Reader poll winner write-up: Possession

Possession (2002) won the most recent reader poll, so let’s get to it!

The film is based on A.S. Byatt’s 1990 Man Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name, a “brainy romance” which contrasts modern and Victorian times and uses a flashback structure to move between a current investigation and a long-ago affair. Two literary scholars, Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow, an American playing British) and Roland Michell (Aaron Eckhart, an American playing a character who was British in the book but got turned into an American in the film) track down the heretofore unknown correspondence and relationship between two Victorian poets, Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy Northam) and Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle). Director Neil LaBute also helped adapt the screenplay.

How does the title come into play? As per the book’s Wikipedia entry:

The title Possession highlights many of the major themes in the novel: questions of ownership and independence between lovers; the practice of collecting historically significant cultural artefacts; and the possession that biographers feel toward their subjects.

Maud and Roland explore their own budding relationship as they research Ash and LaMotte’s relationship — but it’s really the latter that holds the viewer’s interest. The chemistry, such as it is, between Paltrow and Eckhart really cannot hold a candle to the scorching sparks between Ehle and Northam, as also evidenced in the film trailer below:

I cannot let you burn me up, nor can I resist you. No mere human can stand in a fire and not be consumed.

The reel librarian

How does the reel librarian fit into all this literary foreplay and mating rituals? I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know if there is a librarian character in the source material. But in the movie adaptation, we actually get our first glance at the reel librarian less than 3 minutes (!) into the film, in a library scene critical to the entire plot.

*POSSIBLE SPOILERS THROUGHOUT*

Roland Michell is a research assistant and scholar of the Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash, and he catches a London double-decker bus to the London Library to pick up a book for a professor. The reel librarian (played by Hugh Simon) plonks down an old book from Ash’s personal library.

(I love this screenshot of the old book, carefully tied with ribbon, juxtaposed next to a computer keyboard and mouse!)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

The book that started it all

Although we first see the hands of the reel librarian before we see his face, the camera is not kind to the facial expressions of the reel librarian:

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

The librarian at London Library

Let’s see how the researcher and the reel librarian “meet cute,” shall we? 😉

LibrarianBit of an old monster.

RolandYeah, but an important monster. It’s Randolph Ash’s.

LibrarianYes. Who are you with again?

RolandI’m Roland Michell.

LibrarianWho?

RolandProfessor Blackadder’s research assistant.

LibrarianIsn’t that Dr. Wolfe?

RolandWas. Fergus got the lectureship position at St. John’s… over me.

LibrarianOf course he did. Oh yes, Dr. Wolfe mentioned you. You’re that American who’s over here.

RolandWell, I’m sure there are others. I mean, after all, you are our favorite colony.

The librarian has no comeback for that. Score a point for the American! The librarian drops what he’s holding, sighs, then picks up a book to read it.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Roland and the librarian at London Library

We learn several things from this short, but contentious exchange, between Roland and the librarian, who is definitely serving as an Information Provider. We learn that the librarian is old-fashioned and conservative, dressed in his sweater vest, tie, and tweeds. The librarian also manages to be both oblivious AND nosy at the same time. The librarian’s nosiness is convenient for purposes of exposition, as we get to learn not only a brief backstory (and credentials) of Roland’s character, but we also learn about his rivalry with another researcher, Dr. Wolfe. Also, this “Britains vs. Americans” theme — unique to the film, as Roland’s character was British in the book — will come up again throughout the film. The librarian is also dismissive of Ash’s book, which helps provide plausibility to Roland’s impending discovery.

The London Library and the letter

This first scene in the library lasts less than a minute, but we return to the London Library a minute later, with this bird’s-eye view:

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

London Library

We then zoom into Roland’s table, surrounded by books and index cards, as he starts going through Ash’s book, a setting nicely juxtaposed with a brief flashback of Ash inserting the letter into the book 150-odd years ago:

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Roland Michell finds the letter

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Randolph Henry Ash hides the letter

Roland immediately understands the significance of what he is reading. Randolph Henry Ash is known for his love poems, but here he is writing a letter to a woman, a poet, who is NOT HIS WIFE. Roland looks up and around, suddenly acutely aware of other researchers… and the reel librarian’s suspicious gaze.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Roland Michell’s reaction to the letters

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

The librarian’s look

The music swells as we see Roland mentally wrestle with what to do. Should he put the letter back into the book and inform the London Library of his discovery? But based on what we’ve already heard — he’s gotten passed over for a position, he’s an American who isn’t respected over here in England, nobody attaches any importance to Ash’s old book — we anticipate what he’s about to do instead.

Yep, Roland Michell chooses to pilfer the letter. (That’s fancy talk for “stealing.”) And see how nonchalantly he pulls it off, in the following pair of screenshots.

Step 1: Move the letter over to his personal notebook, which is behind the column, out of sight from the librarian.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Roland hiding the letter from the librarian in London Library

Step 2:  Sliiiiiiiide over to the other seat behind the column and close the notebook. Done! Now you see him, now you don’t…

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Roland hiding the letter from the librarian in London Library

Selling the plot

This pivotal scene ends at 6 minutes and 50 seconds. The combined library scenes last a combined 3 minutes, setting up the premise for the rest of the film.

Roland takes the letter to his flat and reads it, and then visits his landlord, Euan, who also happens to be a lawyer (played by the always hilarious Tom Hollander). Roland buys “7 minutes of attorney-client privilege” to confess what he’s done, and therefore has the opportunity to really sell the plot to the viewer:

RolandThey’re practically love letters.

EuanRather racy, actually.

RolandYou see, Ash, supposedly, never even looked at another woman. I mean, not even glanced at one his entire marriage. Can you imagine what would happen if I could prove that Mr. Perfect Husband had this Shakespearean-type dark lady thing going on?

EuanYeah, but that would be extraordinary. It would be rewriting history, old chap.

PLOT. SET. MATCH. GO!

Research and the British Museum

I believe the library scenes, set in the London Library, were actually filmed on location, as evidenced by photos of the library seen on their website. However, the London Library is not included on the filming locations list on the IMDb.com page for Possession. The London Library is described as “one of the world’s largest independent lending libraries, and one of the UK’s leading literary institutions.” Scottish philosopher and essayist Thomas Carlyle helped initiate the founding of the London Library, formed in 1841, in reaction to the restrictive policies of the British Museum Library.

Knowing this rivalry between the London Library and the British Museum Library makes it even funnier when we realize that Roland works as a research assistant at the British Museum! We next see him entering the museum by the staff entrance, and then we are treated to a behind-the-scenes look at an office and private research library for Professor Blackadder:

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Roland heads to his office at the British Museum

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Behind-the-scenes at the British Museum

Roland does attempt to tell Blackadder of his discovery, but Blackadder cuts him off with, “No need, the novice blunders on the discovery. The scholar investigates.”

As Blackadder rushes off, he instructs Roland to answer the “wretched requests” that came in from the public, including — and I am not kidding here — a question about how many jars of gooseberry jam Ash’s wife made in 1850.

Roland responds, “This is not a job for a grown-up!

But this job IS important, as Roland gets inspired for how to do more research for his own discovery in the midst of researching Ash’s wife’s diaries and personal correspondence. He begins getting clues (keywords!) from Ash’s letter and looking up his wife’s diaries to uncover the next step in the research trail.

Bonus:  The viewer gets treated to the old-school index files for this private research collection, as well as all the file boxes. Nothing looks computerized!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

The research library files behind-the-scenes at the British Museum

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

The research library files behind-the-scenes at the British Museum

Teaming up

The research trail then leads him to Dr. Maud Bailey (Paltrow), who works at the University of Lincoln in Lincolnshire and is an expert scholar on Christabel LaMotte. We also find out that Maud is related to LaMotte. Maud is immediately dismissive of Roland’s theories (“It does seem rather pointless“) but humors him by allowing him to look over letters of LaMotte’s lover, Blanche Glover (played by Lena Headey), from that time period.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Maud and Roland walk through a library en route to Maud’s office

We also get to see Maud’s office, which is light and airy and filled with neatly stacked books and illustrations tacked up over the desk.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Dr. Maud Bailey’s office

Roland then stays overnight at Maud’s place, and at 21 minutes into the film, decides to take a chance at revealing his secret to Maud (to impress her?):

RolandMaud, can I show you something? [digs into his bag and hands her the letters]

MaudAre these…

RolandThose are the originals.

MaudHow did you get them?

RolandI took them.

MaudTook them?

RolandI sort of stole them.

MaudWhere from?

RolandThe London Library.

MaudHow could you do that?

RolandIt was on impulse.

Here is Maud’s priceless reaction to the letters — and to Roland’s cavalier attitude to stealing:

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Maud’s reaction to the letters

This scene, which ends at 22 minutes, then completes the plot set-up, that Maud and Roland will team up to research the relationship between Ash and LaMotte, a journey that takes them several different places, including all over England and over to France.

Ethics? What ethics?!

Along the way, Roland’s unorthodox — er, unethical — practices totally corrupt Maud’s own standards as a scholar, all the way up to the end of the film. I won’t spoil all their adventures, but here’s just a smattering of quotes throughout the rest of the film that involve research, research methods, and increasingly deteriorating standards of professional behavior:

Maud, upon discovering a cache of letters between LaMotte and Ash:

Can we please do it properly. Let me run downstairs and get with some notecards and some pencils?

Maud’s reaction to the necessities of researching Ash’s wife’s diaries, an interesting way to rephrase that old saying, “The devil is in the details”:

God is in the boring housewife’s stuff. We should check it.

Maud’s reaction to Roland wanting to keep tracking down LaMotte and Ash’s movements, instead of going back to work at the British Museum:

I thought you were mad when you came to Lincoln with your stolen letter. Now I feel exactly the same.

Roland’s reaction to having to go back to work, while Maud leaves to doublecheck her archives:

Good. I guess I’ll just… I don’t know… go look up shit on the microfiche.

Spoiler: He totally doesn’t. We see him hanging out amongst the bookshelves instead, while his co-worker pushes a cart down the aisle, working.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

The research library stacks behind-the-scenes at the British Museum

Totally corrupted by this point, Maud’s smiley reaction to Roland taking the fax a rival researcher sent:

You’re shameless.

Perhaps “shameless” would have been a better title for the film? 😉

Sources used:

London Library” from Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., is licensed under a CC BY SA 3.0 license.

Possession. Dir. Neil LaBute. Perf. Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Jeremy Northam, Jennifer Ehle. Warner Bros., 2002.

Possession (2002).” IMDB.com.

Possession (2002 film)” from Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., is licensed under a CC BY SA 3.0 license.

Possession (2002) Possessão – Trailer” uploaded by dezeroadezfilmes, Sept. 4, 2009, Standard YouTube license.

Possession (Byatt novel)” from Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., is licensed under a CC BY SA 3.0 license.

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An ‘Abandon’-ed reel librarian

Continuing analysis of scary movies during this month of October… next up is 2002’s Abandon, starring Katie Holmes as a brainy and beautiful college student… named Katie. (Big stretch.) The film was written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, who was fresh off an Oscar win for writing the screenplay for 2000’s Traffic. This film was his first time to direct, and the story was “suggested” by the novel Adam’s Fall by Sean Desmond. Gaghan admitted in the director’s commentary that he just couldn’t get the script right, that he was rewriting until the first day of filming — and honestly, you can tell while watching the film. But it is an interesting film to watch, and it includes several scenes in the library!

College senior Katie (Holmes) is dealing with exams, finishing her thesis, doing job interviews, when a cop, Wade Handler (Benjamin Bratt), starts investigating the disappearance of her ex-boyfriend, Embry (Charlie Hunnam). Then Katie starts seeing Embry again around campus—is she hallucinating, or is he stalking her? A few scenes highlight the socially awkward “Mousy Julie,” a student library assistant played by Melanie Lynskey, who provides insights into how Katie attracts male attention.

Roger Ebert’s review of the film gave it 2.5 stars out of 4, saying it was ultimately unsatisfying, mainly because it had to be a thriller. He called Lynskey’s character “snotty know-it-all.”

Here’s a trailer for the film. Interesting to note that Mousy Julie makes the trailer, as does the library. Its rows of bookcases (and lack of sight lines) makes for dramatic scary moments!

Library scene #1:

Six minutes into the film, we get a closeup of Katie working on her thesis in a study carrel, and then the camera pans over rows of bookcases in the college library, where we glimpse the cop. He has gotten microfilm to look up articles about the college student, Embry, who has disappeared. Old school research alert! One of the newspaper photos includes a shot of Larkin with his girlfriend, Katie, which leads the cop straight to Katie.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Abandon' (2002)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Abandon' (2002)

I also rewatched the film with the director’s commentary. Stephen Gaghan is refreshingly candid on the commentary track! Here’s what he had to say during this bit of the scene:

This is one of my favorite sequences in the whole movie. I just love it… you come back to Katie, and she’s just going about the business of being a student.  You’re not really getting hit over the head with anything in particular, just feels sorta real to me. He’s doing his thing, he’s in a very cold blue institutional light, isolated. She’s in a very cold blue institutional light, and completely isolated. She’s down in the basement of the library, and I think it’s the first beginnings of these, hopefully, it feels sort of sinister without calling attention to itself.

The next scene returns to Katie at her library cubicle, tired and rubbing her head. And we get our first glimpse of “Mousy Julie,” who is dressed in a lumpy sweater. Here’s their first conversation, and you can tell Julie is socially awkward:

Mousy JulieHi, Katie Burke. There is a message for you. Your thesis advisor, Professor Jergensen’s office, they said I should find you. So I did. Here’s the message. […] It says for you to come to Jergensen’s house. That’s scary. How’s your thesis coming anyway?

KatieIt’s almost done. How’s yours?

Mousy Julie [with a smirk]:  Turned it in. 

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Abandon' (2002)

The director’s commentary during this part of the scene reveals that they had to build this part of the library set!

Here’s that library again that we were talking about before. That cold light versus the warm light. This is a set that we then link up with a location. The production designer did an incredible job. He built this thing that looks incredible, and I don’t you really feel the seams. […]

Melanie Lynskey, tremendous as “Mousy Julie.” This was a very interesting problem that we had. We had to build this section of the set… we had to build the library carrel set to match something in Montreal, and it was a big problem, I remember. I really wanted to shoot all or most of this movie on location. […] In this particular case, when we were looking at that library set, we didn’t have enough books to build the real maze that we wanted, so we ended up kind of doing it in pieces between different locations.

Library scene #2:

Eighteen minutes into the film, Katie is back in the library working on her thesis. Detective Handler comes up behind her, addresses her as “Ms. Burke?” This is in contrast with Julie, who says, “Katie? Katie Burke?” Handler keeps asking Katie about Embry and the possibility of him killing himself.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Abandon' (2002)

Next, Katie’s friends (played by Zooey Deschanel and Gabrielle Union) come up behind her and scream, “We need to be quiet… in the Library!

We also get confirmation from her friends that Katie is often in the library:  “10:30 on a Friday night. I wonder where Katie is?

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Abandon' (2002)

Her friends then drag her to a party — again, a study in contrast to the previous library set!

Library scene #3:

Almost 40 minutes into the film, Katie’s back in the library! (Remember that previous director’s commentary that he purposely reiterated these scenes? He wasn’t kidding!) We see a bird’s-eye view of her cubicle, which is filled with books, post-it notes, wadded-up paper, and multiple cups of coffee. Her private study space reflects her increasingly frazzled inner state of mind.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Abandon' (2002)

As Katie takes out her laptop and looks through library books, she hears squeaking behind her. We then see Mousy Julie pushing a squeaky library cart — librarian prop alert! — and wearing another dumpy sweater cardigan. Julie waves at Katie, who turns around and suppresses a laugh.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Abandon' (2002)

Director’s commentary during this scene:

Trying to make her [Katie] feel more isolated. Also trying to messy up the cubicle to reflect her state of mind, like she’s not caring.

Call numbers + scary thrills:

Katie feels drowsy and puts her head on her arms — but then wakes up suddenly with a whisper, “Katie.” She checks her watch and then notices a call number scratched into the top of her desk:  851.1 .D192i

Reel Librarians | Screenshots from 'Abandon' (2002)

Katie then walks down the rows of bookshelves looking for the call number.

Side note:  It’s interesting to note that this is a Dewey Decimal call number, which is an odd choice for a college/university library. Usually, college and university libraries have larger collections and therefore use the Library of Congress (LC) classification system.

So y’all know I had to look up this call number, right? RIGHT. Turns out it’s the call number for Dante’s Inferno (Embry’s last student production was “Trip Hop Inferno” — spooky!). Then I had to look up where this scene was filmed, and it was in a library at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. That then led me to look up the book in the McGill University’s library catalog — and they use the LC classification system, NOT the Dewey Decimal system! So CLEARLY this whole call number sequence in the movie was created just for the film. Odd.

Back to the film… Katie then tracks down the call number, which is when she sees a pair of eyes staring at her over the tops of books on the shelf. Classic scary movie library scene! She runs away and finds herself in the library’s basement.

Reel Librarians | Screenshots from 'Abandon' (2002)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Abandon' (2002)

Director’s commentary during this call number scene:

Here, now we’re on location. You could see how well Gideon matched them. This was in a student library, library in McGill. But it was small. It’s a very small space, and I always wanted this to feel like a labyrinth, you know, like someone could really be lost, and I wanted to take advantage of all the things a labyrinth could give you, mystery, sense of being lost, and we just didn’t have it. We never got it in the locations, and I think it was a mistake although I think Gideon did a great job.

This scene works well because of the hand-held movement, I think. I think once we went into that, we graduated to another level in this scene emotionally. It’s probably the best scare in the film.

I joked several times that we were making a new sub-genre of film called the “thrill-free” thriller, until I learned the catchphrase “mystery.”

Therapy and scary libraries:

Katie then relates this incident to her therapist, played by Tony Goldwyn, who flat-out states that old libraries are “terrifying under the best of circumstances.” Gotta admit, I was IMMEDIATELY biased against this character. 😦

Dr. David SchafferAnd he was locked inside the library with you? … But you hadn’t seen him in two years?

Katie. I know how this sounds.

Dr. SchafferKatie. You fell asleep in an old library, which is terrifying under the best of circumstances. You’re facing your graduation, the completion of your thesis, job interviews, life-changing transitions. You need to make allowances for the emotions that this will bring up.

Library scene #4:

Almost an hour into the film, we see Katie back in her library cubicle, frantically typing away at her thesis. And Mousy Julie again interrupts her to make space for another socially awkward conversation.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Abandon' (2002)

JulieKatie. Hi Katie Burke. Do you know anything about somebody being in the tunnel? Because the door was open and it’s not supposed to be open and it’s to remain closed at all times unless you’re maintenance and you haven’t been around to ask about it and I’m supposed to ask.

KatieNo, I don’t. I’m busy. Goes back to typing.

JulieThat’s not very nice. Should I tell you what I know? I was going to, but now maybe I’ve changed my mind.

KatieWhat are you talking about?

JulieHarrison Hobart is missing. That’s two, isn’t it?

[Note:  Harrison is a friend of Katie’s who had a crush on her.]

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Abandon' (2002)

Director commentary during this scene:

And Mousy shows up. And heaps more shit on her. … There’s a fatigue from being inside in these dank locations, and there’s a cumulative effect. … [W]e just keep coming back down to these same spaces that are just bleak. I hope it has a tonal effect, cumulatively.

Library scene #5:

Although this next scene in the library follows close on the heels of the previous library scene, at a little over an hour into the film, it serves a very different purpose and has a different look and feel, switching from cold blue tones to warm tones. This next scene is tucked into a little office in the library and features a conversation between Mousy Julie and Detective Wade Handler and the disappearances of Harrison and Embry and their connection to Katie. Mousy Julie ultimately comes off as very observant and also very jealous of Katie.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Abandon' (2002)

JulieI’m sure he was in love with her. Harrison is a good guy. He mooned around, but he was sweet. He got his name on scientific papers when he was about 12. So, what did he know about anything?

WadeDo you think it was odd that he still liked a girl who hadn’t shown him any real interest in over two years?

JulieI thought it was the opposite of odd. Guys are drawn to her like bugs around a bug lamp.

[At this point, Julie switches a window on her computer, which was originally set to an article about grief, but she quickly clicks over to an article about electronic journals available on campus.]

Reel Librarians | Screenshots from 'Abandon' (2002)

JulieFor four years, I’ve had the privilege of watching it.

WadeThat bother you, Julie?

JulieThink you see the horns of jealousy?  You got my angle? You might want to ask yourself why you’re so interested in her. They think it’s a coltish vulnerability, but it’s just self-obsession. The pea brain says, “She needs saving,” and the pea brain says, “I can save her,” and then she doesn’t notice them. So, they go crazy. It’s about the missing dad… and validation. She just needs a friend.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Abandon' (2002)

Very insightful!

Here’s the director’s commentary for this last scene featuring Mousy Julie:

This we used an abandoned elevator foyer to make this little room. I think it looks right. It’s like Mousy Julie’s mousy cubby hole.

Private libraries:

Just a quick note that while watching the film, I noticed that there quite a few private library collections featured in the film, too, including rows of books in her thesis advisor’s office, the counselor’s office, and detective’s home, plus there are book collections in both Katie’s and Embry’s dorm rooms. Writer/director Stephen Gaghan definitely filled his film with different kinds of libraries and book collections!

Deleted scene in the library:

The bulk of the film was shot at a library at McGill University, in Montréal, Québec, Canada. In a behind-the-scenes feature on the DVD, writer/director Stephen Gaghan admitted that he wanted the multiple library scenes to be “ominous and oppressive” — and Montreal provided that!

The DVD’s special features included deleted scenes, which included a scene in the library. We see a bored woman (played by Joan McBride) at a large desk in the middle of the library floor, and Benjamin Bratt looking through a sheet on a clipboard on the counter.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from a deleted scene in Abandon' (2002)

Library assistantCan I help you?

WadeYeah, I’m, um, looking for a student. She’s not at her carrel and I can’t find her in here.

Library assistant:  If she’s not in the book, she’s not in the library.

Director’s commentary during this deleted scene:

I just love this woman and how she delivers this line.

The architecture of the library is quite stunning.

Reel Librarians | Screenshots from a deleted scene in 'Abandon' (2002)

Reel librarian roles:

Abandon lands in the Class III category of reel librarian films, as it features reel librarians as supporting characters.

Melanie Lynskey in the recurring supporting role of Mousy Julie primarily fulfills the character type of the Information Provider. She is there to be a contrast to the central role of Katie, and to relay information and suspicions to the audience. That last scene with Julie, the conversation she has with the detective, reveals a more personal side to Julie, in which she displays jealousy of Katie — and perhaps her own wistfulness of not attracting male attention herself? In this way, she subtly plays off the role of Spinster Librarian, albeit a more modern, younger version of the stereotypical character type.

The library assistant from the deleted scene is clearly serving a role as Information Provider. The credits also list Robert Burns in the role of Archivist, but I honestly cannot recall seeing or noticing this role. I’m assuming it was a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo kind of role. (I obviously blinked and missed him, both times I rewatched the film.) Regardless, this role serves as another Information Provider.

Sources:

Abandon. Dir. Stephen Gaghan. Perf. Katie Holmes, Benjamin Bratt, Charlie Hunnam, Zooey Deschanel. Buena Vista, 2002. Suggested by the novel Adam’s Fall by Sean Desmond.

Abandon (2002) Official Trailer #1 – Katie Holmes Movie HD,” uploaded by Movieclips Trailer Vault, 6 Nov. 2012, Standard YouTube License.

Ebert, Roger. “Abandon.” RogerEbert.com. Accessed 17 October 2017.

First impressions: ‘It’ (2017) and its library scene

I recently was able to watch the recent cinematic remake of It, which I thought would make a good entry in my “first impressions” series of posts. These posts document my initial impressions and memories from watching reel librarian films in the movie theater. These post are never as in-depth as my film analysis posts — and don’t have the benefit of careful notes — but the films are more timely. I’ve done “first impressions” posts in the past for movies like Monsters UniversityTinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Hidden Figures.

Since this film serves as “Chapter 1” of the story, featuring only the teenage versions of the “Losers’ Club,” I was not expecting to see any reel librarians. (The character of Mike Hanlon, the sole African-American in the group, grows up to be the town librarian.) But I was mistaken! Although I should have expected it, as when I went back to review the trailer, I realized that the public library earned a brief appearance at the 1-minute mark in the original trailer:

Library scene

Ben Hanscom is trying to hide out from the bullies in the public library, while also doing research on the early days of the town, Derry. In the background, I spied a woman shelving books in a bookcase. The woman looks older, in a print dress.

Note:  This “looming librarian” in the back is one of the entries in this article’s “Easter eggs” of the film. Creeeeeeepy!

And on this Reddit thread, the user “literaphile” described this as their favorite scene from the film:

Best part of the scene was when Ben was sitting at the table reading and one of the “librarians” was standing in the background, out of focus, staring at Ben with an evil grin.

Then we get a close-up to Ben, who is startled by another librarian (or is it the same one?), an older woman with glasses with a thick book in her hands.

She says something to the effect of, “Why are you in the library during summer? In summer, boys are supposed to be outside with their friends.” She pauses, and then asks in a condescending tone, “Don’t you have any friends?

Ben cuts her off with a look and a tart reply, something along the lines of, “Can I have the book now?

This was NOT a positive start to this reel librarian character. In fact, my own initial reaction — for real! — was this:  “Judge-y bitch.”

Ben then flips through the book, which also gets a second of screen time in the third released trailer for the film, at the 1:10 minute mark:

Library archives

Then Ben has his own scary sighting with Pennywise. He sees an egg on the floor in a back room, and he walks down stairs to enter what looks to be the archives basement, filled with bookcases and archival boxes. Of course, it’s a trap, and he tries to escape a headless ghost, a figure from the book he was just flipping through. This figure then turns into Pennywise, but his nightmare run stops short when he runs into the reel librarian again, who demands to know why he’s running in the library.

By the way, this reel librarian role seems to be uncredited in the film’s cast list — unless it’s the “Old Woman” character played by Martha Gibson.

The actor who planned Ben, Jeremy Ray Taylor, posted this pic on his Instagram, a photo featuring the storyboard of this library action scene:

The importance of research

We then see more of Ben’s research into Derry, which he shows to the Losers Club members when they visit his bedroom. He has tacked up photos and maps of Derry all over his walls, along with articles about major killings throughout the years. He’s the one who figures out that the murders occur every 27 years.

It is this research that propels the plot forward, and provides a common thread that connects all the experiences and Pennywise nightmares that the teens have been having. Ben grounds the Losers’ Club and gives shape and purpose to their group.

Role changes from the book to the film

While I appreciated that there was a library scene in the film, I was disappointed that the research angle was taken away from the character of Mike, the only African-American and person of color in the group. In the book, Mike was the historian of the group. His father kept an album of photos of Derry’s history, which included several photos of Pennywise. Mike then researches the history of Derry — and later becomes the town’s librarian. Since he is the only one who stays in the town, he is the one who summons the rest of the Losers’ Club back to Derry 27 years later.

As I stated back in my post last fall about the upcoming “It” remake and scary clown sightings:

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.

In my opinion, Mike is the most important character in the story, and in the end, the town’s true hero.

Therefore, it unsettled me that the remake changed the historian and research role from Mike in the book to Ben in the movie. I agree with Zak Cheney Rice, who wrote in this article on the Mic website:

Muschietti’s adaptation goes a step further than merely cutting corners in the name of economy. The film doesn’t just flatten Mike’s backstory. It reduces him to the kind of token black character that King’s novel was so adept at avoiding.

In the film, Mike barely has any lines. The role of group historian has been taken from him and given to a white character instead. He still gets targeted by Henry Bowers, but gone is the racial subtext that made the experience so entwined with Derry’s history of violence. His blackness seems largely incidental. And as a result, the film never has to address the messy topic of race or how it informs the lone black character’s life.

I highly recommend reading the rest of Rice’s article, as it provides more details and subtext into Mike’s importance as a character and his role as historian and librarian in the original book (and 1990 TV version).

Your thoughts of the remake?

Have you seen the newly released remake of It yet? What are your thoughts? Are you looking forward to Chapter 2? Do you lament the historian role change from Mike to Ben? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources:

It. Dir. Andy Muschietti. Perf. Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgård. New Line Cinema, 2017. Based on the novel by Stephen King.

Rice, Zak Cheney. “Mike Hanlon, the Black Kid from Stephen King’s ‘It,’ has an amazing backstory. The movie erased it.” Mic, 2017.

A closer look at the reel librarians in the original Ghostbusters

I have written about 1984’s Ghostbusters in bits and pieces before on the blog, including a “Who you gonna call?” post delving into the Librarian Ghost, as well as a “Repeat offenders” post highlighting John Rothman and his penchant for playing insensitive librarians in the early ’80s, including Ghostbusters. The comedy classic was also on the original list of reel librarians films I watched for my original undergraduate thesis, as well as on my list of best librarian films by decade.

However, when I recently rewatched Ghostbusters, I realized there was an opportunity for a closer, more comprehensive look at the librarians and library scene that opens the film. After all, the film features not one, but three, librarian characters in the opening scenes filmed at the iconic central branch of the New York Public Library.

Opening scenes in the library

The film opens on the steps of the New York Public Library, with a close-up gaze upon one of the iconic “Library Lion” statues guarding the central branch.

Reel Librarians | One of the "Library Lion" statues at the New York Public Library, opening shot of 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

One of the “Library Lion” statues at the New York Public Library, opening shot of ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

The film then immediately cuts to a close-up of a reel librarian, who is also as stone-faced as the statue outside. Character actress Alice Drummond, 56 years old at the time of filming, plays a public librarian named Alice, and her librarian props are out in full force, with a cart and books. Her clothing, consisting of a ruffled tie blouse and a cardigan sweater, is also conservative and buttoned-up. The only thing missing to complete the picture of a stereotypical librarian is a pair of glasses on a chain!

Reel Librarians | Opening shot of Alice the librarian in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

Opening shot of Alice the librarian in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

We follow Alice as she goes downstairs to shelve a few books.  The DVD commentary revealed that while the upstairs scenes were filmed in the actual New York Public Library — the library allowed the film crew to film until 10 a.m., so they had to work quickly! — the downstairs scenes were filmed at the Los Angeles Public Library.

As Alice walks deeper into the stacks, spooky things happen behind her back (literally), as books float past shelves, and card catalog drawer fly open and start spewing cards into the air. (I learned through the commentary that this was a practical effects shot of pushing drawers from behind a fake wall and blowing air through tubes to make the cards fly up.)

Reel Librarians | Paranormal activity in the library card catalog, in the opening scene from 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

Paranormal activity in the library card catalog, in the opening scene from ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

It’s interesting to note that Alice is almost completely silent through this opening scene. The first time we hear her voice is when she screams. It’s also very clever that we don’t see the ghost ourselves in this opening scene. In fact, with the screaming and up-lit visage of the scared librarian, she looks kind of like a ghost herself!

Reel Librarians | Reel librarian screams in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

Reel librarian screams in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

You can see a clip from the opening scene here:

Ghostbusters Library Index Card and Entrance Theme,” uploaded by Dan Baierl, Standard YouTube license

A quick scene in-between the two library scenes takes place at a local university, at the Paranormal Studies department, and helps establish the characters of the scientists and soon-to-be-Ghostbusters.

Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) is conducting an experiment when Ray Stantz (Dan Ackroyd) bursts in, excitedly shouting, “This is it. This is definitely it!” He goes on to explain:

At 1:40 p.m. at the main branch of the New York Public Library on 5th avenue, 10 people witnessed a free-floating, full-torso vaporous apparition. It blew books off shelves from 20 feet away and scared the socks off some poor librarian.

This bit of dialogue bridges to the library scenes, as Venkman and Stantz meet up with Egon Spengler in the library itself. Venkman makes noise slamming a book on the table, which alerts the library administrator. This is our first glance at Roger Delacourt (John Rothman), who is dressed conservatively in a dark blazer and tie:

Reel Librarians | First glance at the library administrator in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

First glance at the library administrator in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

Delacourt — notice that he gets a last name, plus a pair of glasses! — approaches the three scientists. After brief introductions, he immediately gets down to business and reveals his real concern:

Thank you for coming. Hopefully we can clear this up quickly, and quietly.

Reel Librarians | Meet cute between the library administrator and the Ghostbusters

Meet cute between the library administrator and the Ghostbusters

Next, everyone is clustered around a table, with “some poor librarian” on her back and murmuring. This scene is also when we first hear her character’s name, Alice (but we only get her first name). Delacourt, the library manager, hovers around as if he’s fighting the urge to all shush them for causing a scene in the library.

Reel Librarians | Not a meet-cute between the scared librarian and the Ghostbusters

Not a meet-cute between the scared librarian and the Ghostbusters

Remember, up to this point, all we’ve heard from Alice is her screaming. This next scene, we get to hear her actual speaking voice as Venkman asks her a series of questions, in order to gauge her competency.

Alice:  I don’t remember seeing any legs but it definitely had arms, because it reached out for me.

Peter Venkman:  Alice, I’m gonna ask you a couple of standard questions, okay? Have you or any member of your family ever been diagnosed schizophrenic, mentally incompetent…?

Alice:  My uncle thought he was St. Jerome.

Peter Venkman:  I’d call that a big yes. [Pause] Are you habitually using drugs, stimulants, alcohol?

Alice: No. [horrified]

By this point in the interview, Roger begins to look even more nervy and agitated.

Peter Venkman:  No, no, just asking. Are you, Alice, menstruating right now?

Roger can no longer stand it and butts in.

Roger Delacourt:  What has THAT got to do with it?

Peter Venkman:  Back off, man. I’m a scientist.

Reel Librarians | The library administrator gets the jitters in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

The library administrator gets the jitters in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

The three paranormal scientists then go down to the library basement themselves. The first spooky thing is… symmetrical book-stacking! The horror! As Venkman assesses, “You’re right, no human being would stack books like this.

We learn on the DVD commentary that it was Ivan Reitman’s idea on the day to do the symmetrical book-stacking!

Reel Librarians | Paranormal book-stacking in a library scene from 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

Paranormal book-stacking in a library scene from ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

They then come across the card catalog drawers and ectoplasmic residue — “Look at this mess!” — and as they round a corner, a bookcase topples. Turns out, this bit was not planned!

The part where the bookcase falls over and Venkman asks Ray “Has this ever happened to you before?” was not part of the original script. The bookcase actually fell over of its own accord (possibly from being disturbed by various crew members) and the subsequent lines were ad-libbed. It was decided to leave this material in as it added an extra element of mystery to the atmosphere as to whether it was a natural occurrence, or a malicious act on the part of the ghost for which the soon-to-be Ghostbusters were looking. (from IMDB.com Trivia page)

Reel Librarians | A library bookcase falls -- by accident! -- in a library scene from 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

A library bookcase falls — by accident! — in a library scene from ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

The scientists then come across the Librarian Ghost — excuse me, the “full torso vaporous apparition” — who is reading a book and floating in her Victorian-style dress.

When Venkman tries to speak to her, the ghost shushes him. (That’s how we know it’s a librarian!)

Reel Librarians | The library ghost in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

The library ghost in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

When they try to corner the Librarian Ghost, she morphs into a monstrous form and scares the socks off them, “some poor scientists.”

The DVD commentary revealed that this scene was one of the first ones they finished the special effects for. This first moment of seeing the librarian ghost was one the producers screened about 3 weeks after editing the film, and the audience freaked out, screaming and laughing at the same time. That’s when they knew the film was going to work!

As the soon-to-be Ghostbusters run screaming from the library, the hapless library director runs out after them.

Did you see it? What was it?

We’ll get back to you.

WHAT?!

Reel Librarians | The library administrator freaks out, at the end of the library scene in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

The library administrator freaks out, at the end of the library scene in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

The role of the librarians

Now that we’ve gotten a look at all three reel librarian in Ghostbusters, let’s delve into the roles and purposes they provide in this Class III film:

I previously identified Alice as fulfilling the dual roles of the Spinster Librarian character type, as well as the Comic Relief character type.

Her Spinster Librarian role is reflected in:

  • Her conservative, buttoned-up clothing
  • Uptight demeanor, as shown in the first shot, turning into timid/meek personality, after being scared by the librarian ghost
  • Rule-monger who is horrified first by the mess made by the spilling of library cards in the card catalog
  • Her sexual undesirability, or at least de-emphasis on her femininity, as revealed through the menstruation question and her horrified (and speechless) reaction to it

In my post about Comic Relief librarians, I wrote:

“The films that provide glimpses of librarians for comedic purposes only also are the films that depict the crudest portrayals overall of librarian stereotypes. The Comic Relief librarians mostly wind up in comedies — shocker, I know — or at least in films that include comedic undertones or situations. Their purpose is the most obvious of all reel librarian roles, but the librarians of this type do not necessarily entertain themselves or other characters in the film — rather, they entertain the audience. Exclusively minor characters, the Comic Relief librarians serve as the target of jokes, and the audience is encouraged to laugh at them.”

This description perfectly sums up how Alice fulfills the Comic Relief role in this film. We most definitely laugh at her distress, or at least remove ourselves, like the Ghostbusters, from her personal distress in order to focus on the cause (the ghost) rather than the effect (“some poor librarian”).

I also enjoyed putting together the different facial expressions of Alice the librarian. Her facial range is impressive!

Reel Librarians | The many facial expressions from Alice the librarian in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

The many facial expressions from Alice the librarian in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

Interestingly, the Librarian Ghost (Ruth Oliver) also fulfills the Spinster Librarian role:

  • Conservative, buttoned-up clothing? Check.
  • Hair in a bun? Check.
  • Rule-monger? CHECK. (Evidenced by her shushing.)
  • Unfriendly/stern demeanor? DOUBLE CHECK. (She suffers no fools, y’all.)
Reel Librarians | The varied facial expressions of the library ghost in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

The varied facial expressions of the library ghost in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

The library administrator, Roger Delacourt, is in his early 30s, a white male. He is an insensitive, nervy library bureaucrat, one who is more concerned about his precious reputation than about his librarian employee who got the shock of her life in the New York Public Library basement. His role fulfills the Anti-Social Librarian character type:

  • Conservative clothing
  • Poor social skills
  • Elitist—rates the library and its rules above the public
Reel Librarians | The main facial expression from the library administrator in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

The main facial expression from the library administrator in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

His job centers on protecting the library’s reputation. He seems totally oblivious that a poor librarian (Alice Drummond) was scared out of her wits by a ghost. He is concerned only with how people will regard the library, and by association, himself.

Hmmm… I think I should add him to either my Hall of Shame or Dishonorable Mention lists…

The role of research

The combined scenes in the library wrap up by 12 minutes into the 105-minute film. We never go back to the New York Public Library — what happened to the Librarian Ghost?! — but the role of research still played a vital role in the film.

Even though the Ghostbusters lose their university funding because their “methods are sloppy” and their “conclusions are highly questionable” — thus providing the incentive to start the Ghostbusters business — the three scientists do highlight their scientific chops in a brief scene after Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) comes to report a demon named Zuul in her refrigerator.

Venkman:  There are some things we do, standard procedures in a case like this, which often brings us results.

Stantz:  I could go to the Hall of Records and check out the structural details in the building. Maybe the building itself has a history of psychic turbulence.

Spengler:  I could look for the name “Zuul” in the usual literature.

Stantz:  Spates Catalog.

Spengler:  Tobin’s Spirit Guide.

Dr. Spangler also references the book, The Roylance Guide to Secret Societies and Sects (also known as simply the Roylance Guide), in the film.

Side note:  Y’all know I looked up those titles, right? Although they were invented for the film, making Wikipedia’s List of Fictional Guidebooks, each title does play a role in subsequent Ghostbusters-related series and games. Each title — as well as the book Dr. Spengler wrote later on, Spengler’s Spirit Guide — is detailed in the Ghostbusters Wikia site. See here for the entry on Tobin’s Spirit Guide, here for the entry on Spates Catalog, and here for the entry on the Roylance Guide. Also, Ghostbusters: Tobin’s Spirit Guide was published last year, as a guide for the original movies, as well as the “expanded Ghostbusters universe, delving into supernatural phenomena from the comics, animated shows, video games, and other aspects of the franchise.”

An hour and 10 minutes into the film, Stantz pulls out the building plans — in a jail cell, as you do — and reveals that “the whole building… was designed and built expressly for the purpose of pulling in and concentrating spiritual turbulence…. Spook Central.

Their research pays off! 😀

Need more Ghostbusters?

Alice, the one who got her “socks scared off” in the film, is also featured in the music video for the Oscar-nominated title song by Ray Parker, Jr.

Ray Parker Jr. – Ghostbusters,” uploaded by RayParkerJuniorVEVO, Standard YouTube license

For those who would like to read more of those bits and pieces I’ve written previously about Ghostbusters:

Do you vividly recall the film’s opening scenes in the library? I have to admit that I had forgotten that the two scenes in the library were on either side of the scene in the Paranormal Studies office. I had melded the two library scenes together in my mind.

Have you revisited the original Ghostbusters lately? Or seen the recent remake? Please leave a comment and share! 🙂

 

Reader poll write-up: Teenage Mother

Teenage Mother (1967) won the recent reader poll, squeaking past at the last minute due to my husband’s shameless promotion. He gets the credit blame for this post, as he wanted to watch ME watching this film, just for my reactions. I had some. 😉

My DVD copy of this film is from Something Weird Video in Seattle, with a “special edition” DVD. Something Weird promotes itself as “the very best in exploitation cinema,” and that rings true for Teenage Mother. The back of the DVD case has Handsome Harry Archer’s complete review of Teenage Mother, which opens with stating it as a “textbook example of classic old-school exploitation.” The film was directed by Jerry Gross, who would later direct the cult classic I Spit on Your Grave.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

Reel Librarians | DVD case for 'Teenage Mother' (1967)

DVD case for ‘Teenage Mother’ (1967)

The basics

Here’s the basic plot, such as it is:  A new health teacher is hired to teach sex education in a high school and gets blamed when a student turns up pregnant. Except the student isn’t actually pregnant. She just told her boyfriend that so that he wouldn’t leave her and go off to medical school. Winners, all. And there’s footage of a live birth at the end. And an extended musical interlude in the middle. Cue the sweet anticipation!

As my husband said:

When you have a 70-minute film and only 40 minutes worth of plot, you HAVE to fill it with musical interludes and a live birth at the end!

To be clear, this movie is NOT good. It is bad. I knew it would be bad. But the question in my mind was this:  Was it SO bad that it would turn out to be awesomely bad? Unfortunately, NO. But as my husband quipped:

It’s the kind of bad that almost feels like a cultural moment.

The film starts off with footage of a stock-car race. Because WHY NOT.

Reel Librarians | Title screen from 'Teenage Mother' (1967)

Title screen from ‘Teenage Mother’ (1967)

Introducing the books and the school librarian

Fifteen minutes into the film, the coach gets to introduce the new health teacher, Miss Erika Petersen (Julie Ange), who dives straight into the required and supplemental texts for the new “anatomical biology” course.

Fun fact:  This film was the film debut of Fred Willard, who plays the coach!

Reel Librarians | Miss Petersen introduces the two textbooks for the new sex education class, in 'Teenage Mother' (1967)

Miss Petersen introduces the two textbooks for the new sex education class, in ‘Teenage Mother’ (1967)

Miss Petersen:  Two texts are required reading for this course. The first, Moreline’s (?) Basics in Human Anatomy is the best for our line of work. In fact, most colleges use it today. This will be supplemented by Caracola’s (?) Adult Sexual Behavior. Both of these books have been ordered, and we should have them for you early next week.

Miss Petersen:  If any of you would like to do additional reading on this subject, I strongly recommend Saucer’s (?) Male and Female. I’m sure your school library has a copy available.

Tony [a student]:  I’ve already checked the library, and Miss Fowler, the librarian, told me it wasn’t available.

Miss Petersen:  That’s very interesting, Tony. I didn’t know you knew of this book.

Tony:  Well, I’d like to become a doctor. In fact, our family physician Dr. Wilson told me to read this book last year.

Miss Petersen:  And Miss Fowler didn’t know of the book? Well, it’s fairly recent. Perhaps she didn’t notice it in the book publisher’s catalog.

Tony:  She knew of it. She said it was indecent for our library.

[classroom erupts in laughter]

Miss Petersen:  Nonsense. At least 90% of all colleges and universities have this book in their libraries, and as many as 50% of all high schools. I’ll discuss this matter personally with Miss Fowler.

The bell rings, ending this scene after a couple of minutes.

Editor’s note: There were no captions available, and the actress’s “European” accent (dubbed?) makes it hard to understand the authors’ names she was saying, which explains why I put in question marks beside names in the quotations above. I couldn’t find any record of the first two books she mentions in this scene. Also, in the scene above and in the later scene with the school librarian, Miss Petersen clearly states the supplementary book, Male and Female, is by an author whose last name sounds like “Saucer” and that it has been newly published. I searched WorldCat — ’cause y’all know I would, right?! — but could not find any book published by that title in the late ’60s by an author with a similar last name. There was, however, a well-known text in this field, Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World, written and published in 1949 by Margaret Mead. And interestingly, there was another edition of this book published by Penguin in 1967, the same year of this film. So why use the same title but change the author? Just another question among many when it comes to this movie!

School library scene

At almost half an hour into the film, we get the library scene. It’s a very short scene, lasting a minute or less. But it is memorable. I have also nicknamed the school librarian “Fowler the Scowler,” as you shall soon see why.

Reel Librarians | School library and librarian in 'Teenage Mother' (1967)

School library and librarian in ‘Teenage Mother’ (1967)

The scene begins with a wide shot of the school library — the film was filmed at East Rockaway High School in Long Island, so I assume this was also their school library — and the school librarian (an uncredited role) is checking in or filing cards in card catalog drawers. The school library is (surprisingly?) filled with lots of students and lots of books.

Miss Petersen walks in, and they make nice for about 5 seconds.

Reel Librarians | The school librarian and the new health teacher meet in 'Teenage Mother' (1967)

The school librarian and the new health teacher meet in ‘Teenage Mother’ (1967)

Miss Petersen:  Good morning, Miss Fowler.

Miss Fowler:  Good morning, Miss Petersen. Can I be of some assistance?

Miss Petersen:  Yes, one of my students, maybe you know him, Tony Michaels. He told me he was unable to find Saucer’s Male and Female on file here. You do have the book, don’t you?

Miss Fowler:  Most certainly not.

Miss Petersen:  Why not, Miss Fowler? It’s one of the most standard texts on anatomical hygiene.

Miss Fowler:  It’s a filthy book.

This outburst and Miss Fowler’s high-pitched exclamation catch the attention of nearby students! Miss Fowler clears her throat.

Reel Librarians | A startled student in the school library in 'Teenage Mother' (1967)

A startled student in the school library in ‘Teenage Mother’ (1967)

Miss Petersen:  Filthy?

Miss Fowler [in a lower voice]:  Yes, filthy! I wouldn’t allow one of our students to even leaf through it. The illustrations are positively vulgar.

Miss Petersen:  They only show the beauty of the human body.

Miss Fowler:  Teenage children are not meant to see such things.

Miss Petersen:  That’s just the point. These youngsters are not children any longer. Their bodies are the bodies of young adults, with all the needs and desires of young adults.

Miss Fowler:  I wouldn’t know about that. [turns her head and looks down, rapidly blinking her eyelids]

Reel Librarians | Librarian closeup from 'Teenage Mother' (1967)

Miss Petersen:  Apparently not. These young people have the right to know about the facts of life. which you say they cannot read. This is a free country, Miss Fowler.

Miss Fowler:  That book has never appeared in this library and never will, as long as I’m here.

Miss Petersen:  Let’s hope that’s not too long.

“Fowler the Scowler” then adjusts her glasses and goes back to filing her cards, an even more pinched look on her face. She ends as she begins the scene, as an uptight, sexually repressed librarian whose mind is closed to new ideas. An uplifting cinematic message for all librarians. 😦

Reel Librarians | The school librarian goes back to filing cards in 'Teenage Mother' (1967)

The school librarian goes back to filing cards in ‘Teenage Mother’ (1967)

I put together a collage of facial expressions to illustrate the reason for my “Fowler the Scowler” nickname of this school librarian:

Reel Librarians | Collage of 'Fowler the Scowler' from 'Teenage Mother' (1967)

Collage of ‘Fowler the Scowler’ from ‘Teenage Mother’ (1967)

Town meeting and attempted censorship

The rest of the film delves into the Tony’s relationship with his girlfriend, Arlene Taylor (played by a real-life Arlene, Arlene Farber), the one who lies about being pregnant in order to trap her boyfriend. She attempts to run away, and her friend confesses the (fake) secret pregnancy to Arlene’s dad, who somehow has the clout to call an immediate “town meeting” at the high school in order to get Miss Petersen fired.

Here’s one memorable line from the town meeting scene, in which the principal defends his decision to hire Miss Petersen:

If your daughter became pregnant, it wasn’t because of anything she read in a book.

Oddly, “Fowler the Scowler” is NOT at that meeting, which I found disappointing. A missed opportunity! In my head, it would have been an awesome ending to have Miss Fowler also join the attempt to get Miss Petersen fired — and then the reverse happens! It would close the loop on Miss Petersen’s final words in the library scene, that she hopes it’s “not too long” before Miss Fowler is gone.

And that’s what this film does:  It makes a real-life librarian root AGAINST a reel librarian. 

In the excellent and thorough reference book on reel librarians, The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999, which I reviewed here in this post, the Tevises sum up the censorship message of the film and the ultimate contrast and conflicting messages of the school principal and the school librarian:

Teenage Mother is one of the few films that confronts the topic of sex education materials in secondary schools. Although the principal of the school is progressive, the librarian scorns the value of sex education. Without the support of the librarian, whose responsibility includes obtaining the appropriate learning materials to support instruction and student research, the program’s success is problematical. The film depicts the librarian as the high school’s moral watchdog who uses her power to censor library materials. (p. 122)

Spinster Librarian role

So what role does Miss Fowler play in this film? I would say most definitely the Spinster Librarian character type, with her uptight manner and closed-minded outlook on collection development. The midpoint of her conversation with Miss Petersen — the self-confession of “I wouldn’t know about that” in response to the health teacher’s remark about the body’s “needs and desires” — clinches the deal.

Also, all of the stereotypical physical traits are there:  an older white woman, hair pulled back in a bun, glasses on a lanyard, high-necked blouse, etc. Even though her time onscreen is short, “Fowler the Scowler” is memorable, landing her librarian role and film in the Class III category.

The 30 seconds of “Fowler the Scowler” in Teenage Mother almost rival the 30 seconds of Spinster Librarian infamy in the 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

Final review and trailer

Here’s an excerpt from Ian Jane’s DVD Talk review of the film:

Preaching to its audience from a fairly lofty perch, the picture purports to deliver a social message about why kids should abstain or at the very least play it safe, but it’s been made so cheaply and marketed with such a sleazy, hyper-sexualized marketing campaign (be sure to watch the trailer which completely misrepresents the film in every way possible) that all of that gets thrown aside. Why? Because it’s obvious that all of this build up and moralizing was simply an excuse to bust out some really graphic footage of a baby popping its way out of some gooey female genitalia.

And finally, I’ve linked to that spectacularly misleading trailer below. I usually like to begin a film analysis post with a trailer, but this trailer needs to come AFTER the film, not before. Also, this trailer IS graphic — as it warns, it includes footage of the live-birth scene from the end of Teenage Mother.

Teenage Mother (1967) Trailer,” uploaded on April 18, 2016, by Vulture Graffix, is licensed under a CC BY license.