Regarding a public library

In the 1991 film Regarding Henry, directed by Mike Nichols and written by J. J. Abrams (!), a library scene takes place almost exactly halfway through the movie.

Movie plot

But first, let’s set the context. Harrison Ford plays the title role, a hot-shot and ruthless New York lawyer who is out of sync with his 12-year-old daughter, Rachel, or his wife, Sarah (played by Annette Bening). One fateful night, Henry gets shot by a kid holding up a corner store, a shot that causes brain damage. When Henry wakes up, he has to figure out how to start all over again — including the basics of movement and speech — including getting to know his family again.

Here’s a trailer for the film:

The library scene — over 10 seconds of it! — makes the trailer, at 1:45 seconds into the clip above.

Library rules

Rachel takes her father to the library, and she explains the basic rules of the library on the walk there.

Rachel: Some of them [books] you can borrow and take home, but some of them you have to read here.

HenryAnd you can’t talk loud.

RachelRight.

Books and silence — libraries in a nutshell. (Sigh.)

Library scene

The camera then pans quickly through the library, following the polished floors and atmosphere so quiet you can hear every step of every shoe and squeak of every chair. Every table is occupied, showcasing a variety of people.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

Henry’s daughter hard at work in the library

Henry’s daughter is working and studying, writing in a notebooks. A stack of National Geographic magazines are on the table in-between father and daughter. (It isn’t clear if the magazines are for Henry or for his daughter.) There is also a large photography book open in front of Henry.

Henry then starts throwing wads of paper from a box of call number slips, crumpling them up, and then flicking them at his daughter. (This is the part of the scene that makes the trailer.) The sly expressions on Harrison Ford’s face make this scene a(n initially) comic one.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

What? I’m not up to anything…

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

Nothing to see here…

His daughter is not so amused. She keeps saying, “Stop it!” and “Dad, I’m serious.

Henry’s mocking response? “I know. VERY.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

The library is VERY serious.

But the third time he flicks a paper wad at her, Rachel cracks a smile. But then this short scene turns serious.

Rachel: Read your book.

HenryI can’t.

Rachel:  [Realization dawning on her face] I’m sorry.

Rachel’s mother no doubt hid a lot of the details about Henry’s recovery from her daughter, including details about how he had to painstakingly learn how to speak and walk again. It never occurred to Rachel — or the audience?! — until that moment in the library that her father no longer remembered how to read.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

The moment Henry’s daughter realizes her father can’t read

This realization then leads to Henry’s daughter teaching him how to read again. This is significant because he had always put pressure on his daughter to be smart and self-reliant and grown-up; this friction had caused emotional distance between them. Henry being able to admit weakness to his daughter helps them bond again.

It’s a poignant scene. And that this discovery — that Henry can’t remember how to read — is made IN A LIBRARY makes this scene even more poignant and memorable.

Although memorable, this scene lasts less than two minutes. No librarian is visibly present in the scene. Theoretically, one of the several people in the background could be a librarian, but there is nothing obvious — like, say a prop like a book cart — to make this connect visibly clear for the audience. And no librarian is needed in this scene; rather, the focus is on the relationship between father and daughter.

Therefore, Regarding Henry lands in the Class V category, films with no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries.

Library filming location

The filming locations mentioned in its IMDb page are very general — it was filmed in New York City — but luckily, an internet search turned up the “On the Set of New York” site. This site’s page for Regarding Henry reveals that the library scene was filmed at the 5th avenue branch of the New York Public Library. This turns out to the iconic central, or main, branch of the library. Kudos to director Mike Nichols for finding a way to make the library space in this scene look more cozy and warm than the usual cinematic shots of the NYPL central branch.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

Interior shot for the library scene

Sources used:

Regarding Henry. (1991). Dir. Mike Nichols. Perf. Harrison Ford, Annette Bening, Rebecca Miller. Paramount Pictures.

Regarding Henry – Trailer,” uploaded by YouTube Movies, 2012, Standard YouTube license.

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Angels in the library in ‘Wings of Desire’

I am following up on another reader question from my call earlier this year for reader questions and ideas, a question posed by Kvennarad, who left a comment that contained several very intriguing post ideas, including this one:

‘Wings of Desire’ is an amazing film, with lots of footage set in a library… No reel/real reason why I include this, it just haunts me.

Here was my initial response to Kvennarad’s comment, in my reader Q&A follow-up post:

Yes, this film was already on my Foreign Films reel librarians list. I have also written an analysis post on City of Angels, the (inferior) U.S. remake starring Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage. It would be interesting to do a post about Wings of Desire, and then perhaps a follow-up comparing the two films and their two reel libraries/librarians. Adding this to my ideas list… 

And here it is, at least the first part of the idea to analyze Wings of Desire (1987), which is a truly haunting film.

Plot and atmosphere

The original title of this primarily German-language film is Der Himmel über Berlin, which translates to “The Sky over Berlin.” I actually prefer that title, rather than the more generic-sounding Wings of Desire. We see humanity through the wanderings of angels throughout Berlin, including one particular angel, Damiel (played by Bruno Ganz), who begins to fall in love with a mortal woman. Peter Falk also stars in the film, playing a version of himself. I can’t say anymore about the plot, as I want to avoid any spoilers. This is a film to savor watching the first time, if you have not already seen it. (And let’s just say, it has almost nothing in common with its American remake, City of Angels, THANK GOODNESS, except for the barest of plot lines and the angels’ penchant for long coats. I analyzed the library scene in City of Angels in this post.)

Here is a trailer for the film, set only to music:

There are so many beautiful moments in this beautiful film, including every time a child looks up and smiles in recognition of an angel. I tear up just thinking about it. None of the adults notice the angels’ presence; only the children notice them and share knowing smiles.

I had passively resisted watching this film until now, in part because of the *awful* American version of it. I suppose I thought the film would be too “arty” and depressing (the bulk of it is in black and white), but that’s what I get for assuming! The film is ultimately uplifting, and the director, Wim Wenders, sustains an atmosphere of bittersweet wonder with the lightest touch… like that from angels’ wings? 😉

In short, this film is special. See it now — for the first or 100th time.

Library scenes

There are three short scenes set and filmed in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin State Library), where angels often go to hang out with humans. Another reason to love the angels, who obviously have such good taste — and not just in overcoats!

There is no reel librarian character that I could see, so this film does end up in the Class V category of films with no identifiable librarians (although Class V films might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries). But that does not take away the significance of the library in this classic film, as I demonstrate in detail below.

Library scene #1

Sixteen minutes into the film, Damiel and his friend, Cassiel (Otto Sander), visit the Staatsbibliothek. The scene lasts 7 minutes in total as the angels and the camera wind their way around the shelves and different levels of this eye-catching library.

Reel Librarian | Library scene in 'Wings of Desire' (1987)

Angels visit the Berlin State Library

Reel Librarian | Library scene in 'Wings of Desire' (1987)

Angels like to read over people’s shoulders in the library

Here’s how this online review at DVD Talk describes this scene:

“There are wonderful scenes on a plane or in the public library where the sound mixers scroll through the gathered people, moving from one inner monologue to another the way we flip through channels with our TV remote. In the library, there are almost as many angels as there are mortals, all looking for something interesting to commit to memory or maybe scribble down in one of their little notebooks.”

The sound throughout this scene is a hushed murmuring of voices/thoughts layered on top of choir-like singing. The effect is like that of visiting a church, and indeed, this library has soaring ceilings to match the soaring vocals. The director and the angels treat this space like a sacred space. In the book The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History, Laura Marcus argued that in Wings of the Desire, the angels’ affinity for libraries do indeed make the library a miraculous place.

This is very obviously a well-used library, filled with people — and angels! — in all corners. It also showcases that a library provides space and resources for many different kinds of needs and different kinds of users.

Reel Librarian | Library scene in 'Wings of Desire' (1987)

A well-used public library

The scene comes to a close as Damiel takes notice of an old man slowly climbing the stairs, pausing every few steps to catch his breath and wipe his face. We see this man, the storyteller, throughout the rest of the film. His inner dialogue feels appropriate for such a setting:

“Tell me, muse, of the storyteller… Those who listened to me became my readers…”

Library scene #2:

This same older man is our link to the second library scene, when at 39 minutes into the film, we revisit the man sitting at a table in the library. This table is filled with a collection of globes of many sizes, and he is enthralled with a rotating solar system. The camera then cuts to the old man sitting at a different table in the library, this time thumbing slowly through a large book of photos. The angel Cassiel follows the old man through the library, just as the reader does.

Reel Librarian | Library scenes from 'Wings of Desire' (1987)

An old man finds treasures to enjoy in the library

This scene lasts only two minutes. But as Marcus points out in The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History, Wenders highlights the library as a tool of “memory and public space.” This is especially evident in this scene.

Library scene #3:

The final scene in the library lasts only a minute, but it is a memorable minute. Cassiel remains in the library, but this time, the tables and desks are empty.

Reel Librarian | Library scene in 'Wings of Desire' (1987)

One is the loneliest number

The library is closed, the only mortals the cleaners, yet the angels still seek solace within the library walls.

Reel Librarian | Library scene in 'Wings of Desire' (1987)

The library after hours

Real-life library, trivia, and significance

The movie was filmed on location at Staatsbibliothek in Berlin, Germany. This library is also featured in two other German-language films, Agnes and His Brothers (2004) and the TV movie Götterdämmerung – Morgen stirbt Berlin (1999).

Reel Librarian | Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, the Berlin State Library

Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, screenshot from the DVD featurette

The DVD features include an interactive map that also highlights the library, as you can see in the screenshot below.

Reel Librarians | Interactive map on DVD of 'Wings of Desire' (1987)

Interactive map on DVD of ‘Wings of Desire’ (1987)

The library clip on the interactive map lasts less than 30 seconds, but it reveals why the public library location was chosen for the film:

“The Staatsbibliothek was built between 1967 and 1978. It is one of the largest libraries in Europe, with a collection of over 8 million books and manuscripts. The quietness of the library, due to its acoustics, makes it an ideal place for the angels to tune into our thoughts.”

Here’s a look at that acoustic ceiling in the library:

Reel Librarian | Library scene in 'Wings of Desire' (1987)

Acoustic ceiling in the public library

Wings of Desire was both a critical and financial success, and as per its Wikipedia entry, “academics have interpreted it as a statement of the importance of cinema, libraries, the circus, or German unity, containing New Age, religious, secular or other themes.”

I will end with this thought, that Kvennard is certainly not alone is being haunted by the library imagery in the film. Indeed, the German news publication Der Tagesspiegel recently highlighted the film’s memorable imagery, in particular the library scenes:

“A film lives on such images that get stuck in the memory of the audience.”

Have you, too, seen the film and been haunted by its imagery? Have you seen the American remake? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used:

Lippold, Von Markus. “Engel, die auf Menschen starren (Angel Staring at People).” Der Tagesspiegel. 4 February 2016.

Marcus, Laura. “The Library in Film: Order and Mystery.” The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History. Princeton University Press, 2015.

Rich, Jamie S. “Wings of Desire – Criterion Collection.” DVD Talk, 3 Nov 2009.

Wings of Desire,” Wikimedia Foundation, is licensed under a CC BY SA 3.0 license.

Wings of Desire [dvd]. Dir. Wim Wenders. Perf. Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Peter Falk. Road Movies Filmproduktion, 1987.

Wings of Desire – Official Trailer (1987),” uploaded by 2AM Ltd, Standard YouTube license.

Analyzing the library scene in the ‘Ghostbusters’ remake

Last year, I noted a library scene and ghost featured in the all-female Ghostbusters remake (or is it considered a reboot? Discuss). At the time, I compared the librarian ghosts from both the 1984 original and the 2016 trailer, and mused:

If that is indeed a library scene and librarian ghost, I am intrigued by the updates. Definitely a younger, sexier version of the ghost!

I wasn’t able to see the 2016 remake last summer (’cause I was moving), but I did recently check out the DVD from my local public library.

Long story short, no, that is not a librarian ghost sighting in the remake. {Insert sad trombone sound here.} This Ghostbusters remake lands in the Class V category, films that may have library scenes but no reel librarians.

However, there are some interesting library-related bits of trivia still to explore in this remake. Buckle up!

Opening scene in a library

The opening scene in the remake begins at a mansion, the “Aldridge Mansion Museum.” (Definitely not as memorable as the original film’s opening scene in the New York Public Library, which I analyzed in-depth in this post.) A tour guide is leading a group of people through the first level of the mansion, which he describes as “the only 19th century home in New York City preserved both inside and out.”

Aldridge Mansion in 'Ghostbusters' (2016)

Aldridge Mansion in ‘Ghostbusters’ (2016)

He leads the group into a center atrium, surrounded on all sides by bookcases and iron railings on the second level. He then relates the story of the resident ghost, Gertrude Aldridge, who allegedly stabbed all the house’s servants one night. (Her character was based on the real-life Lizzie Borden.)

It is an impressive private library, although the word “library” is not mentioned at all during the tour. However, there is an “Announcements” sign by the guest book that includes “library hours,” as well as a large sign beside the velvet ropes in the atrium, which reads, “Aldridge Family Library, circa 1830.”

Tour of the Aldridge Mansion library in 'Ghostbusters' (2016)

Tour of the Aldridge Mansion library in ‘Ghostbusters’ (2016)

Library locale

The “Aldridge Mansion” filming location looks to be the Ames Mansion at Borderland State Park, especially when you compare the photo above to this interior photo of the Ames Mansion library. The idea of the “Aldridge Mansion” being the “only 19th century home in New York City preserved both inside and out” is loosely based on the Merchant’s House Museum in Manhattan, which is open to the public. The IMDB.com Trivia page for this film also suggests that “Aldridge Mansion” may be named for the original film’s costume designer, Theoni V. Aldredge.

The Aldridge Mansion’s historian, Ed Mulgrave (played by Ed Begley Jr.) seeks out help from Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig), because of a book she wrote years ago, Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal.

Ghosts from Our Past book in 'Ghostbusters' (2016)

Ghosts from Our Past book in ‘Ghostbusters’ (2016)

However, Erin is not pleased to see him and is astounded that he has a copy of her book. (She thought she burned “both copies” years ago!) She is trying to earn tenure as a physics professor at a serious academic institution and does not want to be discredited by her background in the paranormal. In an effort to get her book off of Amazon, she visits her former friend and book’s co-author, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who agrees to take the book down in exchange for an introduction to Mulgrave. This brings us back to the Aldridge Mansion… and back to the library ghost!

Library ghost

As Erin, Abby, and Abby’s fellow scientist, Jillian Holtzmann (played with kooky relish by Kate McKinnon), walk into the center atrium and library, we get to see more of the space, which is filled with mannequins dressed in old costumes, antique furniture, red velvet ropes, old lamps, and more.

The library in the Aldridge Mansion in in 'Ghostbusters' (2016)

The library in the Aldridge Mansion in in ‘Ghostbusters’ (2016)

Costumes in the Aldridge Mansion library in in 'Ghostbusters' (2016)

Costumes in the Aldridge Mansion library in in ‘Ghostbusters’ (2016)

The three scientists realize they are about to witness a real-life apparition, er, ghost. And out of the basement floats a spooky figure, dressed in a striped Victorian dress. She looks just like the portrait hanging on the second-floor railing of the library, so this ghost is very clearly the spirit of the daughter Gertrude. She’s definitely NOT a librarian — although based on her hairstyle and clothing, she does look like a younger version of the librarian ghost from the original, doesn’t she? Gertrude the Ghost does make a return in the final battle showdown, and she is also featured in the credits.

Ghost sighting in the Aldridge Mansion library in in 'Ghostbusters' (2016)

Ghost sighting in the Aldridge Mansion library in in ‘Ghostbusters’ (2016)

Comparing library ghosts from the two 'Ghostbusters' films

As Erin tries to communicate with her, the ghost projects green goo all over Erin. The ghost then flies out of the house, with the three scientists rushing out to try and track her movements. Abby has been filming this entire scene, and the video clip of Erin screaming, “We saw a ghost!” makes it to YouTube and Reddit… ending with Erin getting fired from her teaching position.

That, of course, leads to the formation of the Ghostbusters, with Erin, Abby, and Jillian joining forces with public transportation worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones)!

Additional library sightings

More “library” sightings in the film include:

  • One early call leads them to a hotel and rock concert. When they arrive, a man is being led out on a stretcher and mumbling in Spanish. Erin attempts to translate what the man is saying and ends up (mis)translating, “There’s a chicken frying itself in the library.” Patty has no problem correcting her, “That is NOT what he said.”

Library mistranslation in 'Ghostbusters' (2016)

  • When the Ghostbusters are driving to the rock concert, they pass by  the New York Public Library, where the original film opens.

New York Public Library cameo in 'Ghostbusters' (2016)

  • During the title sequence, there is a brief ghost of Columbia University Library. A few scenes of the original Ghostbusters (1984) were filmed at Columbia University — although Columbia made a deal back then to keep their name out of the film!

Columbia University Library cameo in 'Ghostbusters' (2016)

Additional book-related trivia

There are also a couple more interesting trivia bits concerning books and research tied to the film:

  • A little over an hour into the film, Jillian brings out a research atlas with a map of ley lines in New York City. This is relevant to the film’s plot and the Ghostbusters trying to figure out where all the paranormal activity is originating from.
  • The book that Abby and Erin co-wrote, Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal, was published for real as a movie tie-in book!
Book tie-in from 'Ghostbusters' (2016)

Book tie-in from ‘Ghostbusters’ (2016)

What are your thoughts?

Have you seen the Ghostbusters original and remake? Were you also disappointed that there was no additional librarian ghost in the remake? Please leave a comment and share.

Sources:

Ghostbusters (dvd). Dir. Paul Feig. Perf. Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones. Columbia Pictures, 2016.

Ghostbusters (2016):  Trivia.” IMDb.com. N.d. Accessed 11 Sept. 2016.

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.