Books and book-burning in ‘Fahrenheit 451’

I recently rewatched the 1966 film version of Fahrenheit 451, directed by French New Wave director Francois Truffaut and starring Julie Christie in a dual role and Oscar Werner as Montag, the fireman who falls in love with books, the very thing he’s charged with burning.

*MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS THROUGHOUT*

Here is one of the original trailers for the film:

Fahrenheit 451 1966,” uploaded by DIOTD2008, Standard YouTube License.

The origins of Fahrenheit 451

One of the major themes of the book, and resulting film, is about authoritarian censorship, the kind that led to book-burning in World War II. The finished novel of Fahrenheit 451 was first published in 1953, so this was still fresh in people’s minds.

The origins of the book, however, actually go back to 1947-1948, right after the war ended, when Bradbury wrote a short story, “Bright Phoenix.” This story featured a librarian who confronted a book-burning “Chief Censor.” Bradbury turned that story, plus another story in 1951 called “The Pedestrian” set in a totalitarian future, into the novella called “The Fireman,” which was published in the February 1951 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. Bradbury relished retelling the story about how he wrote “The Fireman” (which essentially serves as the first draft of Fahrenheit 451) in 9 days on a typewriter he rented in the basement of UCLA’s Powell Library for ten cents per half hour. He then expanded that story into the novel we know today.

“An Introductory Powerpoint: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury” by Christine Samantha Anderson, SlidePlayer

“An Introductory Powerpoint: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury” by Christine Samantha Anderson, SlidePlayer

In a dystopian future — one again, like in The Handmaid’s Tale, is too eerily familiar to modern times — books are forbidden and burned when discovered. In this future, firemen are trained to burn books, rather than prevent fires. Neighbors are encouraged to spy on one another and report those they suspect have books. Information (or rather, propaganda) is spread through television, called “wall screens,” as well as through comics-like publications, as seen in the screenshot below.

Reel Librarians | Montag "reads" the comics while in bed with his wife, in an early scene from 'Fahrenheit 451' (1966)

Montag “reads” the comics while in bed with his wife, in an early scene from ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (1966)

The hidden library scene

A turning point in the film comes almost exactly halfway through the film, when Montag is called to the house where he knows Clarisse lives. Clarisse is described as Montag’s “rebellious, book-collecting mistress” on the back of the DVD case, but her role in the film is much tamer than that description suggests. His supervisor, Captain Beatty (played by Cyril Cusack), discovers a “hidden library” in the attic and cannot hold back his glee at the prospect of burning all those books:

I knew it. Of course, all this — the existence of a secret library was known in high places, but there was no way of getting at it. Only once before have I seen so many books in one place. I was just an ordinary fireman at the time.

It’s all ours, Montag.

Once to each fireman, at least once in his career, he just itches to know what those books are all about. He just aches to know. Isn’t that so? Take my word for it, Montag, there’s nothing there. The books have nothing to say!

Reel Librarians | Captain Beatty and fireman Montag discover a hidden library in 'Fahrenheit 451' (1966)

Captain Beatty and fireman Montag discover a hidden library in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (1966)

During this scene and monologue — only the captain is talking, Montag only reacts — Captain Beatty expounds on different types of books and genres, dismissing each in turn. At the end, he finally reveals the reasons behind this society’s book-burning:

We’ve all got to be alike. The only way to be happy is for everyone to be made equal. So, we must burn the books, Montag. All the books.

This scene reminded me of the forbidden magazines scene in The Handmaid’s Tale and the reasons the Commander gave for their totalitarian regime. The reasons in The Handmaid’s Tale were different, that they needed to “cleanse” all the dirt and filth and sex from the world. The reasons expressed in Fahrenheit 451 come off as a search for a mythical, Utopian, and elusive “pursuit of happiness.” A generic happiness, but happiness nonetheless.

Modern martyrs

The captain’s assertion that “the books have nothing to say” is directly contradicted in the next scene, in which the older woman refuses to leave her books.

Fabian, another fireman, rushes in to say that the woman won’t leave. “She won’t leave her books, she says.

Woman:  I want to die as I’ve lived.

Captain Beatty:  Oh, you must have read that in there. I’m not going to ask you again. Are you going?

Woman:  These books were alive. They spoke to me.

And so the older woman lights the match herself, to die as she lived, with her beloved books.

Reel Librarians | Book burning by choice in 'Fahrenheit 451' (1966)

Book burning by choice in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (1966)

Truffaut also lingers several minutes over the burning of the books, with several close-ups.

Reel Librarians | Book burning closeup from 'Fahrenheit 451' (1966)

Book burning closeup from ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (1966)

In the final act of the film, Montag and his firemen troop are called to his own house. He is forced to burn his own hidden collection of books.

Reel Librarians | Montag torches his own collection of books, in a scene from 'Fahrenheit 451' (1966)

Montag torches his own collection of books, in a scene from ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (1966)

He is chastised and criticized by his captain:

What did Montag hope to get out of all this? Happiness? What a poor idiot you must have been.

His captain tries to grab the last book from Montag’s hand — we find out later this is a collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, Tales of Mystery and Imagination — but Montag finally breaks, blasting Captain Beatty with the fire hose instead.

Reel Librarians | Montag torches his own captain in a scene from 'Fahrenheit 451' (1966)

Montag torches his own captain in a scene from ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (1966)

Now compare this photo, of his captain lying facedown in the pile of books, ablaze, with the previous screenshot of the older woman, standing upright, proud and defiant. Both are martyrs of their own kind, but the woman chose to go up in flames.

The book people

Montag goes on the run then, hunted by the state, but he manages to escape to a hidden Utopia, deep in the forest, where others have escaped and banded together. These people are known as the “Book People,” as they have memorized a single work of literature and recite their tales for anyone who wishes to hear. The “book people” scenes were also filmed last.

Here’s how the leader of the camp describes how they came together, the 50 or so at their station. But he mentions there are more of the books:

In abandoned railway yards, wandering the roads. Tramps outwardly, but, inwardly, libraries.

It wasn’t planned. It just so happened that a man here and a man there loved some book. And rather than lose it, he learned it. And we came together. We’re a minority of undesirables crying out in the wilderness. But it won’t always be so. One day we shall be called on, one by one, to recite what we’ve learned. And then books will be printed again. And when the next age of darkness comes, those who come after us will do again as we have done.

And the book people also burn books themselves! But like the older woman in the house, they choose to do so, for their own specific reasons.

Yes, we burn the books. But we keep them up here [pointing to the brain] where nobody can find them.

The book people have literally “become” their chosen book and even introduce themselves as such:

“Are you interested in Plato’s Republic?”
“Well, I am Plato’s Republic. I’ll recite myself for you whenever you like.”

“I am The Prince by Machiavelli. As you see, you can’t judge a book by its cover.”

“That man over there hasn’t much longer to live.”
“He’s The Weir or Germiston by Robert Louis Stevenson. The boy is his nephew. He’s now reciting himself, so the boy can become the book.”

The film clip below is a combination of the final two scenes from the film.

The Book People of Fahrenheit 451” uploaded by Andrew David, Standard YouTube License.

In a special “making of” featurette in the DVD’s special features, film historian and professor Annette Ensdorf gave her own interpretation of the film’s final scenes among the “book people,” stating that the people reciting their books at the end are just as self-absorbed as the narcissists we saw at the beginning of the film. Ensdorf sums up the finale and the “book people” as:

…instruments of the text — not really existing as a completely integrated social community but rather as individual icons.

But there’s the feeling of a certain muted triumph, namely that the book people will maintain a portion of civilization, that someday these books will still be alive, even if they are recounted rather than as written text.

Classification and connections

Although the people literally become books in the end and could therefore be argued to be the only thing left resembling a librarian in a futuristic sense, I have to categorize this film in the Class V category, films with no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries. There are definitely library and censorship themes in the film, but no actual, identifiable librarians.

This contrasts with the “Books” in another sci-fi classic, Soylent Green. In Soylent Green, “Books” are former librarians and professors who become personal researchers in a dystopian future, a world in which books have ceased to be written and published. Books become rare commodities, precious treasures to be hoarded — but not due to fear of burning. Rather, books — and the people who take care of them, who then are referred to as “Books” themselves — are almost revered, and they have a unique power of their own.

In Soylent Green, the “Books” guard the past, but there is little hope for the future.

In Fahrenheit 451, however, the “Book People” guard, or consume, the past because they are the only hope for the future.

Reel Librarians | The book people in 'Fahrenheit 451' vs. the Books in 'Soylent Green'

The book people in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ vs. the Books in ‘Soylent Green’

Books in Fahrenheit 451

Here’s a list I compiled of all the books mentioned in the final scenes, in the order they are mentioned. The leader mentions there are around 50 or so around their camp, but says there are many others out there. A southern camp is also mentioned in the last scene.

These are some of the books we know that will live on:

  • Plato’s Republic
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  • The Corsair by Byron
  • Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • Alice Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
  • Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
  • Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
  • Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Jewish Question
  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
  • David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  • The Prince by Machiavelli
  • Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, volumes one and two
  • Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Memoirs of Saint Simon
  • The Weir of Germiston by Robert Louis Stevenson

Book-burning in Fahrenheit 451

On the “making of” feature on the DVD, producer Lewis M. Allen shared this tidbit about censorship he experienced during the making of the film:

An interesting thing about censorship is that when we were doing the book burning scene, the studio… wanted to eliminate all books that were by living authors that were not in public domain, and the fact that they may be sued or whatever. And we just ignored that. We said, the hell with it, because I think everybody, anyone who was around who had a book being burned in there would be very much flattered by it. … So we ignored that and went right ahead.

Reel Librarians | Books in 'Fahrenheit 451' (1966)

Books in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (1966)

Allen also shared an amusing anecdote about how they compiled and played with all those books for the book-burning scenes:

To me, the most interesting part of the film… was the burning of the books, which went went on and on. And we had those books in our offices, we had hundreds of books, from the beginning of the film. And he would play with them. We’d go round and pick ones out, play with them, and toss them, and put piles and so on. Every day this was done, as a kind of ritual, which was fun to do, ‘cause we’d come up with strange books.

Homme livre/libre

The screenplay was originally written in French, as it was director François Truffaut’s vision, so there were several puns that got lost when translated into English.

One of the best puns focused on “homme livre” versus “homme libre.”

The original script had a moment between Clarisse and Montag, in which Clarisse explains about the “homme livre,” which translates to “book man.” But in French, “homme livre” sounds very close to “homme libre,” which translates to “free man.”

Reel Librarians | Screenplay puns in 'Fahrenheit 451' (1966)

Screenplay puns in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (1966)

As producer Lewis M. Allen shared on the “making of” DVD feature:

That was a nice pun, about the book people and the free people, livre and libre, which could not be translated.

Definitely an attempt to preserve the nature of the original pun in French, but it’s a pale ghost of the original.

Homage to the written word

"fahrenheit 451" by CHRIS DRUMM is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“fahrenheit 451” by CHRIS DRUMM is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The ultimate message of Truffaut’s film version of Fahrenheit 451 gets discussed by several people in the DVD features.

From film historian and critic Annette Ensdorf:

What you’re going to get is Truffaut’s really passionate homage to literature, to the written word, to the notion of a text as a living, breathing entity and process that can still affect us.

Ensdorf’s thoughts on the ultimate significance of the book people’s actions:

You learn it [the book] by heart, through the process of love. […] Is there not freedom in the very choice of which book you want to be?

From producer Lewis M. Allen, who praised Truffaut playing down several of the more overt sci-fi elements in the book, like the “mechanical hound,” because:

It would be very distracting, in fact, from the simple story of the books, which was really what he was interested in most of all.

From Steven C. smith, biographer of composer Bernard Hermann, who composed the music for the film and who was personal friends with the book’s author Ray Bradbury:

The act of reading becomes… the most romantic thing in Fahrenheit 451.

And in the music feature on the DVD, Ray Bradbury summed up the themes of the film’s musical score and its connection with the story itself:

What we have is a romance with books.

Final words from the author himself

The DVD that I checked out of this film also included in its special features an interview with Ray Bradbury, who talked about how he first wrote the book in a library basement and how the title came about.

"Ray Bradbury, Miami Book Fair International, 1990" by MDCarchives is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

“Ray Bradbury, Miami Book Fair International, 1990” by MDCarchives is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

On reflection in 2002 special feature on the DVD by Universal Studios, Bradbury remarked:

I am a library person. I never made it through college you see. I’m self-educated in the library so anything that touches the library touches me.

You can also read a bit more background info and personal quotes from the author in my obituary post for Ray Bradbury, who passed away in 2012 at the age of 91. He was a lifelong and vocal supporter of libraries, and as he stated in 2009:

Libraries raised me.

Here’s to the “book people” around the world who stand up to censorship and advocate for reading, books, libraries, and librarians. ♥


Have you read the book and seen the film version of Fahrenheit 451? Please share your thoughts and leave a comment below.

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 “computer centers” — 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. 😉


Details:

Original:  Rollerball. Dir. Norman Jewison. Perf. James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams, John Beck. MGM/UA Entertainment, 1975. Based on the short story “Roller Ball Murder” 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.

The school library in ‘Blackboard Jungle’

This week, we explore another school library in MGM’s Blackboard Jungle from 1955. This dramatic film, starring Glenn Ford, is credited to have helped launch rock ‘n’ roll music in popular media, as it played the “Rock Around the Clock” song by Bill Haley and the Comets over the title credits.

Reel Librarians | Title card from 'Blackboard Jungle' (1955)

Title card from ‘Blackboard Jungle’ (1955)

Reel Librarians | Intro card from 'Blackboard Jungle' (1955)

Intro card from ‘Blackboard Jungle’ (1955)

Blackboard Jungle is a very earnest film about teaching. Glenn Ford plays Richard Dadier, a veteran who wants to teach and make a difference in an inner-city school. The beginning scenes of the film go to extreme lengths to illustrate the juvenile delinquency mentioned in the title introduction.

One of the new teachers is Lois Hammond, played by Margaret Hayes. Almost a half-hour into the film, she offers to drive Dadier home and goes downstairs to wait for him. On the stairs, Ms. Hammond stops to adjust her stockings after a long day of teaching. She doesn’t notice a student watching her from below, but we, the audience, definitely get a sense of foreboding. (Plus, there were scenes earlier of other teachers — all male, of course — warning her about the way she dressed and “joking” that she was not safe among all the tough boys in school.)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Blackboard Jungle' (1955)

Screenshot from ‘Blackboard Jungle’ (1955)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Blackboard Jungle' (1955)

A new female teacher stops on the stairs to adjust her stockings, in ‘Blackboard Jungle’ (1955)

As Dadier — pronounced “Dah-dee-eh” but, of course, gets switched to “Daddio” by the students — walks down the stairs a few minutes later, he notices a lone high-heeled shoe outside the door to the library.

Reel Librarians | Outside the school library in 'Blackboard Jungle' (1955)

Outside the school library in ‘Blackboard Jungle’ (1955)

Reel Librarians | Outside the school library in 'Blackboard Jungle' (1955)

Outside the school library in ‘Blackboard Jungle’ (1955)

Dadier hears a muffled scream from inside the library, and his combat training kicks in. He breaks the window with his briefcase and runs in, and he and the student chase and fight each other in the library. Destruction quickly ensues:  books overturned, a window broken, a free-standing globe knocked over, Ms. Hammond’s jacket torn, and more.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot collage of the library assault scene in 'Blackboard Jungle' (1955)

Screenshot collage of the library assault scene in ‘Blackboard Jungle’ (1955)

The student tries to escape by leaping head-first into a window, but Dadier pulls him back in. The student is led away with blood running down his face, and we later hear that he has been expelled.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot of the aftermath of the library scene from 'Blackboard Jungle' (1955)

Screenshot of the aftermath of the library scene from ‘Blackboard Jungle’ (1955)

Ms. Hammond is also led away, in tears, and another new teacher is shocked at this event.

What’s happened?

The bland reaction from one of the long-suffering (and jaded) teachers, played by Louis Calhern?

Why, it’s the first day of school, teacher.

There is a recurring subplot of blaming the victim for the sexual assault inflicted upon her. (Didier’s own wife — !!! — remarks that “Maybe she provoked the boy. Teachers aren’t allowed to dress sexy.” !!!) Didier defends Miss Hammond on that account, but I will not get into that (unfortunately still timely) social issue here on this blog.

The library scene, featuring Miss Hammond’s terrified reaction during the assault, also gets highlighted on one of the film’s posters (!), as seen here on the IMDb.com site.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot of the library assault scene from 'Blackboard Jungle' (1955)

Screenshot of the library assault scene from ‘Blackboard Jungle’ (1955)

What I will get into, however, is why was the library chosen as the setting for this scene of attempted rape? Why not a regular classroom? I think it was a study of contrasts, one that is admittedly very effective. Libraries are usually viewed — in reel AND real life — as safe, secure places. The contrast is therefore heightened between the common view of libraries as being safe places, juxtaposed with the actions of the violent sexual assault and ensuing fight. It is effective in underlining the point that no place is safe:  not even a school, not even a classroom, not even a library.

Miss Hammond is seen again, the very next day, but no more scenes take place in the library, nor is there any glimpse or mention of a school librarian. Therefore, Blackboard Jungle (1955) falls into the Class V category, films with no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries.


Details:

Blackboard Jungle. Dir. Richard Brooks. Perf. Glenn Ford, Anne Francis, Louis Calhern, Sidney Poitier. MGM, 1955. Adapted from the novel by Evan Hunter.

Wet Hot American library

It just officially became spring, but you can still look toward summer — or remember past summers in a haze of nostalgia — with the 2001 cult classic Wet Hot American Summer. This was my first time watching the film, and as the beginning credits rolled, I kept shouting out, “And there’s… Paul Rudd! And Amy Poehler! And Bradley Cooper! And Elizabeth Banks! And the guy whose friend broke up with Sarah Jessica Parker with a post-it on Sex and the City! (That would be actor Michael Showalter.)

Title card from 'Wet Hot American Summer'

Title card from ‘Wet Hot American Summer’

The 2015 TV series spin-off, “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” stars the same actors from the 2001 film, which was set in 1981. So that makes actors who were already a decade too old to play their characters back when they filmed the movie in 2001, and now, 14 years later, they’re playing the same characters. Such is the realm of the absurd, Wet Hot American Summer-style.

It is a goofy film, one that is purposefully over-the-top and awesomely cheesy. My husband and I had a lot of fun watching Wet Hot American Summer, but you have to be in the right mood to enjoy it. (And even if you don’t have any actual memories of “summer camp,” surely you have nostalgic memories of watching movies about summer camp, right? If you enjoyed Meatballs, then you will enjoy this film!)

I’ve had Wet Hot American Summer on my Master List for awhile, for possibly featuring a reel librarian, and SPOILER ALERT, there’s no actual reel librarian. But there is a brief library scene, clocking in about 40 minutes into the film.

The context? The summer camp director, played by Jeanine Garofalo as Beth, is trying to impress Henry, a vacationing astrophysicist, played by David Hyde Pierce. She comes across Nancy, another camp counselor, who is sitting on a porch, knitting. Beth asks Nancy where she’d find a book on astrophysics.

Nancy’s dryly delivered response, “I’d have to say a bookstore… or a library.”

[Editor’s note:  Attagirl, Nancy!]

Beth tries and fails to look nonchalant (“Right… just curious.”).

The second after she scampers away, in runs Henry, who also stops to ask Nancy, “Say I wanted to get a book on… camp directing, I guess.”

Nancy’s incredulous expression and reply: “Henry, Henry, library.”

Next stop, the public library in Waterville, Maine.

Side note: There is a real Waterville, Maine, although the movie was filmed in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, at Camp Towanda. And you can check out the real Waterville Public Library here on their website. Y’all knew I would look that up, right?! 😉

As this movie is an over-the-top comedy, it comes as no surprise that the library scene is also campy (har har) and over-the-top. Beth and Henry are both poring over bookshelves in the library, on opposite sides of the same bookcase, yet totally unaware of each other.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot of the library scene in 'Wet Hot American Summer'

Screenshot of the library scene in ‘Wet Hot American Summer’

Reel Librarians | Screenshot of the library scene in 'Wet Hot American Summer'

Screenshot of the library scene in ‘Wet Hot American Summer’

And OF COURSE, their respective sections — astrophysics and camp directing — are on the opposite sides of this same bookcase. Is it odd that there seem to be more books on camp directing than there are on astrophysics, at least if you take into account the size of Henry’s stack of books! Also, how in tune is this public library with the needs of its users?! Bravo, Waterville Public Library, bravo.

The call numbers highlighted in this scene are also fake — “AS” begins the section on astrophysics call numbers, while “CA DIR” begins the section on camp directing — but I had to laugh out loud at this celluloid call numbering system!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot of the library scene in 'Wet Hot American Summer'

Call numbers in the library scene from ‘Wet Hot American Summer’

Although this is only a brief scene in a movie full of quirky memorable scenes, I did enjoy the inclusion of a library — and focus on research!

Do you think their respective research journeys help lead Beth and Henry into each other’s arms by movie’s end? I’d say the odds of that are as good as the odds of seeing Daisy Duke-style cut-off shorts and feathered bangs in Wet Hot American Summer. 😀

The Learning Tree and library cover-ups

The Learning Tree (1969), a coming-of-age story of Newt, a young African-American boy in 1920s Kansas, is based on the novel by Gordon Parks (who also wrote and directed the film). I set the film to record on my DVR, when it showed on the TCM Channel, because of the film’s write-up and title. Sometimes, I tape movies that mention schools or universities, hoping there might be a scene in a library or glimpse of a librarian.

There is no actual library or librarian in this film, making this a Class V film, but the mention of a library is part of a pivotal point in the plot.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Learning Tree' (1969)

At 51 mins into the film, Newt walks to his girlfriend Arcella’s house after school. He learns from her mother that she isn’t home yet from school, which surprises him. He said he had to stay late at school. (And as an audience, we know that earlier, when Newt was in the principal’s office, he saw Arcella get into the car of a local white boy, a boy named Chauncey Cavanaugh who is known to be wild.)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Learning Tree' (1969)

Even though Arcella’s mother isn’t aware of what Newt saw, she looks worried. Therefore, Newt lies to her — and this is where the library comes into play.

Newt:  Oh, she said something about going to the library before it closed.

Arcella’s mom:  Oh, I see. Well, I’ll tell her you boys stopped by.

Arcella’s mom visibly relaxes when Newt mentions the library. Why? Because the library is code for a safe place, a place welcoming to all. So even when a library is not actually in a film, our influence can still be felt!

As Newt and his friend Jappy walk away, Jappy gives him a smirk and reveals that he knows that Newt lied about the library.

Jappy:  Arcella sure enough isn’t at the library.

Newt:  What’s it to you where she’s at?

Jappy:  It’s ok, it’s ok, I just asked.

As they turn the corner, they run into Arcella, who’s walking slowly and clutching her books to her chest. She looks very sad and upset but won’t admit that anything’s wrong. Newt reluctantly turns to go but is still trying to protect Arcella as he tells her that he told her mother she was at the library.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Learning Tree' (1969)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Learning Tree' (1969)

Although Newt was still trying to protect Arcella by letting her know about the library excuse, that cover-up was short-lived and its protection fleeting. We find out later that Arcella is pregnant, obviously stemming back to that tragic day. It is quite a sad scene, as we had seen Arcella and Newt’s relationship slowly blossoming, cut short by these tragic circumstances.

Morals of the story? Don’t get into cars with boys, and don’t lie for others about going to the library.