Twelve reel lessons learned from ‘The Twelve Trees of Christmas’

I have been wanting to see the Lifetime TV movie The Twelve Trees of Christmas since it came out in 2013, and right before we moved this summer, I was able to watch it on the Lifetime Movie Channel during their “Christmas in July” special marathon. I have been saving this post for Christmas to help celebrate the holidays. And to make it extra special, here are twelve lessons learned from The Twelve Trees of Christmas.

1. The Christmas part of the plot doesn’t really make sense

Here’s how the plot was described on the TV guide channel:

“A children’s librarian tries to save her beloved Manhattan library from being demolished to make way for a developer to build high-rise loft apartments. To generate media attention, she holds a Christmas tree decorating contest.”

The connection between Christmas and the library being demolished is pretty tenuous… it’s best not to pull on that thread too hard. That thread is made of spun sugar. And if you can’t guess the ending, then you don’t know your Lifetime TV movies. The Christmas tree angle shoe-horned into the plot does make, however, for some beautiful set decorations:

Reel Librarians | The Christmas tree display in 'The Twelves Trees of Christmas' (2013, TV)

The Christmas tree display in ‘The Twelves Trees of Christmas’ (2013, TV)

Reel Librarians | Holiday decorations in the library interior from 'The Twelves Trees of Christmas' (2013, TV)

Holiday decorations in the library interior from ‘The Twelves Trees of Christmas’ (2013, TV)

Also, the Christmas part of the movie plot might have been inspired by a real-life Toronto tradition!

When I was researching where this TV movie was filmed (this interview with co-star Mel B. reveals that the film was filmed during summertime in Hamilton, a city in southern Ontario, Canada), I also came across posts about a long-standing tradition in Toronto at the Gardiner Museum. Every year, the museum has a “12 Trees of Christmas” exhibition and theme.

2. The star is a veteran reel librarian

The TV movie stars Lindy Booth as main character and reel librarian Cheri Jameson, and if Booth looks familiar, it’s probably because she also plays a lead role in the The Librarians TV spin-off series. Being typecast as a totally adorable reel librarian? There are worse things in life. 😉

Reel Librarians | Closeup of Lindy Booth as reel librarian Cheri in 'The Twelves Trees of Christmas' (2013, TV)

Closeup of Lindy Booth as reel librarian Cheri in ‘The Twelves Trees of Christmas’ (2013, TV)

3. Lindy Booth is the most adorable reel librarian ever

This is fact, and here is the evidence of Lindy Booth’s adorable facial expressions:

Reel Librarians | Collage of actress Lindy Booth's adorable facial expressions

Collage of actress Lindy Booth’s adorable facial expressions

Her character, Cheri, is also described at one point as “a little bit of a Pollyanna.”

4. Don’t watch this TV movie for tips on how to read a book for storytime

As the movie opens, children’s librarian Cheri is wandering through the library — convenient for us getting a good look at this beautiful old building the library is housed in — and walks up to join a volunteer who is reading a storybook to the children. Cheri finishes the rhymes from memory.

Reel Librarians | How not to read a book at storytime

How not to read a book at storytime

Pro tip:  You don’t read a book like that at storytime hour. Instead, you hold it out to the side with one or two hands so the kids can see the illustrations as you read it aloud. It’s best to combine the aural and visual experience for the children at storytime. Alternatively, you can read the words off the page, and then show the illustrations to the children, but that takes longer.

5. Involve your community and library staff when promoting your library

Within the first five minutes, we get a closeup of an interoffice memorandum email sent from the library director/head librarian Bette Greven. This memo reveals the catalyst for the plot, about how the Shaughnessy Library’s lease will not be renewed, and the library building will be demolished to make way for a condominium building development. Robin Dunne plays Tony Shaughnessy, the grandson of the Shaughnessy Foundation president, and Casper Van Dien plays a cameo role as Charles Harris, the businessman who will be building the condominium. (Plus, Mel B. — yep, Scary Spice! — plays a supporting role as a diva designer.)

Reel Librarians | Interoffice email and plot catalyst in 'The Twelves Trees of Christmas' (2013, TV)

Interoffice email and plot catalyst in ‘The Twelves Trees of Christmas’ (2013, TV)

This is how Cheri reacts to the news:

Reel Librarians | Cheri reacts to the interoffice memo in an early scene

Cheri reacts to the interoffice memo in an early scene

Cheri also interacts with Mack, the library handyman, who already has a resume in his hand. He is already anticipating having to look for another job soon, as the library is shutting down with such short notice!

Cheri immediately goes out to talk with Bette, the head librarian, who is doing “desk duty.” This presents an interesting visual dynamic between the two, as the children’s librarian is standing, and the head librarian is sitting.

Reel Librarians | Cheri, the children's librarian, talks with Bette, the head librarian

Cheri, the children’s librarian, talks with Bette, the head librarian

Cheri:  Bette, what is going on?

Bette:  I take it you read the memo.

Cheri:  This building has been a library for half a century. The foundation can’t just suddenly shut it down.

Bette:  They can and they will. Believe me, I’ve been burning up the phones for months trying to stop them.

Cheri:  Wait. You’ve known about this for months?

Bette:  Sit. I haven’t told any of the staff yet, because so far it’s only been rumors, and I didn’t want to upset people unnecessarily. This is a public library in a private building. The Shaughnessy Foundation gave the city a 50-year, $1-a-year lease, which expired last month. They’ve decided not to renew it but to instead redevelop this property as part of a new condominium and apartment complex.

This conversation reveals not only more details about the plot, it also reveals the important fact that the head librarian did NOT seek any additional help from her staff — or the community of users they serve! — for months leading up to this crisis. Not a smart move.

Cheri immediately has the idea of contacting the foundation president’s grandson, who happens to live in her building, and of course, she also comes up with the idea of the “12 Trees of Christmas” community contest and the “What the Shaughnessy Library Means to Me” theme. This is convenient to the Christmas holiday timing, but it also demonstrates that if the head librarian had involved her library staff and community sooner, then perhaps all of this could have been prevented!

At the announcement of the “12 Trees of Christmas” contest, Artie, a younger guy who’s a loyal patron of the library, asks about the rumor that they’re going to tear down the library. Bette confirms the rumors, and Cheri turns the announcement into an incentive to show the community how much this means. Artie, and others (including Tony, who loves competition!) immediately sign up to compete in the contest.

We’re hoping for a miracle. At least, if we go, we go in a blaze of glory.

6. Public libraries need to be funded by the public.

It’s vital for communities to fund and support their local libraries. This the main point of the movie’s plot, and a plot focusing on the proper funding of libraries is a rarity among reel librarian movies. (Also see the movie Miranda and the British Project: Library web series, and to a lesser extent, the plot of Party Girl.)

But there is a twist on this funding angle. It’s the issue of setting up a municipal service, such as a public library, in a building that is privately owned. As this funny list and review points out, the #1 lesson from this TV movie is that “Setting up a municipal service in a privately owned building will only lead to tears and a run on genuine Irish crystal.”

The second half of that initial conversation between Cheri and Bette provides more details on this central conflict.

Reel Librarians | The exterior of the Shaughnessy Library building

The exterior of the Shaughnessy Library building

Bette:  I’ve been head librarian for 10 years. I’ve dealt with the city on hundreds of issues. I know how to get things done, but I need a few good cards to play, and we’ve got nothing. The thing is, they’ve got all the legal advantages on their side. The Shaughnessy Foundation is exercising a right that is very clearly theirs.

Cheri:  We could do a fundraiser. The community would support us. People love this building. I grew up here. This building, it’s a landmark in the neighborhood.

Bette:  It doesn’t matter. The foundation doesn’t need community approval. They can do whatever they want.

When Cherie then talks to Tony Shaughnessy, to try and convince him not to sell the building to a developer, he also points out this conflict of a public service in a private building:

Cheri:  This neighborhood, it needs a library.

Tony:  Sure. And that’s a matter for the city. The point is that libraries are a municipal matter.

On a personal note, I happen to agree with Tony here, at least with the general principle (if not his methods). Municipal services for the public good are a matter for the municipalities, and they need to fund public libraries accordingly. And members of those communities also need to vote to support stable funding for those public libraries! (This is also why so many public libraries put measures on the ballot to try and create library tax districts, in order to provide some kind of stable funding for public libraries. That way, they don’t have to depend so much on the election cycle whims of municipal politicians.) Libraries, unfortunately, are often among the first services cut in times of economic crisis, even though during those times, library resources and services become even more important to the general public.

7. Libraries and librarians impact people’s lives in many different ways

As Cheri states:

This is more than just a library. It’s a watering hole for the community. You know what happens in Africa when a watering hole dries up? Everything dies.

Throughout the film, scenes in the library are featured. And as a librarian, it is wonderful to see just how many different kinds of users this library serves, and in different ways.

As the children’s librarian, Cheri obviously highlights the services provided to children. And here’s how she drops the mic during a conversation with Tony:

When you see witness the joy on the children’s faces, and then crush all of their dreams when you announce your great plan to demolish their sanctuary of imagination, knowledge, and art. For a condo.

And this description, that the library is a “sanctuary of imagination, knowledge, and art” is evidenced in the movie. For example, we get to see users — and even library staff — of all ages doing research, or quiet study, in the library. The community members who signed up for a Christmas tree get busy researching books and information to support their different themes. Mack researches vintage recipes for his Christmas foods-themed tree. Deirdre and Artie team up to research technology for their technology-meets-art-in-the-library theme. Parents of a library-loving child team up to research children’s literature.

Reel Librarians | Users of different ages research and study in the library

Users of different ages research and study in the library

Reel Librarians | Quiet study zone in the library

Quiet study zone in the library

There are other scenes where people have space to work together on projects.

Reel Librarians | Group study zone in the library

Group study zone in the library

There are also spaces for different kinds of social group activities, from the children’s storytime hour to art class in the library.

Reel Librarians | Art class in the library

Art class in the library

Toward the beginning, a young girl gives Cheri, or “Miss Jameson,” a present. As she explains, “It’s kind of a Christmas and a thank you gift. I’m really happy you’re tutoring me.” This small, lovely scene reveals that the library and librarians also offer personal tutoring services.

Cheri also relates her own personal memories of the Shaughnessy Library, where her father wrote his doctoral thesis:

I grew up in that building… It was amazing… this magical land filled with everything in the whole world. It’s where I learned to love books. And reading. It’s the greatest gift my father gave me. And I think every child in this neighborhood should experience that feeling.

Later, Tony and Cheri get stuck in the elevator of their apartment building. Tony starts hyperventilating, and Cheri manages to helps calm him down with EMDR techniques.

Tony:  Where’d you learn that? Wait, don’t tell me, the library.

Cheri:  Not all of us can afford a world-class education.

This exchange highlights how library resources spread the importance of education and knowledge to community members who can’t afford tuition rates for higher education. It also supports how libraries and librarians serve as educational support.

8. Literacy is vital, and libraries are vital to promoting literacy

In an interview with Robin Dunne, the actor who plays Tony Shaughnessy, he expresses how he sees the message of this movie:

There’s also a really nice message in the film about literacy and community and the importance of libraries. Yes, we’re going into a very technological age where some people may argue we don’t need things like libraries and everyone is reading books on iPods. Still, at the end of the day, we do need to promote literacy and encourage reading with children. These places, like libraries in the community, really support that environment for kids. That’s a nice message.

This message — that there are different kinds of literacy, and that libraries are vital in promoting literacy — also gets voiced in a couple of conversations.

Reel Librarians | Interior shot of the Shaughnessy Library

Interior shot of the Shaughnessy Library

First, Tony and Cheri spar yet again:

Tony:  Kids, they get everything online.

Cheri:  Yes, but it’s not the same. You can read Dickens on an e-book. You get the words, but you’re missing the music.

Cheri then has a conversation with her boss Bette about what Tony said.

Bette:  Yet he does have a point. E-books are taking over, and most kids these days haven’t even heard of an encyclopedia, much less opened one. And with Google, why should they?

Cheri:  The internet can add to the mix, but you’re never going to be able to replace physical books. I mean, you need to be able to see and touch and hold and even smell a book to get the whole reading experience.

This kind of message, that it benefits us to be conversant in both internet literacy as well as traditional literacy, is also the ultimate message of a few other reel librarian movies, like the 1957 classic, Desk Set.

9. Librarians and library staff have different roles and tasks

This TV movie showcases a diversity of roles and type of work to be done in a public library. It’s not just checking out books and shelving books, y’all!

For example, Cheri interacts with Deirdre, a young woman who volunteers at the library, because as Deirdre states, “I’m new to the city, so volunteering at the library helped me make new friends.”

There are several nice scenes featuring Mack, the library handyman and custodian, who also reveals one of the best perks about working in a library. “I read whatever I get my hands on. It’s one of the perks of working here. I get to see all the new stuff as it comes out, and I grab it right away.”

Side note:  TRUE STORY. This is one of the best perks!

Cheri and Bette also enjoy a warm and collegial relationship, like a mentoring relationship that is based on mutual respect. This is also visually reflected in a couple of scenes in which they sit across from each other, as equals, and each contributes something to the conversation.

Reel Librarians | Two librarians talk in 'The Twelves Trees of Christmas' (2013, TV)

Two librarians talk in ‘The Twelves Trees of Christmas’ (2013, TV)

Reel Librarians | Two librarians talk in 'The Twelves Trees of Christmas' (2013, TV)

Two librarians talk in ‘The Twelves Trees of Christmas’ (2013, TV)

Bette’s responsibilities as head librarian are clearly different from Cheri’s duties as the children’s librarian. As Bette states, “I’ve been head librarian for 10 years. I’ve dealt with the city on hundreds of issues. I know how to get things done.”

But Bette and Cheri both have “desk duty,” which means working at the reference desk in order to help answer questions from the public. It’s really nice to see onscreen a library director working with the public in this way!

10. Librarians need their own spaces, both at work and at home

Cheri’s work desk is the setting for multiple, albeit brief, scenes in this TV movie. It is indeed a rarity to see a reel librarian’s private work space! (See also Desk Set.) Cheri’s desk is very traditional, a long wooden table, and it’s always piled high with stacks of books and files.

Reel Librarians | Cheri's desk in the Shaughnessy Library

Cheri’s desk in the Shaughnessy Library

We also get a couple of glimpses of Cheri’s apartment, another rarity on screen! (Once again, see Desk Set.) Cheri’s home decor is quite cozy and cheery — and filled with bookcases. 🙂

Reel Librarians | Cheri's apartment and holiday decorations

Cheri’s apartment and holiday decorations

In the scene below, Tony comes over to help put together even more bookcases for Cheri!

Reel Librarians | Tony helps Cheri put together bookcases in her apartment

Tony helps Cheri put together bookcases in her apartment

11. Librarians can be stylish, and in different ways

Cheri has a consistent style throughout the TV movie, dressing in a retro-inspired way with cardigans or sweaters paired with flared dresses or skirts. Cheri is also not afraid of pairing together patterns and bright colors, which reflect her cheerful and energetic personality. She wears her hair down in loose curls, the better to show off the glorious red hue of her hair. She has a cute, classic look, one that feels appropriate for a children’s librarian.

Reel Librarians | Collage of Cheri's librarian style in 'The Twelves Trees of Christmas' (2013, TV)

Collage of Cheri’s librarian style in ‘The Twelves Trees of Christmas’ (2013, TV)

Her boss, Bette, also has a signature style, but one that is more traditional and conservative. She wears her hair in a classic bob hairstyle, and she wears blazers in classic cuts and solid colors. Her jewel-toned blouses and jewelry hint at a bit of flair underneath. She is the head librarian, and she dresses like one.

Reel Librarians | Collage of Bette's librarian style

Collage of Bette’s librarian style

We also get a peek at Cheri and Bette getting ready for the big Christmas tree finale and party. We even get to see Bette with her hair in rollers! Is this the first time we get to see a reel librarian getting her hair done onscreen? 😉

Reel Librarians | A reel librarian gets her hair done!

A reel librarian gets her hair done!

12. Library science is a real thing

In yet another (confrontational yet flirty) scene between Tony and Cheri, he asks why she wanted to become a librarian. She reveals she thought she was going to be a college professor, like her father.

Cherie:  But once I got to college, I became this voracious reader. I spent all my spare time at the library out at the library and decided to major in library sciences.

Tony:  Library sciences is not a real thing. You just made that up.

Cherie:  Seriously. It’s a real thing.

Tony:  You totally made that up. Wow. What did your dad say? Was he disappointed?

Cherie:  He wasn’t. He was actually incredibly supportive… I got this summer job as a library intern, tutoring kids and working on this literacy program… [describes how this one kid read a book by himself for the first time.] I found my calling.

Another rarity — the discussion of library science and the education behind being a librarian! (Also see, you guessed it, Desk Set. And Party Girl also has a great scene in which librarians debate different kinds of library science graduate programs.)

Although Tony’s incredulity at “library sciences” being a “real thing” is sure to illicit side-eyed shade from real-life librarians, Cherie takes it in stride and instead turns the conversation into highlighting how significant and personal a decision it really is to become a librarian. Yes, unfortunately, we librarians are used to people not understanding library science — if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard, “Oh wow, librarians have master’s degrees?!” SIGH — but we also often describe librarianship as a calling. The movie absolutely got it right with that line, “I found my calling.” We are librarians because we are committed to our profession and the services and resources we provide. Ultimately, we are here to help the members of our communities.


The Twelve Trees of Christmas, although sugary sweet and fairly predictable, is ultimately quite significant in several ways when it comes to portraying reel librarians onscreen. Just like you can’t judge a book by its cover… I guess you can’t judge a Lifetime TV movie by its sugary coating. 😉

Reel Librarians | Cheers to 'The Twelves Trees of Christmas' (2013, TV)

Cheers to ‘The Twelves Trees of Christmas’ (2013, TV)

Happy holidays, y’all! And I’ll be back next week with a New Year’s Eve-themed reel librarian movie — stay tuned!

Revisiting ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

As we get closer to Christmas, I thought it would be good timing to revisit one of the first posts I ever wrote on the Reel Librarians blog, a post analyzing the 1946 Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Screenshot from 'It's a Wonderful... Stereotype?' post on Reel Librarians

Screenshot from ‘It’s a Wonderful… Stereotype?’ post on Reel Librarians

My post, entitled “It’s a Wonderful… Stereotype?” was first posted on Sept. 21, 2011. I have reprinted it below in its entirety. Enjoy!


It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s a wonderful movie, truly. One of my personal favorites, actually. And a personal favorite for many, especially as a TV staple at Christmas, thanks to its lapsed copyright in 1974 (although that was successfully challenged in 1993). The director, Frank Capra, is in top form, as is James Stewart, who displays devastating depth as George Bailey, an ordinary man who aches to be extraordinary. Both deservedly earned Oscar nominations, out of 5 total, including Best Picture.

In the film’s nightmarish second half, George gets a rare second chance to see how life would have been without his presence — a concept that’s been seen time and time again, but it still feels fresh and raw every time I rewatch this movie. And I still find tears in my eyes toward the end when everyone chips in to save good ol’ George Bailey, and when James Stewart whispers, “Attaboy, Clarence” and winks after the bell rings on the Christmas tree. Oh, who am I kidding?! I’m tearing up right now even typing about it!

But…. how do you solve a problem like Mary?

Mary is George’s wife and one true love, played with intelligence and warmth by Donna Reed. We see lots of her in the film’s first half, through childhood adventures and young adulthood until George finally realizes he’s in love with her. Throughout these scenes, she is quite lovely and open and trusting and displays a great sense of humor. She is worthy of his love and his equal in every way. And she MUST be believable as his one true love in order for the second half of the film to work, because what she becomes is the straw that finally breaks George. Throughout the nightmare he witnesses in the second half — his brother dying, his mother withdrawing into a bitter old woman — it is the scene with his wife that finally gets to him.

And what does Mary become if George is out of the picture? A Spinster Librarian! Sigh.

Her scene as the Spinster Librarian is only about 30 seconds long, but that image continues to haunt librarians. Just look at the physical before-and-after:

Mary in the movie’s first half

Mary in the movie’s second half, as the Spinster Librarian

In the first half, she looks lovely. Modern hairstyle, flattering clothing, fresh and clean. But without George, she suddenly loses her sense of style?! Glasses, sensible clothes, hat, hair pulled back, gloves, no makeup. She is so covered up, almost hiding, with the hat and the gloves and the buttoned-up clothes. This image is the stereotypical prototype for all Spinster Librarians. This does make sense, as the Spinster Librarian is one of the character types that heavily rely on stereotypical visual cues:  the severe hairstyle, glasses, and prim clothing.

But worse than that is the change in Mary’s personality. In the first half, she is warm and funny and sweet. In the second half, she has become shy, furtive, non-trusting, and scared of men. A typical Spinster Librarian, right? (Sigh.) Mary clutches her purse, and finally screams and faints when he declares her to be his wife.

Clarence telegraphs the change in Mary:  “You’re not going to like it, George. She’s an old maid. She’s just about to close up the library!”

What’s so disturbing about this scene — again, only about 30 seconds long! — is the uncomfortable undertones of this scene (at least for librarians). That without men in our lives, the ultimate nightmare for women is… to become “old maid” librarians?! That if we get married, we are spared from this oh-so-terrible fate? Again, sigh.

I know this scene is taken to extremes for the sake of the plot. George is near breaking point, and he needs a shock to get him to appreciate life again. And Mary becoming an “old maid” highlights the point that they are each other’s true loves — that without the other, they are not truly whole. Plot-wise, this scene makes sense. But emotionally, as a librarian, it is hard to swallow.

So this movie will continue to be a personal favorite — but a personal favorite with an asterisk.

Reader poll of runner-ups: Soylent Green and the Books

Last week, the winner of the reader poll of runner-ups (say that phrase 3 times fast!) was the 1973 sci-fi classic, Soylent Green. In the year 2022, food is scarce, and a majority of the world’s population relies on a food product called “Soylent Green.” A detective, played by Charlton Heston, investigates the murder of a Soylent official… and discovers the secret behind Soylent Green.

Reel Librarians| DVD cover for 'Soylent Green' (1973)

DVD cover for ‘Soylent Green’ (1973)

If you don’t already know what Soylent Green really is, then I won’t spoil it for you. (I just hope you didn’t have any with your Thanksgiving leftovers! 😉 ) “What is the secret of Soylent Green?” is also the hook for the original trailer:

The film stars screen legend Edward G. Robinson, in his final performance. The director’s commentary track on the DVD also revealed that Robinson was almost totally deaf by the time he made this film. He learned his scenes by timing during the rehearsals!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Edward G. Robinson as Sol Roth in ‘Soylent Green’ (1973)

Robinson plays Sol Roth, and we meet him within the first five minutes of the film. He’s described in the trailer as:

Sol Roth, Thorn’s private library. A Living Book in a world without books.

This futuristic world — only 5 years away from our current present day! — has stopped printing books for almost 20 years. The word “Book” now refers to people, to former scholars and librarians who serve as personal researchers for others. Sol is a self-described “Police Book,” assigned to Detective Sergeant Thorn, and there is a “Supreme Exchange” where he goes almost daily for information and to talk to other Books.

Real books are treasures to be hoarded in this overcrowded, dirty, violent nightmare of a future, and Thorn and Sol live together in comparative luxury, in an apartment filled with bookcases.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Bookcases in Thorn’s and Sol’s apartment

Even though they look to have a lot of books, we learn that Sol is having trouble finding files for Thorn, looking up information on suspects and cases. This scene also sets up their relationship and how insulting each other is their way of showing their mutual love and respect for one other.

Thorn: What’d you dig up on those cases I gave you? You’ve been telling me that for the last three days.

Sol:  Well, I can’t locate the files. I spent hours on it at the Exchange today. Talked to every other Book who was there. […] What the hell kind of miracle do you want of me? I’m just an ordinary Police Book, not the Library of Congress. I don’t know why I bother.

Thorn:  Because it’s your job. Besides, you love me.

Thorn then goes to the apartment of Simonson, the Soylent official who has been killed (another screen legend, Joseph Cotten, in a cameo role), and Thorn comes back with multiple treasures. Twenty-two minutes into the film, we are treated to a wondrous site:  new books. Thorn brings back two large volumes from the dead man’s apartment, books entitled Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report from 2015 to 2019.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Book cover for the Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Sol’s amazement at the new reference books Thorn finds

Sol:  Where the hell did you get all these?

Thorn:  Off his shelves. They were the only reference books he had. You like them?

Sol:  I love them. Do you know how many books were published in this country, once upon a time? When there was paper and power and presses that worked.

A little over 10 minutes later, Thorn again asks for more info about Simonson.

Sol’s response:  I’ve got a handful of reference work 20 years out of date. You throw out a name, and you expect a miracle?

He then proceeds to read out Simonson’s bio from the last biographical survey that was published, in 2006.

Thorn then asks about the books he brought back from Simonson’s apartment.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Sol describes the Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report

Sol:  Oh, very technical and highly classified. Unnumbered copies. Officially they don’t exist. […] What else do you want?

Thorn:  Everything. Across the board.

Sol:  Across the board? That’s impossible.

Thorn:  Check the Exchange.

Sol:  Check the Exchange? I need you to tell me that? You know, I was a teacher once, a full professor, a respected man.

This short conversation conveys a lot of information — about the books, about Sol and his past, as well as about the Exchange and its importance in their work.

The next scene that features the Exchange, which comes in at a little over an hour into the film, is one of the most important scenes in the entire movie. It anchors the film and sets up the finale. It is a scene in which the Books reveal that they know the secret of Soylent Green… only Thorn, and by extension the audience, remain in the dark.

Sol takes the two large volumes with him to the former public library, now known simply as the “Supreme Exchange.” A sign on the door reveals it’s for “Authorized Books Only,” and as Sol earns admittance, he is therefore visually confirmed as an “Authorized Book.”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Supreme Exchange: Authorized Books Only

Sol slowly walks past row after row of crumbling books and papers, on his way to talk to the others. The books and the Books are all that is left of civilization, of knowledge, of humanity.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Bookshelves in the Supreme Exchange

As the director states on the commentary track, Sol is “reporting on this committee on what he’s learned through his research,” and he brings the two volumes to the Exchange Leader. The other Books greet him by name, so they are obviously familiar with and comfortable around him.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

The Books at the Supreme Exchange

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

The Exchange Leader looks in reverence at the volumes

The rest of this scene — a pivotal scene lasting only a minute and a half total! — features all of the Books:  Celia Lovsky as Exchange Leader, Morgan Farley as Book #1, John Barclay as Book #2, Belle Mitchell as Book #3, and Cyril Delevanti as Book #4.

However, only two of the Books exchange words during this scene, Sol and the Exchange Leader. Here’s their entire conversation:

Sol:  It’s horrible.

Exchange Leader:  You must accept it.

Sol:  I see the words, but I can’t believe them.

Exchange Leader:  Believe. The evidence is overwhelming. Simonson was a member of the board. He learned these facts, and they shook his sanity. The corporation knew he was not reliable anymore. They felt he might talk, and so he was eliminated.

Sol:  Then why are they doing this?

Exchange Leader:  Because it’s easier. I think expedient is the word. What we need is to prove what they are doing, before we bring it to the Council of Nations.

Sol:  Good God.

Exchange Leader:  What God, Mr. Roth? Where will we find Him?

Sol:  Perhaps at Home. Yes. At Home.

The director’s commentary during this scene is illuminating and thoughtful:

This sequence is an interesting comment on the state of humanity in this period. When this hidden-away little niche in this enormous library. That’s all there is. There are really no big libraries, and communication is very difficult. People have to actually get together and talk to each other, but they have nothing technical to help them. They have to read the books, and analyze them themselves. Which is not a bad idea, but under these circumstances, it’s terrible when you think there are no books being printed, everything is stopped. No paper, no ink. Just these wonderful people, like this actress, Celia Lovsky, who carries the scene. She’s wonderful, brings the whole feeling in her face of what is really wrong with that civilization.

Can you imagine? These are the only people left who can analyze information, who even know how to read reference books — or any books! And they are all old. The director rests the camera on their faces and wrinkles, and he does not flinch away. When they are gone, there will be no one left to remember. Librarians are holding down the fort for civilization in this film; they are gatekeepers in a very literal sense.

Although the rest of the Books are silent, their expressions speak volumes.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Books at the Supreme Exchange

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Books at the Supreme Exchange

It’s honestly hard to watch this movie today, as parts of it feel TOO real, thinking how close we really might be to the edge of this dystopian future. Corruption is a fact of life in Soylent Green, and people are categorized into functions:  Furniture, Books, and so on. And the Books, although they hold the key to knowledge in this future, are arguably no more effective than Thorn himself is as a policeman. But they all carry themselves with dignity, particularly Sol and the way he holds himself upright in his threadbare blazer and beret. All of the Books, including Sol, serve as reel librarians in the role of Information Providers.

Sol does go Home, and his final words to Thorn are, “You’ve got to prove it, Thorn. Prove it. The Exchange…”

Sol’s words spur Thorn to finally uncover the terrible secret behind Soylent Green. As he walks home to his apartment, he passes by the old public library building and current home of the Supreme Exchange. Before, when Sol entered the building, it was quiet and deserted. Now it is the scene of violence. Foreshadowing of the future, perhaps?

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Sol walks to the Supreme Exchange, the former public library

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Violence in front of the Supreme Exchange, the former public library

The final words of the film also focus on the former library, as Thorn’s supervisor states, “I promise. I’ll tell the Exchange.”

I originally had placed this film in the Category III and listed only the four Books and the Exchange Leader as reel librarians. Upon rewatching the film, I realized that I had overlooked Sol Roth as another reel librarian. We learn he was a former teacher, yes, but as an “Authorized Book,” he also serves the same role as the other Books. I have therefore reclassified this film as a Class I film, as Sol’s job is indeed integral to the plot.

I will leave you with a riddle from Michael, a longtime reader of Reel Librarians:

All librarians may be books, but are all books librarians?

What say you, dear readers?

Scary clowns + reel librarians

I had another scary movie post all lined up and ready to go this week, analyzing the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man, but then I got a “creepy clown hoax” email from my workplace (for real! it was urging us NOT to wear clown costumes this year, for safety reasons). That’s when I decided to address the “scary clown phenomenon” on this blog, because there IS a connection to reel librarians.

That connection is the 1990 TV miniseries, Stephen King’s It. Every article I have read about the scary clown phenomenon that is sweeping the country right now mentions Stephen King’s 1986 novel and its title character, Pennywise the Clown. For the record, I have always found clowns scary, and I’m not the only one. Read this Time.com article, “The Surprising History Behind the Scary Clown Phenomenon,” and this more in-depth article from Smithsonian.com, “The History and Psychology of Clowns Being Scary.” Stephen King himself has weighed in on the clown craze and hysteria!

I haven’t read King’s original source novel, but I have seen the TV miniseries a few times. I won’t go into an exhaustive analysis of the miniseries right now in this post — there’s not time enough for me to do that — but I will point out that one of the main characters, Mike Hanlon (played by Marlon Taylor as a youth and by Tim Reid as an adult), grows up to be the town librarian. Although other characters get more screen time, Mike essentially serves as the catalyst for the entire second half of the plot, as HE is the one who contacts his friends to return to Derry, Maine, and fight “It” once more. Since Mike is the only one of the seven lead characters to stay behind, he becomes the “institutional memory” for the havoc Pennywise wreaked on the town. Also, being a librarian and archivist, he has resources to help his friend research and confront the evil plaguing their town.

Stephen King’s It 1990. Bill Denbrough and Mike Hanlon” video uploaded by Gunnar Andersson, May 20, 2013. Standard YouTube license.

Mike is a classic Liberated Librarian character, as I point out in my “The Liberated Librarian (guys, it’s your turn)” post from 2012. He may start out weak, a member of the self-proclaimed “Losers Club” — and his friends continue to sarcastically refer to him as “the answer man” — but he does find personal release from the town’s nightmarish history. I included the character of Mike Hanlon in my “Heroes/heroines” list on my “Victims or villains? Librarians in horror films & thrillers” post from 2013. He is a hero who unites everyone to fight against evil. (Also, in King’s 1994 novel, Insomnia, that is also set in Derry, we learn that Mike continued to work as a librarian, yay!)

There are a few scenes in the miniseries set in the library, and you can see one of them here in this short video that rounds up the “Best of: Stephen King’s IT.” The library scene clip starts at 3:03.

Best of: Stephen King’s IT” video uploaded by Gorey Bits, Aug. 29, 2016. Standard YouTube license.

Next week, I’ll be back with MORE creepy clowns in my film analysis post of The Wicker Man(There’s a harlequin clown character central to the May Day celebrations.) Stay tuned!

Reader poll write-up: Navy Blues

It’s time for my analysis of the movie that readers chose in the latest reader poll, 1937’s Navy Blues. The film stars Dick Purcell as Russell J. ‘Rusty’ Gibbs, a sailor whose friends bet that he can’t get a woman of their choosing to go out on a date with him. The woman they choose is a librarian, Doris, played by Mary Brian. Here’s her opening screen credit(s), which provide a sneak peek at the plot to come:

Reel Librarians | Opening credits in 'Navy Blues' (1937)

Reel Librarians | Opening credits in 'Navy Blues' (1937)

One reader shared that they voted for Navy Blues because the main star, Dick Purcell, portrayed Captain America in the 1943 serial film. As good a reason as any!

*SPOILER ALERTS THROUGHOUT*

I first mentioned the film Navy Blues on this site in the 2012 post “Have you seen this movie?,” in which I highlighted movies with major librarian characters that I had not been able to locate copies of. I did locate a streaming copy of it available online via YouTube (but of course, the video quality is not the best).

In their book The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999, Ray and Brenda Tevis do not mince words about this film:

Navy Blues renders such a visual and verbal assault on librarians that the motion picture effectively released the film industry from continuing any semblance of decent and respectful cinematic depictions of librarians. […] More importantly, in this film the sailors continually lambaste its librarian, demonstrating outright disrespect for women librarians. (p. 33)

In addition to being a mediocre film, Navy Blues is an extremely insensitive assault on librarians. Not all cinematic depictions of librarians in preceding motion pictures are commendatory toward the occupation, but none is more outlandish in its derision of librarians. (p. 35-36)

It is a mediocre film, one that starts off on a comedic, happy-go-lucky tone, and about two-thirds of the way in, elements of spy and action thrillers get added into the mix. It’s an odd combination. And due to its extremely negative portrayal of reel librarianship, I have to admit at having to stop the film at certain points to get my blood pressure down before continuing. And that’s before I reread the film’s entry in the Tevis book!

Less than five minutes into the 77-minute film, the librarian is referred to as a “bow-wow,” a slang term for “dog” — and in this context, also a slang term for “ugly.”

Here’s how that scene plays out, which takes place after Rusty’s sailor pals go ashore to start their shore leave.

Chips: I saw a dame in a public li-berry once.

Biff and Gateleg:  Where?!

Chips: Now don’t get me wrong, boys, I just popped in there out of the rain. Well, I took one gander at this dame and ran right out again, rain or no rain.

Biff:  That bad?

Chips: Yeah. A bow-wow.

A few minutes later, Rusty takes the bet, and they drop him off at the library. The sign says it’s the “Harbor Branch.”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Navy Blues' (1937)

Chip:  In there, sailor.

Rusty:  A library, eh? I’ve been in libraries before. They don’t scare me.

Chip:  Don’t you think you’ll need an introduction?

Rusty:  Say, how will I know her?

Chip:  She’s got on a pair of glasses as thick as cookies. You know the type! [Laughs hysterically]

Rusty strides into the library and asks for the first book title he sees, Advanced Algebra by Hammersmith. This turns out to be an important plot point — as the book he picks out turns out to be used as a code book for a spy ring! As Rusty later laments, “Of all the books in the library, I had to take that one!”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Navy Blues' (1937)

He tries to butter up the librarian with cliché phrases like, “Old books, you know, are like old friends” and “When I get engrossed in a book, the hours just fly.” She isn’t having any of it and crisply hands the book over and informs him of closing time.

She also climbs a book ladder a few minutes later, and Rusty makes a face at the closeup of her ankle, encased in sturdy Oxfords. The reel librarian makes a face right back at him.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Navy Blues' (1937)

Rusty’s friends are waiting for him outside the library, wondering what is taking him so long. When the librarian — we learn her name is “Miss Kimbell” and later learn her first name, Doris — closes up the library, she walks out with another man named Julian. (By the way, Julian turns out to be a spy who was using the Advanced Algebra book to pass through codes and secret information! Because no one could actually be interested in a woman librarian!) Rusty manages to infiltrate himself into the situation and helps walk Mary home.

His friends are astounded, and we get these further insults in rapid-fire succession:

He must be a glutton for punishment.

It must be Thanksgiving or something. She’s all made up like a pilgrim.

It’ll take a brave man to wheel that museum piece into the Crow’s Nest.

So within the film’s first 10 minutes, the reel librarian is the subject of multiple insults, from “bow wow” to “museum piece.” And we still have 60 minutes to go!

Even her aunt and uncle get in on the insults:

Aunt Beulah:  How do I know where he’s luring Doris to?

Uncle Andrew:  She’s probably luring him, to some roundtable discussion. And that’ll end it.

I will highlight just two more scenes.

First, the romantic scene that includes a makeover, or at least the description of a makeover. (At this point, my husband — who was only half paying attention — looked up and said, “This plot sounds just like the movie She’s All That!” He’s not wrong about that, at least until the spy ring and naval intelligence get involved.)

Here’s a clip of that scene, coming in at 20 minutes into the film and lasting about 3 minutes.

This scene has Rusty assuring that Doris doesn’t need to wear glasses — “But you can see without them?” — and that she should make more of an effort to look feminine — “I don’t know how long you’ve been wearing this disguise, but I’m gonna be around to see the unveiling.” (More jabs at the “museum piece” analogy.)

Rusty also “accidentally” drops her glasses while they kiss on the beach at sunset, and her glasses break on the rocks. Grrrrrrrrr… this necessitated me pausing the film. Because RAGE. Laser beams coming out of my own pair of glasses, which I will keep right on wearing, thank you very much.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Navy Blues' (1937)

Rusty — never offering to pay for her broken eyeglasses, no surprise there — has an ulterior motive for her makeover, as he wants to bring her to the Crow’s Nest bar to show her off to his friends and collect his cash for the bet. But his plan backfires, as his pals don’t believe it’s the “li-berrian” they saw before. They refuse to pay, because “That girl’s a ringer.”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Navy Blues' (1937)

To convince them, he makes up a story — it involves him lying about being an undercover naval intelligence agent, which had me seriously doubting Doris’s intelligence — and forcing her to put on another pair of glasses while he hand-mimics “four eyes” in the background. Now they recognize her!

This scene is like the flip side of Superman’s “disguise” as Clark Kent, with no one recognizing him whenever he wears glasses. In this movie, no one recognizes the librarian unless she’s wearing glasses!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Navy Blues' (1937)

At the end of this scene, Doris finds out about Rusty’s bet and storms off, and he goes after her. Fair warning, this is the most rage-inducing scene in the entire film:

Rusty:  Sure I made that bet. Why else would I have bothered with a freak like you?

Doris:  A freak?!

Rusty:  Well, that’s what you were. I changed you over from a crow, a bookworm. Made you into a girl that could take her pick of anything.

The actress’s facial expression matched my own:

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Navy Blues' (1937)

She rightly slams the door in his face. Attagirl! (Too bad she later forgives him.)

I have to admit, this film was exhausting to watch and to weather all the insults hurled at reel librarians — and insults hurled at women in general. I cannot divorce my analysis of this film apart from my being a librarian and a woman librarian at that. I am biased. So is this film. (Written by two men, I might add.)

The librarian profession is central to the plot, making it a Class I film, but the profession is there to be mocked at! I mean, isn’t it funny that a man was TRICKED to court a librarian?! HILARIOUS. :/

The character seems destined for early spinsterhood and is rules-obsessed (in the opening library scene, she says, “[I]f it’s so important to you, I might waive a rule”), but as the film continues, it’s obvious that Doris Kimbell fulfills the Liberated Librarian character type. I mean that in a tongue-in-cheek, rolling-my-eyes kind of way, as she doesn’t need to be liberated from anything. But this is the kind of film in which stereotypes will be stereotypes, and the star always gets the girl, even if the star plays a character who is arrogant, rude, and a pathological liar.

Reel Librarians | Closeup of library book in 'Navy Blues' (1937)

I will end this post with a tidbit about the book at the center of this film, Hammersmith’s Advanced Algebra. Y’all knew I would look that up, right? Well, you were right — I used both a basic Google search plus a search in WorldCat, the “world’s library catalog.” I could not find any book with that exact title and author, and from the closeup above, it does look like the title on the spine could be pasted on. However, I did find a book in WorldCat titled Advanced Algebra (Vol. 2), published in 1937 (the same year as this film) and written by Clement Vavasor Durell and Alan Robson — and here’s the kicker — with a copy in the Hammersmith & Fulham Libraries in Hammersmith, UK.

Coincidence? You be the judge! Discuss and share your thoughts about the film in the comments.