)” video uploaded by titanb15 is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Sources used:


  • Twisted Nerve. Dir. Roy Boulting. Perf. Hayley Mills, Hywel Bennett, Billie Whitelaw. Charter Film Productions, 1968.

‘Tale of a’ gothic library

The library as a place means more than the librarians within that place

Full disclosure. I first watched this movie, Tale of a Vampire (1992), back in January. Here was my Facebook status afterwards:

Facebook status about Tale of a Vampire
Facebook status about Tale of a Vampire

That motivation took more than 5 months to come back to me!

And it’s not like the movie is that bad. It is an interesting gothic tale with lots of atmosphere, but both the structure of the story, and underlying motivations of the characters, weaken the film considerably. And while some might call the pace “stately,” for me, it was just SLOW.

There are several scenes set in the library, but I won’t bore you with details of all of them — although I certainly bored myself taking notes on them all!. The only way I could get through this write-up/analysis/whatever-you-want-to-call-it was to break it down into manageable chunks. So here goes:

*SPOILER ALERTS*


What’s it all about?


Anne (Suzanna Hamilton, who looks like a cross between Julia Ormond and Tara Fitzgerald), a woman still recovering from her fiancé’s mysterious death, lands a job at a library specializing in the occult. One of the library’s regulars is Alex (Julian Sands, who plays a tortured romantic soul like no one else), a vampire who believes Anne to be the reincarnation of his lost love. There’s also another mysterious man — there is no other kind in this movie — in a big hat, named Edgar (Kenneth Cranham), who makes up the third in a very bizarre love triangle.


Library atmosphere:


The library is a major set-piece throughout the film, showcased within the first 5 minutes. In fact, there are so many that I started mentally intoning, “Meanwhile, back at the library…” for the countless, back-and-forth establishing shots. The look of the film is all black and orange and shadows.

Reference desk in Tale of a Vampire
Reference desk in Tale of a Vampire

The librarian’s desk — first seen in an aerial shot, like a crow’s view? — is quite messy and ornate (reflecting the library itself), with odd-looking busts and statues and shadow boxes all around. The film begins with a line from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee,” so the bust, seen below, is a nice touch.

Library desk and set in Tale of a Vampire
Silence!

We gets clues about the library throughout the film. Edgar steals some library stationery that has “The Foster Library” stamped along the top. He also describes the library as “fascinating” and later produces a library patron record with the full name, “The Foster Library: Library of Mysticism & the Occult” across the top (see below).

Foster Library card closeup
Foster Library card closeup

Note: I checked, and that doesn’t seem to be a real library in England. There is a Foster Library in Lincolnshire, but it’s all about archives and local history, not the occult.

You know I had to look that up, right? 😉

The library scenes also emphasize the undercurrent tension of rules and restrictions (and secrets?):

  • Books are reference only, and “it took a great deal of persuading to the archive to let [the rare books] go”
  • There’s a prominent “Silence” sign on the librarian’s desk, visible in a screenshot above
  • There are iron bars everywhere — including an iron banister in front of the reference desk, see below — literally closing off sections of the claustrophobic library set
Messy reference desk in Tale of a Vampire
Messy reference desk in Tale of a Vampire

Twinsies:


By this point, I was marveling at how much Anne mirrored the older librarian, Denise (Marian Diamond), but as a younger version. Seriously, take a look at some of these side-by-side shots. Perhaps the film is subtly suggesting what Anne could become without love in her life?

Two reel librarians in Tale of a Vampire
Two reel librarians in Tale of a Vampire
Screenshot from Tale of a Vampire
Twinsies

We see quite a few scenes with Anne shelving, picking up books, writing out cards, more shelving, talking with Denise, etc., but things don’t really seem all that busy. But appearances are deceiving, right? (So meta.) Although there is no mention of Anne’s qualifications, there are several scenes of her reading and talking intelligently about poetry, etc., getting the idea across that she is cultured and educated. But it’s obvious she’s not really into the library, as she checks her watch several times while working and says things like, “I’m not terribly busy at the moment” to patrons. She also says later that “I just needed a job, and it came up, so I took it.”


Poor Denise:


When helping Alex with a rare book at the beginning of the film (see below), Denise lets him know right away how short-staffed they are. Ahhh, how things haven’t changed.

Denise the head librarian in Tale of a Vampire
Poor Denise

When Anna shows up at the library for the job interview — an interview the librarian knew nothing about because Edgar had orchestrated the whole thing — the librarian does not waste any time complaining about the staffing situation.

We are terribly short-staffed. I suppose head office must have sent this [letter] out. Either that or I’m getting even more forgetful than I’d thought. It’s overwork, you know. Actually I’m terribly glad to see you. I’ve been on my own for over a month now, and it’s far too much for a single member of staff.

Short-staffed or not, Denise the Librarian has to deal with a lot of weird stuff. But of course, she also works in a library specializing in the occult, so perhaps it’s to be expected. In one scene almost an hour in, Edgar takes away a periodical from an old man, a long-time user of the library, a man who also has a pet mouse in his pocket. (No, I’m not being metaphorical. See below.)

Screenshot from Tale of a Vampire
The power of periodicals

Here’s how this creepy scene plays out:

Denise:  Excuse me. But could you possibly give it back to him? I’m sorry, but he does get so distressed. If you come over to the magazine rack, I’m sure I could interest you in something equally good.

Edgar:  Thank you. This is what I want. I shan’t be a moment.

Denise:  Look, I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t serious.

Edgar:  Oh, this is a public library, isn’t it? [pretends to read for a few moments, then closes the magazine] There. I said I wouldn’t be long.

[Denise hands the magazine to the old man]

Old man [to Edgar]:  I know who you are. I’ve seen your picture somewhere.

Uh, oh. This inauspicious conversation leads to Denise discovering the old man’s bloodied body in the public restroom. I smell a rat…. oh wait, that’s a mouse. Sorry.

We also get to witness Denise crying over the poor old man, as well as her quite touching concern over Anne’s health. Poor Denise. Odds are good she’ll be short-staffed again soon…


Style vs. substance:


In this kind of film, it seemed to me that the character types didn’t matter all that much. The personality traits were kind of all over the place for every character, and motivation was murky at best. If I had to pin down the reel librarian roles, I would say that Denise served more as an Information Provider than anything else, and Anne fits the Spirited Young Girl type the most. She doesn’t really care about the library (“I just needed a job… and I took it”), and is not afraid to express her personal feelings and thoughts. I would argue she’s not a Liberated Librarian, because she doesn’t really change internally (or externally) throughout the story. Although one of the three major characters, her real role is just to react to everybody else.

Screenshot from Tale of a Vampire
One is the loneliest number…

To me, it seemed like style won over substance overall, and fittingly, the library as a place means more than the librarians within that place. The library serves as a place of information, to be sure, and due to its specialty of the occult, it is a convenient place in this Class I film to connect all the main characters. But this library, however cloistered it appeared, does NOT serve as a safe haven in a harsh, cruel world; in the end, its iron bars cannot hold back secrets or danger or even death.

Screenshot from Tale of a Vampire
Tale of a library

Sources used:


  • Tale of a Vampire. Dir. Shimako Sato. Perf. Julian Sands, Suzanna Hamilton, Kenneth Cranham. Vidmark Entertainment, 1992.

The Spirited Young Girl

Exploring the Spirited Young Girl character type

Continuing our series of reel librarian character types… The Spirited Young Girl is always young, attractive, and intelligent, and often outspoken and independent-minded. These fashionable, modern and physically attractive library workers view their work in the library as a temporary job. Their roles are often used in contrast to older, more conservative librarians (see The Blot, 1921; Racing with the Moon, 1984; Storm Center, 1956; Weird Woman, 1944, among others).

How do they differ from Liberated Librarians? The main difference is that Liberated Librarians undergo a change — personality-wise and/or physically — often comprising the film’s main plot. Spirited Young Girls don’t really change throughout the film. A good example of this is the young public librarian Amelia Griggs in The Blot — it is her steady, sweet personality that influences others, not the other way around.

Claire Windsor in The Blot (public domain)
Claire Windsor in The Blot (public domain)

The characters are usually main characters, but their links to libraries have little or no impact on the story. It makes sense that most of these character types find themselves in the Class II category. As the female leads, there are no unnamed Spirited Young Girls (at least so far that I can find) — they have names like Caddie, Lucy, Jenny, and Mary — but truthfully, the “Spirited Young Girl” moniker could stand in just as well for them on the cast list.

This plucky youngster usually meets the story’s leading man in the library, attracting him with her intelligence and often spunky personality and continuing to impress him outside the library. Three films that exemplify this storyline are Pump Up the Volume (1990), Love Story (1970), and Good News (1947).

In Good News (1947), Connie Lane (June Allyson) works as the assistant librarian to help pay for her schooling. She falls in love with the college football star (Peter Lawford), and they later sing and dance while she closes up the library.

Ali MacGraw as Jenny, the lovely and intense library assistant in the Radcliffe College Library in Love Story, is verbally rebellious, ’70s style — while also clad in so-chic-I-want-her-entire-wardrobe-for-my-own ’70s style. In the opening scene, she ridicules Oliver (Ryan O’Neal), who is charmed nonetheless and invites her out for coffee. As you do.

In Pump Up the Volume, Samantha Mathis plays Nora, a rebellious teen who works behind the counter at the high school library. She also sends letters with sexual content to a renegade DJ, under the alias of “The Eat Me, Beat Me Lady.” See her “meet cute” moment with Christian Slater, below.

Pump Up the Volume (1990) – Mark and Nora in the Library” video uploaded by notebooksoncinema is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Next week we take a look at the Librarian as Failure character type.