First impressions: ‘Hidden Figures’ and its library scene

I recently watched the Best Picture-nominated film Hidden Figures, which is a biographical film featuring three African-American female mathematicians — or “computers” — at NASA during the early 1960s. The film sheds lights on their individual and collective struggles to earn personal and professional respect, both as women and as African-Americans in a field dominated with white males. The three female leads all deliver top-notch performances:  Taraji P. Henson as brilliant mathematician Katherine G. Johnson; Octavia Spencer in an Oscar-nominated performance as mathematician and computer programmer Dorothy Vaughan; and Janelle Monáe as firecracker engineer Mary Jackson.

Here’s an official trailer for Hidden Figures:

Hidden Figures | Official Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX,” uploaded by 20th Century Fox, Nov. 16, 2016, Standard YouTube license.

Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson all accomplished firsts during their lives:  Johnson became the first African-American woman to desegregate the graduate school at West Virginia University; Vaughan became the first African-American woman to supervise a staff at NASA; and Jackson became the first African-American female engineer at NASA.

Based on the non-fiction book of the same title by Margot Lee Shetterly, it is an inspiring story of “hidden figures” finally being publicly recognized for their amazing contributions and talents and intelligence. These are stories of American heroes that need to be shared and experienced.

For more information on the real-life “hidden figures,” please read this insightful and informative NPR article and interview on ‘Hidden Figures’: How Black Women Did The Math That Put Men On The Moon.

First impressions of the film? It is excellent on all fronts; the film does justice to the legacies of the real-life women it’s based on. Highly recommended! It is also a very well-structured film, although some dates were switched around and characters merged to simplify the story and increase the drama. You can read more about the historical accuracy here and additional trivia here on IMDb.com. The film is also Oscar-nominated for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay. Hidden Figures has also become the highest-grossing film thus far of the Best Picture nominees.

There is a pivotal library scene, clocking in around 2/3 of the way through the film, if I am remembering correctly. Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) visits the local public library to look at computer programming books in the library’s “white” section because what she’s looking for isn’t available in the library’s “colored” section. A reel librarian (Rhoda Griffis as “White Librarian,” how the character is listed in the credits) tells her she doesn’t “want any trouble” and has Vaughan thrown out of the library. When Vaughan and her two boys are back on the bus, she pulls out a library book out from underneath her coat, a book on the Fortran programming language. Her sons are aghast — and I, too, let out an audible gasp in the movie theater! — but Vaughan’s defiant reaction is, “I pay my taxes for this library just like everybody else!

Here’s how a review on the “Library” Books blog sums up the importance of this scene and what it sets in motion:

She [Vaughan] uses the book to secretly learn to program the new room-sized IBM mainframe computer that has recently arrived at NASA that will surely put her and many of her denizens out of a job. By learning the computer language she not changes her own destiny, but that of dozens of other women, both black and white, who work for the space program. This episode is one of many in the film that reminds us that what is legal is not necessarily right, and what is illegal is not necessarily wrong. Powerful lessons that are still relevant today.

Here’s another trailer for the film that includes a peek at the library scene at 1:45 minutes into the trailer:

Hidden Figures Official Trailer #1 (2017) Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe Drama Movie HD,” uploaded by Zero Media, Aug. 14, 2016, Standard YouTube license.

While Vaughan visited the public library to seek out more up-to-date materials, it is another book — this time, an older book — that provides the solution to another pivotal plot point. When Katherine Johnson is stuck in figuring out a key mathematical conversion to help bring a rocket back down safely, she is inspired to use “old math” for the solution. So she goes straight to the “Colored Computers” area, where there is a bookcase filled with older, hand-me-down books — and finds exactly what she needs! What is old is new again.

I will need to rewatch the movie in order to delve deeper into the library scene and the role that books and research play in the film, but it’s pretty obvious to me that the “White Librarian” character serves the role of Information Provider. She is there not to provide information to any characters, but rather to reflect the societal rules that were in place to unjustly segregate citizens. Her reel librarian character echoes the “That’s just the way things are” barriers of the time period, barriers that were starting to crack, brick by brick and book by book.

Have you seen Hidden Figures? What are your thoughts on the film and/or its library scene? Please leave a comment and share!

Lilly the Librarian in ‘Rising Sun’

In the 1993 drama, Rising Sun, young, beautiful woman is found strangled atop a table in the L.A. headquarters of a Japanese corporation. Who killed her? To solve the crime, Wesley Snipes, who plays Lt. Webster ‘Web’ Smith, partners with Sean Connery, who plays Capt. John Connor, an expert on Japanese culture. They delve into the seemingly seamy underworld of Japanese business etiquette.

Rising Sun (1993) official trailer HD,” Paradise Of Trailers, uploaded Oct. 2012. Standard YouTube license.

I’ve watched this film before (and I had totally forgotten it was based on a Michael Crichton novel!), and I’ve always wanted it to be a better film than it turned out to be. One night, when I was working on my computer, I came across this movie in my DVR listings, so I had it playing in the background while I was working on something else. I did NOT remember this movie having a reel librarian, but once your radar is on, you find them EVERYWHERE. When I heard the words “Lilly the Librarian” spoken in the background, I stopped what I was doing and looked up in surprise. Instant reel librarian research — and resulting blog post! 😀

The scene happens exactly halfway through the movie, at 1 hour and 4 minutes. The scene lasts only a minute, and we get only a brief glimpse of Lilly the Librarian. It is also a rare instance where a Class IV librarian gets a name! (And a rare portrayal of a newspaper librarian/archivist, as well.)

So what’s the context? Smith gets a call from a reporter informant, Ken Shubik, who is keeping tabs on a weaselly investigator, played by Steve Buscemi (!). And yes, Buscemi’s character on the cast list is officially listed as Willy ‘the Weasel’ Wilhelm. Willy the Weasel is busy digging into any dirt he can find on Lt. Smith, and he’s enlisting the help of Lilly the Librarian at a newspaper library.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Rising Sun' (1993)

Ken Shubik:  Where the hell you been? Did you get my message?

Web Smith:  Yes, about the weasel?

Ken:  Last night, I’m working late at the paper, I see the weasel arrive, dressed in his tux. He goes right to the library. I could tell the ambitious little terd had the scent of blood. He’s still here. I asked Lilly the Librarian, what’s he checking out? A cop she says, a cop named Web Smith.

Willy the Weasel IS successful in digging up dirt — obviously with help from Lilly the Librarian. And actually, the brief scene reveals the possibility of TWO reel librarians, both of them redheads. Here’s the first, who walks away, shaking her head in frustration.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Rising Sun' (1993)

As the first woman walks away, we see another redhead — the one I theorize is the actual Lilly the Librarian — sitting at a desk filing periodicals, which you can see in the screenshot below and in the first screenshot above. Willy the Weasel, who has been pacing back and forth to a bank of computers, then walks back over to her, talking and pointing, and we see only the side of her head.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Rising Sun' (1993)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Rising Sun' (1993)

Lilly the Librarian definitely fulfills her role as Information Provider. Too bad that wasn’t enough to warrant a credit in the cast list. 😦

This reel librarian cameo also reminded me a little of another reel librarian character in You, Me and Dupree (2006). Although the characters fill VERY different roles, there are some striking coincidences:

  • Both are redheads
  • We see both only briefly — and mostly from behind or from the side
  • We never hear them speak
  • Both are named similarly:
  • Both are uncredited in the cast lists

Amazing the things you start to connect when you dig into reel librarian research!

Amityville horrors

Today, I have a horror movie two-fer, 1979’s The Amityville Horror and 1982’s Amityville II:  The Possession. Amazingly, BOTH films feature reel librarian characters. Are there any similarities? Do the reel librarian characters serve the same purpose in both films? Let’s dive in!

*SPOILER ALERT*

Reel Librarians | The iconic house from 'The Amityville Horror'

The iconic house from ‘The Amityville Horror’

The Amityville Horror (1979)

In the horror classic, The Amityville Horror (1979), a newly married couple, played by Margot Kidder and a bearded James Brolin, merge their families and move into a large house for sale at a bargain price. Why priced so low? Because the house was the site of a mass murder, based on real-life events, where a son murdered his parents and siblings in their family home in Amityville, Long Island, New York. The film begins with a brief re-enactment of those murders but focuses primarily on the paranormal experiences of the Lutz family who moved in afterward, as written about by Jay Anson in The Amityville Horror, published in 1977. The story caught the attention of the public, with both the book and the movie being big hits (and spawning multiple sequels and remakes), but the story has also been controversial and led to multiple lawsuits.

About 70 minutes into the film, James Brolin drives off on his motorcycle to the Town Hall for building plans, to investigate what’s been happening in the house. (His dog has also been scratching and whining at one walled-up part of the basement.) The next scene cuts to closeups of drawings of flies, panning over to bookshelves in the public library.

Reel Librarians | Library bookshelves in 'The Amityville Horror' (1979)

Library bookshelves in ‘The Amityville Horror’ (1979)

Instead of the buzzing fly sound effects heard throughout the film, we hear loud whispering. Spooky… until we realize the whispers are coming from two older women at the Circulation Desk. Hmmm… symbolism?

Reel Librarians | Gossiping librarians in 'The Amityville Horror' (1979)

Gossiping librarians in ‘The Amityville Horror’ (1979)

The two reel librarians are wearing conservative blouses with high necks and long sleeves. While they are whispering, one flips through a stack of cards and photographs. They are too engrossed in their gossiping (I could make out the phrase “Oh no, no, no, she’s a nice person”) to notice that Brolin steals a book!

Reel Librarians | Library research in 'The Amityville Horror' (1979)

Library research in ‘The Amityville Horror’ (1979)

Reel Librarians | Stealing a library book in 'The Amityville Horror' (1979)

Stealing a library book in ‘The Amityville Horror’ (1979)

FOR SHAME, James Brolin, FOR SHAME. This is obviously another example of how his character has been influenced by evil spirits. 😉

Note:  By the way, the bookshelf he was looking at is marked “100’s,” which is the “Philosophy and psychology” section in the Dewey Decimal classification system. Parapsychology and occultism are in the 130’s. At least they got that detail right in the movie!

Is the book important? We next see him in a local bar, sitting with friends Jeff and Carolyn. Brolin is describing weird things happening in the house, as Carolyn is flipping through the book. (So he can’t even be bothered to look at the book he stole from the library!)

Reel Librarians | Library book research at the bar in 'The Amityville Horror' (1979)

Library book research at the bar in ‘The Amityville Horror’ (1979)

After spotting an illustration that looks similar to the Amityville house, she cries out:

“Of course, it’s right here. It’s history! John Ketcham. We ran him out of Salem for being a witch. He built his house exactly where you’re living. You’re living on some kind of special ground that devil-worshipped death, sacrifice. George, there’s one simple rule. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change forms.”

John Ketcham, also spelled Catchum, is mentioned in Jay Anson’s book, where he claims the following info:

One of the more notorious settlers who came to the newly-named Amityville in those days was a John Catchum or Ketcham who had been forced out of Salem, Massachusetts for practicing witchcraft. John set up residence within 500 feet of where George [Lutz] now lived, continuing his alleged devil worship. The account also claimed he was buried somewhere on the northeast corner of the property.

From what I’ve been able to find online, there are historical records of a John Ketcham who settled in the area, but any ties to witchcraft seem to be unsubstantiated.

Back to the film… no more is seen of the stolen library book or the reel librarians, after they’ve served their purpose. (The same could be said of pretty much everything else in this oddly disjointed film.)

Margot Kidder does some research of her own later, as a clerk explains how to use microfilm to look through newspaper archives. However, it’s clear that she’s in a newspaper office, and not in a library. Peter Maloney is also listed in the film credits as Newspaper Clerk.

And yes, the Newspaper Clerk merits a mention in the credits, but neither of the two reel librarians are listed.

Amityville II: The Possession (1982)

The second film in the “Amityville” series is actually a prequel, even though the “II” in the title suggests that it’s a sequel. The events in Amityville II: The Possession are based on the real-life 1974 murders of the DeFeo family in Amityville, Long Island, New York (the eldest son was convicted in 1975 of murdering his entire family). The film credits parapsychologist Hans Holzer’s 1982 book Murder in Amityville as its source material. The prequel/sequel made much less money than the original film and was nominated for a Razzie Award the next year (Worst Supporting Actress for Rutanya Alda, who played the mother).

The film mixes together elements of the original The Amityville Horror (same house and setting), The Exorcist (the last third of the film), Flowers in the Attic (incest) and Poltergeist (building on ancient Indian burial ground).

The reel librarian enters the picture 80 minutes into its 104-minute running time. After the murders and subsequent arrest of the eldest son, a local priest is staring at the iconic Amityville house. A ghostly hand reaches out and touches his shoulder and startles him… and he turns around to find a kindly, grandmotherly woman all wrapped up in a scarf and overcoat. She asks if he’s okay and if she can give him a lift. As they walk away, she reveals that she knows “some strange stories about that house.”

Reel Librarians | Librarian in 'Amityville II: The Possession' (1982)

Librarian in ‘Amityville II: The Possession’ (1982)

The next scene cuts to a room that looks like an archives room in a basement (fluorescent lighting, low ceiling, and pipes are visible, adding to the basement feel). There are shelves and shelves of archives, and the older woman walks down the aisle, carrying a large volume.

Reel Librarians | Archives room in 'Amityville II: The Possession' (1982)

Archives room in ‘Amityville II: The Possession’ (1982)

Reel Librarians | Archives research in 'Amityville II: The Possession' (1982)

Archives research in ‘Amityville II: The Possession’ (1982)

The older woman reveals some personal info:

“I’ve been working here for 25 years. At first I thought it would be boring, but these records are more interesting than any novel.”

Her voice is soft and mellow, but it doesn’t quite take the sting out of hearing that this woman thought her job — apparently as an archives librarian — would be boring. SIGH. She’s also dressed quite conservatively (and stereotypically for a reel librarian), with a high-neck bow blouse and sweater vest cardigan.

She then fulfills her role as an Information Provider, as we get a close-up of the archives volume.

Reel Librarians | Archives closeup in 'Amityville II: The Possession' (1982)

Archives closeup in ‘Amityville II: The Possession’ (1982)

She tells him about a witchcraft lady who long ago desecrated and violated Indian law against building on an ancient burial ground, and that the house and land have been desecrated by people with no right to live there.

And the other foot drops. Shades of Poltergeist, anyone?

It’s also interesting to note that this is a different take on the reason given for the evil spirits in the first film. But at least this time, the reason is provided directly by a reel librarian.

Also interesting to note that the older woman is wearing a ring on her left hand, so it’s clear that she is married. No Spinster Librarian in this film! Although we never hear her name onscreen, the reel librarian character is revealed in the credits as Mrs. Greer, played by Petra Lea. This is Lea’s only film credit, and she passed away a few years later, in 1989.

Here’s a table comparing-and-contrasting the reel librarians in the first two films of the Amityville Horror series:

Title The Amityville Horror Amityville II:  The Possession
Year Released 1979 1982
Source Material Based on the real-life experiences of the Lutz family, as written by Jay Anson in The Amityville Horror, 1977 Based on the real-life murders of the DeFeo family, as written about by Hans Holzer in Murder in Amityville, 1982
Adaptation Original film adaptation Prequel to the events in Amityville Horror (despite the II in its title, which suggests a sequel)
When reel librarians appear on screen 70 minutes into the 117-minute film 80 minutes into the 104-minute film
Reel librarian characters Two older women; not listed in film credits Mrs. Greer, played by Petra Lea, works in the public library archives
Appearance and dress One blue-haired female, one white-haired female; No glasses; Conservative clothing, with high-necked blouses Grey hair; Glasses; Conservative clothing, with bow blouse
Total screen time A few seconds 1-2 minutes total
Reel librarian roles Information Providers, providing visual cues to library setting Information Provider. Voices the reason why there is evil in the house, as revealed in the town archives
Category  Class IV (cameo roles with little to no dialogue) Class III (minor character with speaking lines in a significant scene)

It is interesting that reel librarians are in both the first two entries in the Amityville Horror series of movies. In both films, they serve as Information Providers, but for different reasons. I am also glad that the reel librarian in Amityville II had a speaking role — and got included in the film’s credits!

Have you seen any of the Amityville movies? Did you remember there were librarian characters in both the first two entries in the Amityville Horror collection of movies?

Until next time…

Baby Boom

First thought upon rewatching Baby Boom? SO EIGHTIES! From the opening title card (seen below) to the music to the massive shoulder pads to the opening narration, complete with bon mots like “sociologists say the new working woman is a phenomenon of our time” and “a woman like this has it all!“. The movie was made in 1987, after all, and stars Diane Keaton as J.C. Wiatt, a successful businesswoman who, through reasons of PLOT, becomes the custodian for a one-year-old.

I think this kind of movie probably had to be made at that time period, and it was well-received by critics and audiences, even inspiring a TV show of the same name from 1988-1989. Diane Keaton is the main reason this movie works.

Reel Librarians  |  Title screen for 'Baby Boom' (1987)

Typically ’80s font for the title screen for ‘Baby Boom’ (1987)

*SPOILER ALERT*

At 1 hour, 14 minutes into the film, J.C. has moved to Vermont and has the idea of manufacturing her homemade baby food. And where does she head first? To the library, of course! Smart woman. 😉

Specifically, she heads to the Bennington College Library.

Reel Librarians  |  Baby boomer research

Screenshot of the Bennington College Library sign in ‘Baby Boom’ (1987)

The next shot highlights J.C. back to her fast-talking self, listing all the info she needs from the young librarian at the desk. She wants materials on starting a small business and marketing trends, including info on Baby Boomers, demographics, and new consumerism.

The reel librarian — possibly a student library assistant? — doesn’t get any lines; rather, she just nods and starts making notes. She is wearing glasses and an awesomely ’80s Cosby-like sweater vest. There is also a large tape dispenser and a book truck beside her:  examples of classic “librarian props.” 😉

Reel Librarians  |  Baby boomer research

Screenshot of the reel librarian scene in ‘Baby Boom’ (1987)

Reel Librarians  |  Baby boomer research

Screenshot of the reel librarian scene in ‘Baby Boom’ (1987)

The librarian obviously got her what she needed because in the next shot, we see J.C. with a pile of materials and taking notes. As she describes it, “I’m doing a little bit of research.”

Reel Librarians  |  Baby boomer research

Screenshot of library research in ‘Baby Boom’ (1987)

And lo and behold, the cute local vet (played by Sam Shepard) walks down the library stairs. Turns out he teaches a class at the college, and I appreciate the attention to detail that he’s coming from the “Medical Science” section of the library!

Reel Librarians  |  Baby boomer research

Screenshot of the library in ‘Baby Boom’ (1987)

He and J.C. then proceed to “meet cute” in the library. J.C. tries to hide behind a magazine, and then later drops all her library materials. Smoooooooooth.

Reel Librarians  |  Baby boomer research

Screenshot of the “meet cute” scene in the library in ‘Baby Boom’ (1987)

Reel Librarians  |  Baby boomer research

Screenshot of the “meet cute” scene in the library in ‘Baby Boom’ (1987)

And later in the film, when J.C. and the vet (finally) get together, she references that scene in the library! 🙂

The library scene is extremely short, lasting only two minutes seconds in total. The reel librarian is onscreen for only a few seconds of that scene, and she doesn’t even earn a screen credit. This short cameo role lands Baby Boom in the Class IV category, in which the librarian(s) plays a cameo role and is seen only briefly with little or no dialogue. The reel librarian definitely fulfills the Information Provider role, providing information to Keaton’s character as well as helping establish the library setting.

And the library itself is quite lovely. The stained glass windows are gorgeous, and the dark wood paneling and bookshelves give the library a traditional feel. And there is a Bennington College in real life, and they have two libraries:  the main Crossett Library (which looks super modern, as seen here), and the Jennings Music Library.

Y’all knew I would look that up, right? 😉

Reel Substance: A look at Classes III and IV

Continuing the spotlight on “Reel Substance“… Why the reason for this mini-series? Because I also use this website as a repository for my lifelong research of librarians in film, so this mini-series of posts highlight the research behind the blog.

One way I analyze and categorize films is according to the importance of the librarian role to the film overall. I do this through the “Reel Substance” section of this site, which is currently divided into 5 categories.

Reel Librarians  |  Reel Substance screenshot

Last week, I started by taking a look at the differences between Class I and Class II films. This week, let’s look at Class III and Class IV films.

The basics:

Class III

Class IV

These are films in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role. Films in which the librarian(s) plays a cameo role.
These secondary roles range from supporting characters in several scenes to minor characters with a few lines in a memorable or significant scene. These cameo roles are seen only briefly with little or no dialogue.

What are some examples?

Class III

Class IV

  • 2 Brothers and a Bride, aka A Foreign Affair (2003)
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
  • Citizen Kane (1941)
  • Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
  • Ghostbusters (1984)
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
  • My Week with Marilyn (2011)
  • The Night Strangler (TV, 1973)
  • The Philadelphia Story (1940)
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)
  • Soylent Green (1973)
  • Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
  • That Touch of Mink (1962)
  • The Time Machine (2002)
  • UHF (1989)
  • The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
  • Awakenings (1990)
  • Beautiful Girls (1996)
  • Brief Encounter (1945)
  • City of Angels (1998)
  • Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939)
  • Ever After (1998)
  • Finding Forrester (2000)
  • Gods and Monsters (1998)
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
  • Marathon Man (1976)
  • Old Gringo (1989)
  • Scream Blacula Scream (1973)
  • WarGames (1983)

The above lists are only selected samples — 15 titles apiece; you can view more titles and synopses in the Class III and Class IV pages.

You caught me dialoguing

One of the main differences between reel librarians in Class III vs. Class IV is in the amount of dialogue the reel librarian character has. Some Class III reel librarian characters are fully supporting characters — like Vox in The Time Machine (2002), Mr. Berry in The Night Strangler (TV, 1973) and English in Escape from Alcatraz (1979). These characters, therefore, have several scenes of dialogue throughout the film.

Other reel librarian characters in Class III have one memorable scene, like in the opening library scene in Ghostbusters (1984), or in the motel room scene toward the end of That Touch of Mink (1962), as seen below and as analyzed in this post.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'That Touch of Mink' (1962)

Screenshot from ‘That Touch of Mink’ (1962)

Contrast that with the majority of Class IV reel librarian characters, who have little or no dialogue. In some films — Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), for one — they literally only get to point. In other films, like Ever After (1998) or Marathon Man (1976), they’re only seen in the background, never heard. The lucky few get a line or two of dialogue. Sophia Wu got to say, “We have 24 copies. But I’m sorry, they’re all checked out” in Finding Forrester (2000), while Sybil Scotford grabbed a few more words (“Let’s see. This is it. This whole shelf. Black arts, occult. That should keep you busy for awhile”) during her few seconds of screen time in Scream Blacula Scream (1973), as seen below.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

Screenshot from ‘Scream Blacula Scream’ (1973)

Providing information in Class III films

A majority of the reel librarian roles in Class III and Class IV consist of Information Providers and Comic Relief character types, with the odd Spinster Librarian thrown in the mix for good measure. (Interested in knowing more about those character types? Visit the “Role Call” section of the site.) But the reel librarians provide information in different ways.

In Class III films, Information Providers usually relay info essential to the plot, helping advance the plot. Again, this goes to WHY a librarian is in the film. Having librarians provide essential information to a main character is a shortcut for the audience to then trust that information.

For example, there are multiple reel librarian characters in All the President’s Men (1976) — none of them onscreen for all that long, but collectively, they are enough of a presence to merit Class III. After several attempts by the reporters to locate information — even being rebuffed by one librarian over the phone — their investigation breaks wide open after one (unwitting) library clerk provides them circulation records.

A similar plot point arises in Curse of the Demon, aka Night of the Demon (1957). Psychologist John Holden (Dana Andrews) investigates a colleague’s death; in one scene, Holden investigates his colleague’s research at the British Museum and gets help from an older male librarian. (And that librarian gets gold stars for going above and beyond his duty to track down a copy of a rare book.) It’s that research that propels the rest of the film.

Reel Librarians: Star Wars Library Scene

Screenshot from Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Sometimes, the reel librarian is there to provide misinformation, like Jocasta Nu in Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002), as seen above. In one short scene, analyzed here in this post, Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) cannot find any information about a mysterious planet at the Jedi Archives, and the librarian insists that “if an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist.” (Sighhhhhhh.)

Providing information in Class IV films

In Class IV, there are also a super-majority of reel librarian characters who are Information Providers. But instead of relaying actual information or research to characters, like in Class III films, Information Providers in Class IV films usually relay information about the setting to the audience. They are almost always there to help establish the library setting in scenes that occur in libraries. This is also a shortcut for the audience — but a shortcut more about place, rather than purpose.

That begs the question:  Why set a scene in a library? Sometimes, a library makes sense in the overall academic setting of a Class IV film (With Honors, Threesome, Rudy, Finding Forrester, Dangerous Minds, and more). Other times, a library is used as a “safe” and public space for the main characters to “meet cute” (Marathon Man, Ever After, City of Angels, and so on).

Reel Librarians | Screenshot of 'With Honors'

Screenshot of ‘With Honors’ (1994), where librarians are as much decoration as the actual holiday decorations

More often than not, reel librarians in Class IV films are seen in the background of a library scene or setting. Librarians as decoration? One could do worse… 😉

No-name librarians

I’ve written before, as in my “Librarian is a librarian is a librarian” post, about how most reel librarians who are title characters end up in Classes I and II. For Classes III and IV, a majority of the reel librarian characters are either credited simply as “Librarian” (or a similar title, like “Library Clerk”) or, even worse, uncredited — earning no name at all. This makes a kind of sense, given the lesser screen time given these portrayals.

Screenshot from credits of 'The Night Strangler' (TV, 1973)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from credits of ‘The Night Strangler’ (TV, 1973)

There are more named reel librarian characters in Class III films, like Wally Cox as Mr. Berry in The Night Strangler (TV, 1973), while there are more uncredited roles in Class IV films.

Final thoughts

I fully admit, there is no exact science for how I analyze and categorize films and their reel librarian characters. For me — admittedly viewing these films through my librarian lenses — everything boils down to context and purpose. Some of the questions I ask myself:

  • Does the librarian have any dialogue in the film? If not, then I start with Class IV and see how the rest of the film goes.
  • Does the librarian serve a clear purpose in the film, beyond just establishing a library setting? If yes, then I start with Class III and go up from there, if needed.
  • Is the librarian a main character? Then I think about the importance of that role in the context of plot, to distinguish between Class I and Class II.

And I do sometimes agonize over these decisions. I’m probably the only one who does… 😉 But if I’m going to do something, I want to do it well. Sometimes, I go back and forth between Class III and Class IV (What does “significant” mean? Is this too long for a “cameo”?), sometimes between Class I and Class II (Would this be considered “integral”?).

But in the end, I do my best and hope that it’s useful for others. One of the major reasons I categorize the films into “Reel Substance” categories is to help provide interested readers a shortcut to those who want the “most bang for their buck” — if you want to watch a film in which a librarian plays a key role, I’ve got you covered.

Next week, I’ll take a deeper look at Class V… and a possible Class VI… stay tuned!