“You went to the library” | The importance of library books in ‘Zodiac’

It often happens in my life that when I settle down to watch a movie at home, a library or librarian gets mentioned onscreen… and then date night turns into “film analysis” night. Like I have said before, once you are aware of reel librarians, you start seeing (or hearing about them) EVERYWHERE. ūüôā

The movie in question this past week was David Fincher’s 2007 film Zodiac, based on the true events of the Zodiac serial killer, as detailed in the 1986¬†non-fiction book of the same name¬†by¬†Robert Graysmith. The Zodiac’s killing spree was in and around the¬†San Francisco Bay Area¬†during the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the killer sent several letters and ciphers to the police and newspapers. The film’s star-studded cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal as newspaper cartoonist Graysmith, Robert Downey, Jr. as reporter Paul Avery, and Mark Ruffalo as¬†Inspector David Toschi.

Here’s a trailer for Zodiac:

Zodiac – Trailer,” uploaded by YouTube Movies, is licensed under a Standard YouTube License¬†

*POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD*

Although no librarian is featured in this movie, and no scenes are set in a library onscreen, this film DOES include several scenes that highlight libraries and library books. Reel librarians are often used as shortcuts for plot progression; in this case, just the library books themselves are used as plot shortcuts. Therefore, it’s a Class V film (no librarians featured), but I found it an interesting film to analyze, nonetheless.

Shall we?

Cracking the library code

At 52 minutes into this 157-minute film (it’s a really long, slow-paced film, y’all), Graysmith is talking with Avery in a bar about a cipher the Zodiac killer used to write a note to the police, challenging the public to crack his message. Graysmith explains the starting point to figuring out the coded message. (Underlining¬†throughout signifies my own emphasis.)

Avery:¬† But how do you go from “A” is one, “B” is two to figuring out this whole code?

Graysmith:  Same way I did. You go to the library.

At this point, Graysmith takes out a book from his briefcase, a book entitled The Code Breakers by David Kahn.

NOTE:¬† This is a real book, by the way, first published in 1967. I looked it up. ‘Cause librarian. ūüėČ And for sake of the timeline, the first official Zodiac killing occurred in 1969.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

The Code Breakers book in a scene from ‘Zodiac’ (2007)

Graysmith:  In this book, the author presents a very simple substitution code in the preface. Eight of the 26 symbols that he suggests are in this cipher.

He then takes out another book from his briefcase, this one entitled Codes and Ciphers by John Laffin. This book describes another Middle Ages code called the “Zodiac Alphabet.”

NOTE:¬† Yep, another real book, this one published in 1964. Gotta hand it to the David Fincher team for its research skills. HOWEVER, that team overlooked the detail of including call numbers, because neither one of these books has a call number — and Graysmith clearly states that he got them from a library. A real library book would have a call number on the spine. Back in the 1960s, it was commonplace to strip the paper covers from hardback books, and then either paint on call numbers or otherwise affix typed call numbers onto the spine. But dully colored hardback books would not have cinematic impact, so I suspect the product team just bought first edition copies and didn’t think about call numbers. But librarians do! ūüėČ

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Codes and Ciphers book in a scene from ‘Zodiac’ (2007)

Newspaper research:

Any film involving reporters has to include a scene in the newspaper archives, right? This almost obligatory scene, lasting only a minute, occurs a little over an hour into the film. Avery takes Graysmith to the newspaper archives, looking for copies of the Modesto Bee. (Yep, a real newspaper, founded in 1884. Of course I had to look that up, too!) They gather clues from newspaper clippings to suggest that some killings the Zodiac killer confessed to are in doubt, because he only provides clues in letters written after articles in the newspaper came out.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Newspaper archives in ‘Zodiac’ (2007)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Newspaper archives in ‘Zodiac’ (2007)

I also wanted to include a couple of screenshots from this scene because of how visually they remind me of ANOTHER archives scene in a library directed by David Fincher, 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (Read my analysis of that film here.)

Real library filming location:

I mentioned earlier that no scenes are set in a library onscreen. However, the production team did use a real-life library location… as a police station.

At one hour and 12 minutes into the film, several regional police officers travel to the Riverside Police Department to discuss a potential early victim of the Zodiac killer.

Here’s the narration of the victim’s last night — which also includes a library!

Cheri Jo Bates attended Riverside Community College. She studies in the library the night of Oct. 30, 1966. She leaves with an unidentified male at closing, 9 p.m. Her body’s found the next morning in a parking lot, stabbed to death.

This is based on true events; Bates’s murder has been linked to the Zodiac killings. Below is a screenshot of the note she left her father:¬† “Dad — went to RCC Library.

NOTE:¬† There is technically not a current “Riverside Community College.” There is now a Riverside City College, which had been known as “Riverside Community College” during the 1960s. The college is part of the Riverside Community College District. So the film got this detail correct, as the school was known as “Riverside Community College” during this time period.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Library note in victim’s file

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Real-life library filming location (interior) in ‘Zodiac’ (2007)

The interior and exteriors of this scene at the Riverside Police Station were filmed at the Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum in Culver City, California. The library’s website includes a “Facility Rentals” page with “competitive film location pricing.” The photos on that page definitely correspond to the screenshots above and below.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Real-life library filming location (exterior) in ‘Zodiac’ (2007)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Real-life library filming location (exterior) in ‘Zodiac’ (2007)

“You went to the library”

Graysmith continues to track down clues about the Zodiac killer, even when others have given up. At 1 hour and 44 minutes into the film, Graysmith visits Avery, who has left (been fired? or otherwise forced out?) from his job as a reporter and is living in a trailer. Avery challenges why Graysmith is even continuing down the Zodiac path.

Graysmith:  It was important.

Avery:¬† Then what did you ever do about it? If it was so fucking important, then what did you ever do? You hovered over my desk, you stole from wastebaskets… you went to the library.

Graysmith:¬† I’m sorry I bothered you.¬†[leaves]

I just want to point out that the man who basically says that Graysmith was doing nothing — that going to the library meant doing nothing — is living amidst trash and alcohol bottles and (un)dressed in boxers and a robe. Yeahhhhhh…. it’s Graysmith who has been doing nothing with his life. ūüė¶

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Avery sits in judgment, amidst beer bottles and Pong

Library as alibi?

In the scene immediately following his confrontation with Avery, Graysmith arrives home late. His wife asks him where he has been.

Graysmith’s response?¬† “The library.”

He puts down books on the chair, the same code-breaking books we saw in the earlier scene with Avery. It’s not clear whether he’s using the library as an alibi, or if it’s where he really went after seeing Avery. Either explanation is plausible, although I’m erring toward the alibi angle.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

The library as alibi? Complete with props!

Tracing library book records:

This next scene, between Graysmith and Inspector Toschi, feels like a companion piece to the first scene I mentioned between Graysmith and Avery; this scene takes place in a diner while the earlier scene occurred in a bar. Both involve library books.

This scene occurs at one hour, 47 minutes into the film, and lasts about a minute and a half.

Graysmith:¬†I wanted to ask you about the Zodiac. [Timeline note:¬† At this point, the Zodiac killer hadn’t written a letter in three years]

Toschi nods assent.

Graysmith:¬† Can I show you something? [Takes out books from his briefcase — sound familiar?] I’ve been doing research on the first cipher. Everything an amateur would need to create it can be found in these books. Now, I started thinking that if you can track these books, then maybe you can track the man. So I remember that you thought the Zodiac was military, so I went to every base library and I got a list of every person who’s ever checked out these books, and that’s when I found this.

He then takes out a sheaf of papers and hands them to Toschi. (Side note:  I did notice that at least one of the books below, a thinner tan-colored one, *does* have a call number label on its spine. Hurrah!)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Getting lists of library book checkouts in ‘Zodiac’ (2007)

Toschi:  Missing.

Graysmith:  It means they were stolen.

Toschi:  So, almost every book on ciphers was stolen from the Presidio Library?

Graysmith:¬† And the Oakland Army Terminal Library. Somebody didn’t want a record of ever having checked out these books.

Toschi:  Who are you again?

Graysmith:  I just wanna help.

I have to note that this scene reminded me very much of another David Fincher film, 1995’s Seven, in which they track down the killer through library checkouts. (Note to self:¬† I need to rewatch and analyze Seven soon for this blog!)

I also have to interject as a librarian about how UNETHICAL this is, what Graysmith just described. Librarians giving up library checkout information and records to a civilian??! Nope. No way. Nuh-uh. That requires a court order or a search warrant. If this detail is true — and in this scene, Graysmith clearly states, “I got a list of every person who’s ever checked out these books” — then he got those lists from unethical (or clueless) librarians or library workers. It reminds me of another, similar scene of an librarian doing this SAME THING, in 1943’s The Seventh Victim, in a post I entitled, “The horror of an unethical librarian.” Reel librarians may be shortcuts in movies, but we are NOT shortcuts to proper police procedures in real life.

Okay, soap box moment over. Now onto the final scene mentioning a library, or rather…

“The fuckin’ library”

At two hours into the film, in a scene lasting fewer than 30 seconds, we see Avery drinking again, this time in a bar. (Progress?) The TV is on, and he looks up as a news reporter mentions the Zodiac killer. The reporter is interviewing Graysmith.

Reporter:¬† In the decade since the Zodiac’s last cipher was received, every federal agency has taken a crack at decoding it. But today, where those agencies had failed, a cartoonist has succeeded.

Reporter, asking Graysmith:  How did you do it?

Graysmith:  Oh, uh, just a lot of books from the library.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

TV news interview from ‘Zodiac’ (2007)

Avery then quips, “Yeah, the fuckin’ library.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Avery comments, “Yeah. The fuckin’ library” in a scene from ‘Zodiac’ (2007)

That’s right, Avery, the fuckin’ library. ūüėČ

And it’s amusing to me that the first scene that mentions library books happens with Avery, who was consistently condescending throughout the film about the library to Graysmith. But then Avery himself is the one who comes full circle, back to the library.

Here’s a screenshot of Avery’s facial expression from that first scene with Avery and the code-breaking library books. I feel his smug facial expression says it all.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Yep, that’s right, the fuckin’ library.

There are 7 scenes total in this Class V film that mention libraries or library books or otherwise take place in an archives or library setting. The duration of those scenes last for a combined 12-15 minutes (only 10% out of a 157-minute running time!), but the combined scenes and library books leave a lasting impression.

Have you seen Zodiac? If so, do you remember the through-line and theme of library books and real-life research? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used:

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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.

Henry:  And you can’t talk loud.

Rachel:  Right.

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.

Henry:¬† I 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.

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:

‚ÄėWings of Desire‚Äô is an amazing film, with lots of footage set in a library‚Ķ¬†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 √ľber 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? ūüėČ

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 РMorgen 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.

‚ÄúAn Introductory Powerpoint: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury‚ÄĚ by Christine Samantha Anderson, SlidePlayer

‚ÄúAn Introductory Powerpoint: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôt leave her books, she says.‚ÄĚ

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‚Äôs Republic?”
“Well, I am Plato‚Äôs Republic. I‚Äôll recite myself for you whenever you like.”

“I am The Prince by Machiavelli. As you see, you can‚Äôt judge a book by its cover.”

“That man over there hasn‚Äôt much longer to live.”
“He‚Äôs The Weir or Germiston by Robert Louis Stevenson. The boy is his nephew. He‚Äôs 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 ‚ÄĒ 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs Progress by John Bunyan
  • Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
  • Jean-Paul Sartre‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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. ‚Ķ 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‚Äôd 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, ‚Äėcause we‚Äôd come up with strange books.

Homme livre/libre

The screenplay was originally written in French, as it was director Fran√ßois 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. ‚ô•


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