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. ūüėČ

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‚Äôs complete review of Teenage Mother, which opens¬†with stating it as a ‚Äútextbook example of classic old-school exploitation.‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôs (?) 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. ūüė¶

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.

Teacher librarian in ‘Primary Colors’

I’m still in a political mood, it seems, when it comes to analyzing reel librarians…¬†from researching Nixon’s Watergate scandal in 1976’s¬†All the President’s Men¬†last week¬†to now hitting the campaign trail in 1998’s Primary Colors, a fictionalized version of Governor Bill Clinton’s¬†Jack Stanton’s history-making presidential campaign. John Travolta portrays¬†Bill Clinton Stanton, and Emma Thompson portrays¬†his wife, Hillary Clinton Susan Stanton.

The film, based on a popular book by Joe Klein, earned two Oscar nominations, for Best Supporting Actress (Kathy Bates) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Elaine May). Rewatching the film, I had forgotten how many other actors of note there were in the film, including Billy Bob Thornton, Diane Ladd, Maura Tierney, and Larry Hagman!

I checked out a DVD of the film from my library, but the library scene is also included in this online clip:

Paul Guilfoyle in Primary Colors (Part 1 of 3),” uploaded by mppmvfemwww mppmvfemwww, Dec. 28, 2011. Standard YouTube license.

The film is primarily told from the perspective of Henry Burton (Adrian Lester), a younger African-American man who the Stanton campaign is trying to recruit to help run their campaign. He gets swept up in the action, and as an outsider, he serves as a surrogate for the audience.

The film opens outside a school in New York, where Henry meets Governor Stanton, who is about to attend an adult literacy program. Stanton introduces Marianne Walsh, a “very special librarian who is running their classes.” A reel librarian personally introduced within the film’s first two¬†minutes! Very special, indeed!

Reel Librarians | Meeting Marianne Walsh, the school librarian, in 'Primary Colors' (1998)

Meeting Marianne Walsh, the school librarian, in ‘Primary Colors’ (1998)

In the credits, the librarian is listed as “Miss Walsh,” signifying her unmarried status. Miss Walsh, played by Allison Janney, is a white woman, tall with short brunette hair, and wearing a modestly cut print shirtdress with long sleeves. She wears no glasses, modest jewelry, and subtle makeup. Miss Walsh is obviously nervous, as she immediately calls Governor Stanton by the wrong name!

She then takes the group on a tour of the school, the walls¬†littered with graffiti. She admits the walls are pretty bad but that the library is better. ¬†‚ÄúWe‚Äôre very proud of the library. […] It’s the only reading program like it in New York, that I know of.‚ÄĚ

Reel Librarians | The school librarian gives a tour of the school in 'Primary Colors' (1998)

The school librarian gives a tour of the school in ‘Primary Colors’ (1998)

On the walk up the stairs to the library, Miss Walsh suddenly slips under the railing — she quickly recovers, with the help of Governor Stanton, but not before we all find out that the librarian chooses not to wear a slip! Yep, a slip reveals the absence of a slip. ūüėČ

Reel Librarians | School librarian Marianne Walsh slips up the stairs in 'Primary Colors' (1998)

School librarian Marianne Walsh slips up the stairs in ‘Primary Colors’ (1998)

She seems thoroughly embarrassed, running her hands through her hair, but the next scene in the library reveals a very different version of the school librarian, one who is calm and collected. Adult students, all older men and women of color, are seated around a table and sharing their stories.

Reel Librarians | Meeting the adult literacy learners in the school library scene in 'Primary Colors' (1998)

Meeting the adult literacy learners in the school library scene in ‘Primary Colors’ (1998)

Miss Walsh encourages one older man, Dwayne, to share his story, as seen in the screenshot below. She clearly knows the students well and has a warm, encouraging tone. She looks like she’s in her element, supportive and confident. After Dwayne shares his story, which is truly touching and emotional, Governor Stanton shares a (seemingly) personal story about his Uncle Charlie who also couldn’t read.

Reel Librarians | The school librarian and Dwayne, an adult literacy learner, in 'Primary Colors' (1998)

The school librarian and Dwayne, an adult literacy learner, in ‘Primary Colors’ (1998)

Reel Librarians | Governor Stanton shares his story in the school library scene in 'Primary Colors' (1998)

Governor Stanton shares his story in the school library scene in ‘Primary Colors’ (1998)

After Stanton finishes his story, the librarian claps and stands up along with everyone else. She and the students go to hug and congratulate Stanton — and in the middle of the crowd, Miss Walsh slips again! Stanton advises her to have her shoes checked.

These scenes in the library, which slowly circle around the room, reveal a school library that is well-stocked with books and lined with bookcases and inspirational posters. The school library is indeed a place to be proud of!

Reel Librarians | The school librarian slips for the second time, in the middle of a group hug!

The school librarian slips for the second time, in the middle of a group hug!

In the next scene, Henry arrives at the hotel’s campaign headquarters, where he encounters Jack Stanton coming out of his bedroom, buttoning his shirt and putting on a tie. The librarian, Miss Walsh, then also comes out of bedroom and slips again as she’s straightening her own collar!

She stutters through thanking him for the opportunity to discuss the, uh, program. Looking embarrassed, she hurriedly grabs her things and walks out of the hotel room filled with people talking away.

Reel Librarians | Governor Stanton and Miss Walsh 'meet and greet' in his hotel room

Governor Stanton and Miss Walsh ‘meet and greet’ in his hotel room

Stanton then explains that Marianne Walsh is on the regional board of the Teachers Union. Henry, looking a bit shell-shocked, murmurs, “A teacher¬†AND a librarian.‚ÄĚ So that explains why Stanton slept with the school librarian, to curry favor with the Teachers Union. I’m sure the no-slip slip didn’t hurt¬†his mission.

Editor’s note: ¬†Yes, we can be both teachers and librarians, as librarians are also educators. That’s also why school librarians are also sometimes referred to as “teacher librarians.”

No one but Henry and Miss Walsh seem fazed by this hotel scene. It’s obvious that both of them are newbies at this political game, while it’s “business as usual” for everyone else. Miss Walsh is obviously not Governor Stanton’s first conquest!

Later, after Jack¬†tells Susan that the teacher was “inspirational,” Henry adds that she seemed like the “typical school board bureaucrat” to him. I suppose he could be right… if the typical school board bureaucrat also has a tendency to fall down a lot. Does Henry¬†say this to make the reel librarian seem dull to Susan, and thus cover for Jack? After all, reel librarians are known to be naughty… ūüėČ

The reel librarian also makes it into the film’s trailer!

Primary Colors – Trailer,” uploaded by UniversalMovies, April 18, 2011. Standard YouTube license.

In the end, Marianne Walsh fulfills the dual role of an Information Provider and as Comic Relief. As Information Provider, she introduces us to the school library and its adult literacy program, and comes across as warm and confident in the library around the adult learners. She also provides information to the audience about Stanton’s philandering ways. As Comic Relief, she makes the men around her — as well as the audience — laugh at her clumsiness and display of nerves (as well as her gullibility?).

Even though the scenes featuring the reel librarian collectively last less than 10 minutes, Allison Janney’s portrayal and slapstick antics serve to make Marianne Walsh a more memorable character. Janney is a very talented actress, and she manages to portray a myriad of emotions (including nervousness, pride, confidence, and vulnerability) in her short time on screen. She lands the film in the Class III category, films with supporting¬†or minor characters with a few¬†memorable or significant scenes.

Have you seen Primary Colors or rewatched it recently? (Or is it too soon to rewatch it?) If you have seen the movie, do you remember Allison Janney’s stumbling school librarian character? Please leave a comment and share. ūüôā

Reel librarians in ‘Rollerball’ | Analyzing the 1975 original film and 2002 remake

I have seen Rollerball, the 1975 sci-fi cult classic starring James Caan, several times, and the film features¬†a couple of reel librarians and corresponding library scenes. I had not yet seen the 2002 remake starring Chris Klein, due to¬†scathing¬†reviews, but I decided to watch the remake recently for the purposes of comparing and contrasting it to the original film — and to see if the reel librarians made the cut in the remake. I also wanted to revisit the original Rollerball film, to see how well it held up.

Ready, set, analyze!


The original film: Rollerball (1975)


In Rollerball (1975), a not-too-distant future controlled by corporations, Jonathan E. (James Caan) is the star of the ultra-violent sport Rollerball. The corporate executives want him to quit, but Jonathan defies them.

Rollerball Official Trailer #1 – James Caan Movie (1975) HD,” uploaded by¬†Movieclips Trailer Vault, 2012, under a Standard YouTube license.

Library computer center scene

The first library scene — in this future, they are called ‚Äúcomputer centers‚ÄĚ — takes place 35 minutes into the 2-hour film. It is a short scene, lasting only a minute and a half. Jonathan goes with friend and teammate Moonpie to the local branch, and the location is like that of a futuristic mall, with escalators. (This location is in Germany, and as director Norman Jewison reveals on a commentary track, it’s a building that was built specifically for the Olympic Games.)

Reel Librarians | Library of the future, set in a mall-like luxury center, in 'Rollerball' (1975)

Library of the future, set in a mall-like luxury center, in ‘Rollerball’ (1975)

There are different information desks, including one labeled “Library” and another one labeled “Travel.” The message is that the “Library” is just another service and just another desk among countless others.

Reel Librarians | The library Circulation desk in a scene from 'Rollerball' (1975)

The library Circulation desk in a scene from ‘Rollerball’ (1975)

At the “Library” desk, a young, pretty, brunette Circulation Clerk — listed as “Girl in Library” in the film’s credits and played by Nancy Bleier– starts off the conversation.

Girl in Library:  Can I help you, please?

Jonathan:  Yeah. I tried to order some books. They sent me this notice that I had to appear at the center personally.

Girl in Library: ¬†That’s right. This is our circulation unit. You can make your choice here or by catalog. There must be some mistake. The books you’ve ordered are classified and have been transcribed and summarized.

Jonathan:  Who summarized them?

Girl in Library:  I suppose the computer summarized them.

Moonpie:  What do you need books for?

Jonathan:  I just want to study up on some things.

Girl in Library: ¬†You could go to the computer center where the real librarians transcribe the books, but we have all the edited versions in our catalog, anything I think you’d want.

Jonathan: ¬†Well, let’s see then. This is not a library, and you’re really not a librarian.

Girl in Library: ¬†I’m only a clerk, that’s right. I’m sorry about it, really.

Cue vacant expression:

Reel Librarians | The Circulation clerk's vacant smile and facial expression

The Circulation clerk’s vacant smile and facial expression

Jonathan:  And the books are really in computer banks being summarized. Where is that?

Girl in Library: ¬†There’s a computer bank in Washington. The biggest is in Geneva. That’s a nice place to visit. I guess that’s where all the books are now.

Jonathan:  Thank you.

This is a pivotal scene, one that confirms Jonathan’s suspicions that “something is not right” and provides him motivation to seek out the real books — and a reel librarians — in Geneva. The “Girl in Library” fulfills the Information Provider role.

Here’s how Norman Jewison described the scene and its importance, in a commentary track on the DVD:

Here is where we bring into the story, bring into the film, that knowledge and access to knowledge is controlled. Much like it was controlled in Nazi Germany, during World War II, or indeed in the Soviet Union, where books were banned. And of course in America. It’s happened here too. Where people are prevented from finding out information that may in some way increase their opposition, perhaps to established authority.

We keep referring to “something’s going on,”¬†there’s¬†some sort of conspiracy, this is the build to reveal to Jonathan, the gladiator, that he is really just a cog in the wheel and is being totally manipulated.

Reel Librarians | Walking and talking outside the mall library

Walking and talking outside the mall library

Jewison and screenwriter William Harrison also emphasized this theme as Jonathan and Moonpie walk out of the library:

Moonpie: ¬†Yeah, but why books? I mean, anything you’d want to know, you could hire yourself a corporate teacher. Call somebody up. Use your privilege card.

Jonathan: ¬†I can’t, and that’s just it. I feel like there’s something going¬†on. Somebody’s pushing me.

Geneva library scene

An hour and a half¬†into the film, Jonathan travels to the central computer bank in Geneva that the Circulation Clerk had mentioned. Jonathan wants to go to computer center in Geneva and see what he can find out. The Geneva library computer center looks like a classical building from the outside, but it’s all polished doors and computer machinery and fluorescent lights inside.

The exterior of the library computer center is the League of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. As director Norman Jewison stated in the director’s commentary, “We tried to show that there was still some respect for some older pieces of architecture, so we decided that we would make the League of Nations into the world’s library.

Reel Librarians | Contrasting the exterior and interior of the main library computer center in Geneva, in a scene from 'Rollerball' (1975)

Contrasting the exterior and interior of the main library computer center in Geneva, in a scene from ‘Rollerball’ (1975)

This is a longer scene, clocking in at six and a half minutes, and the English actor Ralph Richardson plays the librarian, who is star-struck at first by meeting Jonathan. We also get to see the librarian’s office, which looks like a computer storage area.

During this scene, the librarian happens to mention — in an offhand, casual kind of way — that he’s misplaced some data.

Reel Librarians | Librarian meets celebrity, in the Geneva library scene from 'Rollerball' (1975)

Librarian meets celebrity, in the Geneva library scene from ‘Rollerball’ (1975)

Librarian: ¬†Hello, hello. Yes, it is. The famous Jonathan E. Hard to believe. Sorry things are in a mess. The rollerball champion. Wonderful. Not many people come to see us, you know. We’re not easy to talk to, Zero and I. We’re a little confused again here today. This is embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to misplace things.

Jonathan:  Misplaced some data?

Librarian:  Hmmm, the whole of the 13th century. [Tears up cards and throws them on the floor.]

Reel Librarians | Losing the whole of the 13th century, no biggie

Losing the whole of the 13th century, no biggie

Librarian: ¬†Misplaced the computers, several conventional computers. We can’t find them. We’re always moving things around, getting organized. My assistants and I. But this, this is Zero’s fault. Zero. He’s the world’s file cabinet. Yeah. Pity. Poor old 13th century. Well. Come along now. You want to get started, don’t you?

Jonathan:  Yes, sir.

Librarian: ¬†This way. Now, we’ve lost those computers, with all of the 13th century in them. Not much in the century. Just Dante and a few corrupt popes. But it’s so distracting and annoying. You’ve unlimited restrictions here, of course. But you have to come so, so many times. It all takes such effort.

Yes, you read that right. The librarian just dismissed the WHOLE OF THE 13th CENTURY that just disappeared from archival existence. That “Just Dante and a few corrupt popes” amount to “not much.” So I’m pausing in the middle of their conversation to have a moment of silence for the “poor old 13th century” that just got wiped out. RIP, 13th century, RIP.

It’s also becoming obvious how emotionally numb and exhausted the librarian has become.

Reel Librarians | Reel librarian exhaustion, as seen in 'Rollerball' (1975)

Reel librarian exhaustion, as seen in ‘Rollerball’ (1975)

Jonathan:  Do the executives still come here?

Librarian:  Oh, they used to. Some of them.

Jonathan:  What about the books?

Librarian: ¬†Books, books, oh no, they’re all changed, all transcribed. All information is here. We’ve Zero, of course. He’s the central brain, the world’s brain. Fluid mechanics, fluidics. He’s liquid, you see. His borders touch all knowledge. Everything we ask has become so complicated now. Each thing we ask. This morning we wanted to know something about the 13th century. It flows out into all our storage systems. He considers everything. He’s become so ambiguous now. As if he knows nothing at all.

Jonathan:  Could you tell me something about the corporate wars?

Librarian: ¬†Wars? War? Oh, yes, of course. We have them all here. Punic War. Prussian War. Peloponnesian War. Crimean War. War of the Roses. We could recall them in sequence. But corporate wars… hmmm. Well, Zero will, or can, I’m sure, tell you anything.

Reel Librarians | Zero is not a hero

Zero is not a hero

Librarian: ¬†A memory pool, you see. He’s supposed to tell us where things are and what they might possibly mean. Look, Zero, a visitor. Jonathan E., the rollerball champion. You’ve filed away a lot of data on him. Do you remember?

Jonathan:  Does it answer you?

Librarian: ¬†Oh yes, it speaks. It finds things, and loses them, and confuses itself. [Dusts it.] Ask anything. He’ll find it for you, section and lot. Won’t you, Zero?

Jonathan: ¬†All right.¬†I’d like, uh, I’d like some information about corporate decisions: ¬†how they’re made and who makes them.

Librarian:  Zero, you heard the question. Answer him.

Zero:  Negative.

Librarian: ¬†You don’t have to give him a full political briefing. Answer.

Zero:  Negative.

Librarian:  This is Jonathan E. He has to know. Make it simple. Answer.

At first, the librarian speaks¬†lovingly and protectively of Zero, almost like a parent reminiscing¬†about a spoiled¬†child’s antics. Things quickly go downhill from there, as the librarian realizes that Zero refuses to provide the information asked of it. In short, Zero lives up to its name.

Reel Librarians | Librarian dusts off Zero

Librarian dusts off Zero

Zero:  Corporate decisions are made by corporate executives. Corporate executives make corporate decisions.

Librarian: ¬†I know we have the answers. It’s the waters of history.

Zero:  Knowledge converts to power. Energy equals genius. Power is knowledge. Genius is energy.

Librarian: ¬†I don’t want to bully you. You have to answer!

Reel Librarians | Librarian sees red in 'Rollerball' (1975)

Librarian sees red in ‘Rollerball’ (1975)

Zero: ¬†Corporate entities control elements of economic life, technology, capitol, labors, and markets. Corporate decisions are made by…

Librarian: ¬†You have to, Zero! [kicks the base] Let’s show him! Answer him!

Zero:  Negative. Negative. Negative. Negative. Negative. Negative. Negative.

Reel Librarians | Librarian vs. Zero the library computer

Librarian vs. Zero the library computer

As the librarian kicks Zero, in a fruitless attempt to prize information out of it, Jonathan — along with the audience — realize how impotent we all are in this corporatized world. The librarian is educated and intellectual and¬†still valued knowledge, but it is to no avail.¬†The librarian in Geneva is of no more use than the Circulation Clerk back home.

Here’s how Norman Jewison summed up the scene in his director’s commentary:

We came up with the name of Zero for the name of the computer, because we felt that somehow zero was the beginning, and the end, of everything. And I guess we were trying to indicate that as you hear in this scene, that all knowledge. […]¬†I think probably Kubrick’s film 2001, which dealt with HAL, actually was part of the inspiration for this scene. When you¬†start to deal with information stored in one place and one computer, naturally the computer must take on a kind of an identity. You can see here… this is a wonderful scene. [Chuckles.] You can see this is a difficult question for… He’s trying to get Zero to give him some information.

And this is where Jonathan realizes that even the computer is, will not reveal the certain truths that he wants about who really is in charge. So we have a society in which nobody knows really, who’s calling the shots. And there’s only one man questioning it, and he can’t even, he can’t find the answers. And this is where the picture takes off, a little bit, emotionally.

The original 1975 version of¬†Rollerball ends up in the Class III category of films featuring reel librarians, and Ralph Richardon’s librarian ends up being another¬†Information Provider, however ineffectual his information turned out to be.

Although the library scenes in the movie combine for less than 10 minutes total, it’s obvious — especially from Norman Jewison’s commentary — how important those scenes are to the film’s overall message as well as¬†its flow and plot progression.


The remake:  Rollerball (2002)


Rollerball Official Trailer #1 – Jean Reno Movie (2002) HD,” uploaded by¬†Movieclips Trailer Vault, 2012, under a Standard YouTube license.

As I mentioned before, the 2002 remake of Rollerball was not well-received, to put it mildly.¬†It has a 3% — !!! — freshness rating at Rotten Tomatoes. As in 97% rotten. Yikes. The remake’s director,¬†John McTiernan, also went to federal prison due to¬†an investigation resulting from the production of this film. Double yikes.

As for the question of whether or not the reel librarians made it to the remake, the short answer is NO.

The long answer? Also NO.

There is just no room for subtlety or subtext in this remake, which is all about quick action shots and bad special effects. This remake epically¬†fails on all levels, including acting, storytelling, casting, accents, reel librarians, you name it. Very disappointing since the original film was, well, so original. Some movies just don’t need to be remade. The Rollerball remake ends up in the Class V category, films with no librarians.

Just one more cinematic reason why I watch some films so you don’t have to. ūüėČ


Details:

Original: ¬†Rollerball. Dir. Norman Jewison. Perf. James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams, John Beck. MGM/UA Entertainment, 1975. Based on the short story ‚ÄúRoller Ball Murder‚ÄĚ by William Harrison.

Remake: ¬†Rollerball. Dir.¬†John McTiernan. Perf.¬†Chris Klein,¬†Jean Reno,¬†LL Cool J,¬†Rebecca Romijn. MGM, 2002. Based on the short story “Roller Ball Murder” and 1975 screenplay, both by William Harrison.

A disappearing reel librarian

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

Here’s a trailer for the film:

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

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

*POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERTS THROUGHOUT*

Them

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

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

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

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

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

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

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

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

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

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

An adorable facial expression from Katy, played by Jess Weixler

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

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

A reel librarian in her Spanx underwear, trying on outfits for a date, in ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)

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

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

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

A heart-to-heart conversation between sisters in ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)

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

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

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

Shelving periodicals at the public library in a scene from ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)

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

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

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

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

Periodicals section at the public library in a scene from ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)

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

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

Eleanor:  Nap philosophy?

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

Eleanor:  I was hoping you could read my mind.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

The two sisters take a break in the library in a scene from ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)

Katy: ¬†Wouldn’t that be nice?

Eleanor:  You want to do something stupid this weekend?

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

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

Katy:  When did you become an idealist?

Eleanor:  A couple of seconds ago.

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

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

Periodicals closeup

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

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

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

A reel librarian dances in a club scene from ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)

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

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

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

Him

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

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

Her

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

Extended scene in the car

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

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

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

New scene in the bathroom

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

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

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

Katy washes Eleanor’s hair in a scene from ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)

Katy:  Ok, there was an article.

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

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

New scene at a friend’s place

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

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

Reel librarian Katy in a floral romper

Charlie:  What have you been up to, Katy?

Katy:  Um, what do you mean?

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

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

Charlie:  No more with the acting?

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

Charlie:  Whatever happened to dreams?

Extended scene at the house

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

Eleanor:  I will bite you!

Katy:  I will bite you back!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

Sisters Katy and Eleanor get into a fight in a scene from ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)

Extended scene getting ready for a date

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

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

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

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

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

Two sisters embrace

Same scene in the library

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

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

Extra features and interviews

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

Jess Weixler also talks more about this, and her role in the film, in a 3-part series of interviews with Multiplex, which you can watch here at https://www.youtube.com/user/MultiplexShow/search?query=jess+weixler

Reel librarian role and purpose

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

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

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

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

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

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

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

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


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

Pitfalls and fantasies in ‘The Pit’

A couple of months ago, Movie Vigilante, a long-time reader and supporter of Reel Librarians (thank you!), gave me a heads-up about the new release of the 1981 film, The Pit (aka Teddy). It’s a pretty¬†obscure film, but one that has developed its own cult following. I pre-ordered a copy of the DVD, and it arrived on my doorstep this past weekend, just in time for me to watch and analyze it for the blog. As the film is a horror film — and it even begins¬†with a Halloween party scene! — it’s perfect¬†timing to round out our scary movie theme for October.

*PLOT SPOILERS THROUGHOUT*

The basic plot? This plot summary from IMDb.com sums up The Pit quite well:

Twelve year-old Jamie Benjamin is a misunderstood lad. His classmates pick on him, his neighbors think he’s weird and his parents ignore him. But now Jamie has a secret weapon: deep in the woods he has discovered a deep pit full of man-eating creatures he calls Trogs… and it isn’t long before he gets an idea for getting revenge and feeding the Trogs in the process!

One major detail this plot summary leaves out? That Jamie talks to Teddy, his teddy bear… and Teddy answers him back. Teddy even gets highlighted in the film’s title card sequence, as seen below.

Reel Librarians | Title card from 'The Pit' (1981)

Title card from ‘The Pit’ (1981)

The original screenplay, written by Ian A. Stuart, was a bit different from the final film. Jamie was younger, 8 or 9 years old, and the “tra-la-logs” (what Jamie calls the Trogs) were imaginary, not real. It’s kind of a shame that the director,¬†Lew Lehman, didn’t follow that original vision. I always prefer psychological horror — are they real? are they not real? — because your imagination makes things¬†scarier and more horrifying. And that’s the major pitfall (har har) of this film, the cheesy special effects. Plus some gaping plot holes that rival the actual pit in¬†The Pit. ;D

The Pit¬†is definitely an odd film in many ways, including the fact that it’s a Canadian horror movie that was filmed¬†entirely in the United States. More specifically, it was filmed in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, utilizing well-known locales in that city. Beaver Dam is even thanked in the film’s credits!

Reel Librarians | Special thanks in end credits of 'The Pit' (1981)

Special thanks in end credits of ‘The Pit’ (1981)

When I unwrapped the DVD, I read the back of the cover, which states: ¬†“Jamie will teach everyone a lesson: ¬†the kids who teased and bullied him, the mean old lady down the street, even his pretty new babysitter.”

Reel Librarians | DVD cover for 'The Pit' (1981)

DVD front and back covers for ‘The Pit’ (1981)

My senses went up at the “mean old lady” comment, wondering if this was the reel librarian? But I was mistaken! The reel librarian character, Marg Livingstone, is a much younger and attractive woman (in her 30s?) played by Laura Hollingsworth. IMDb.com lists this as Hollingsworth’s sole film credit. She gets 4th billing, and the credits also list a Library Clerk, played by Cindy Auten.

But before we get to the library scenes — there are several in this film! — let’s get to the context. Within the first five minutes of the film,¬†Jamie (played by Sammy Snyders) is seen writing sentences on a school¬†blackboard, punishment for bringing in a naughty book. The schoolteacher opens the book, titled¬†Creative Nude Photography, and comes across a page with a nude silhouette that’s been cut out.

Reel Librarians | Book closeup in 'The Pit' (1981)

Book closeup in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

Even though the book clearly has NO CALL NUMBER on the spine (the tell-tale clue to differentiate between books in a bookstore vs. a library), the schoolteacher assumes it’s a library book. She also states that she’s sure “Ms. Livingstone can find some way to repair it [the book].”

We then see her walking up to a large and beautiful stone building with the words “Williams Free Library” in scrollwork atop the front windows.

Reel Librarians | Williams Free Library exterior seen in 'The Pit' (1981)

Williams Free Library exterior seen in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

Side note:  The Williams Free Library was also the first public library in the United States to have open stacks, which is quite impressive. This stone building was completed in 1891 and is one of the most well-known buildings in that region. Beaver Dam built a new library in 1984, so this building now houses the Dodge County Historical Society.

Even though a few websites erroneously list¬†Miss Livingstone as a school librarian, it’s clear that she’s actually a public librarian. Here’s a peek into the library itself (the library interiors were actually filmed at Wayland Academy in Beaver dam), when the teacher comes in to the drop off the book. In the screenshot below, you can see a corner of the nameplate on the front counter, which reveals¬†the librarian’s name (and marital status) as Miss M. Livingstone. You are invited to also¬†visually contrast the more formal (and dare I say, more glamorous?) attire and hairstyle of the librarian with the more casual look and hairdo of the library aide beside her.

Reel Librarians | Public library counter in 'The Pit' (1981)

Public library counter in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

Here’s how this scene plays out:

Librarian:  Hello, Marian. What can I do for you?

Teacher: ¬†I’m returning this. Jamie, one of my little boy borrowed it. There isn’t likely to be any record of it having gone out. Perhaps you could slip it back for me?

Librarian: ¬†I’ll make sure it’s put back on the shelves.

Teacher: ¬†There’s been a little clipping from one of the pages, I’m afraid. One of the figures cut out. Can you fix that?

Librarian: ¬†We’ll just take out the whole page. Thank you.

The dialogue¬†of this exchange seems innocuous enough, but the expressions on their faces reveal a deeper subtext. The librarian’s face visibly tightens when the teacher mentions the clipping, and the teacher notices this and looks a bit puzzled.

The next scene reveals WHY the librarian reacted this way to the news about Jamie and the clipping from the book. After the teacher leaves, Miss Livingstone immediately takes the book and her purse to a back room in the library. Unbeknownst to her, Jamie is also peeking in on this scene. (One of many convenient plot points.)

Reel Librarians | Library backroom in 'The Pit' (1981)

Library backroom in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

She then takes out an anonymous letter from her purse, which reveals that Jamie has sent her the nude clipping with a picture of her head glued on top! Definitely creepy and unsettling! And now the librarian knows who sent her the letter. But instead of alerting authorities, she just rips up the letter.

Reel Librarians | Ripping up an anonymous letter in 'The Pit' (1981)

Ripping up an anonymous letter in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

The commentary track, provided by a film critic and film historian, highlights a major problem I had with this scene.¬†It’s clear Miss Livingstone is an object of Jamie’s fantasies, but what was his¬†plan or motivation for sending the letter? Is he trying to flatter her? Or is he trying to creep her out? It’s unclear.

Whatever Jamie’s motives, Miss Livingstone remains suspicious of Jamie. This also rises to the surface in the next scene in the library, almost a half-hour into the film. This is when Miss Livingstone meets Jamie’s new babysitter, Sandy, who has come to the library to check out books on “problem children.”

Sandy: ¬†I’m working for Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin, looking after…

Miss Livingstone: ¬†Jamie. Yes, well, I can certainly understand why you’d want a book on problem children. […] Look, I’d like to tell you something about that little boy that you might not know. As another woman, I’m sure you’ll understand.

Reel Librarians | Library scene in 'The Pit' (1981)

Library scene in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

Although¬†Miss Livingstone takes the opportunity to warn Sandy about Jamie, it’s clear that, once again, she chooses NOT to¬†go to the police or other authorities to warn them about Jamie’s escalating behavior.

The next, and final, scene that takes place in the library clocks in at 37 minutes, when Miss Livingstone observes Jamie browsing the shelves¬†at the library. The camera angles on this scene are fantastic, revealing the librarian’s suspicions nature about Jamie. It also visually posits the librarian as the “peeping tom” in this scene. Role reversal!

Reel Librarians | Librarian observes Jamie in 'The Pit' (1981)

Librarian observes Jamie in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

Reel Librarians | Librarian observes Jamie in 'The Pit' (1981)

Librarian observes Jamie in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

The librarian then questions the library aide, seen shelving behind Jamie, about what he checked out.

Miss Livingstone:  What kind of books was that little boy taking out?

Library Aide:  Art.

Miss Livingstone:  What kind of art?

Library Aide:  Some drawing and painting. How-to-do-it stuff. And some on animal husbandry.  Maybe wants to be some kind of veterinarian.

Reel Librarians | Library steps from 'The Pit' (1981)

Library steps from ‘The Pit’ (1981)

We then see Jamie opening up one of the animal husbandry books on the library steps, where¬†he learns about carnivores. Uh oh! This is a pivotal scene, as the library book provides Jamie with knowledge about what to feed carnivores. He starts out buying meat from the butcher’s shop to feed the tra-la-logs… and then when his money funds out, he starts¬†feeding them humans! Convenient that he only feeds them people who have¬†been mean to him…

Jamie’s¬†next prank is quite complex, as he successfully blackmails the librarian. He waits until her niece, Abigail (which he keeps mispronouncing as Abrigail, very annoying), is out of the house and¬†Miss Livingstone is doing yoga in her leotard. He then plays a tape recording over a public pay phone with a pre-recorded message stating that he has kidnapped Abigail and won’t release the child¬†unless Miss Livingstone takes off her clothes. Jamie then sneaks under her window and takes pictures of her on his Polaroid as she undresses.

Reel Librarians | Peeping Tom and polaroids from 'The Pit' (1981)

Peeping Tom and polaroids from ‘The Pit’ (1981)

Major plot holes with this scene? First, Jamie makes NO ATTEMPT to disguise his voice on the recording, and Miss Livingstone has had several disturbing encounters with Jamie already. Why doesn’t she recognize his voice? (The commentary track also brings up this issue.) Second, he says on the recording that he’s watching her yet she DOESN’T BOTHER¬†to look out the window, where she could easily spot Jamie with his camera.¬†Third, a 12-year-old boy has pre-recorded the blackmail message, therefore having to anticipate the reactions of a 30-ish woman. Like I said before, another¬†very convenient plot point.

When Jamie takes the Polaroids home, he shows them to Teddy, who says,¬†“I’m going to look at these a lot.” Creepy! And then¬†I realized that these Polaroids of the librarian are actually included on the film’s poster. Double creepy!

Reel Librarians | Polaroids in a scene from and poster for 'The Pit' (1981)

Polaroids in a scene from and poster for ‘The Pit’ (1981)

We never see the library or librarian again in the film.¬†It’s interesting to note that Miss Livingstone does survive in the end, and there doesn’t seem to be any attempt on Jamie’s part to include her with the “bad people” he lures into the pit. (By the way, the aforementioned niece, Abigail, is not so lucky. She was mean to Jamie and played a trick on him with her bicycle. She got scolded by her librarian aunt for this trick, but that was not punishment enough for Jamie… )

In general, Miss Livingstone comes across as a pleasant, stylish, competent, and intelligent¬†woman (except for when she didn’t recognize Jamie’s voice over the phone). She is seen both inside and outside the library, including at home with her hair down) as well as¬†around town. The reel librarian is a supporting character, earning The Pit a spot in the Class III category.

Reel Librarians | Closeups of the librarian in 'The Pit' (1981)

Closeups of the librarian in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

As for what purpose or role she fulfills in the film? Primarily, she’s an Information Provider: ¬†she, or the library she represents, provides pivotal information to Jamie — unwittingly helping escalate his behavior. Miss Livingstone also provides a reference point, a touchstone, for the audience as she mirrors our growing dread and suspicion of Jamie.

Although she doesn’t actually portray a Naughty Librarian in the film, it’s almost as if the filmmakers are¬†pitting her character against that fantasy in others, namely Jamie. This is also echoed in the commentary track for the first library scene, as the film critic and film historian (both males) talk about how Miss Livingstone is an¬†object of Jamie’s affection.

1st commentator:  You can tell because the glasses are so enticing. [sarcastic tone]

2nd commentator: ¬†At some point … the hair’s going to go down and the glasses are going to come off, and she is going to be a hottie.

Here’s how the reel librarian character is described on¬†the Canuxploitation site:

“Miss Livingston is the world’s most uptight librarian and appears to hold some deep, dark secret which is never revealed.”

I don’t agree with this characterization, that she is “the world’s most uptight librarian.” I interpreted her reactions to Jamie’s behavior as quite understandable, as a woman who is trying to do her job and go about her daily life. Instead, she has to deal with unwanted and inappropriate — not to mention¬†unsolicited! — sexual attention and fantasies from a young boy.

Can you tell who¬†I sympathize with in this movie? It sure isn’t Teddy…

One final note: ¬†Although the creatures are listed as “Trogs” in the film’s credit, Jamie refers to them as “tra-la-logs” throughout the entire film. Every single time, this made me think of the “Mr. Trololo” singer and YouTube video clip¬†that made the rounds on the Internet a couple of years ago. More creepiness!

So that wraps up this year’s scary movie posts, an annual tradition each October on the Reel Librarians blog. Here are the scary movies and reel librarians we looked at this past month:

After collating this list, I also realized that during this past month we have looked at movies from four different decades: ¬†the ’50s, the ’70s, the ’80s, and the ’90s. ūüôā

Which scary movie post was your favorite? Please leave a comment and share.