This post took a long time to write… because the film in question, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, actually comes in 3 different versions! Y’all know I like to be thorough, so yes, I watched all 3 versions and analyzed the reel librarian’s character in each version (the reel librarian is the sister of the title character). It was an interesting post to put together, as I had to think my way around how to structure the post and incorporate all 3 different versions of the film — and thus, 3 different versions of this same reel librarian character!
This post was a timely film to revisit, right before the Emmy Award-winning mini-series adaptation premiered. I enjoyed revisiting this film and how well it held up, and how relevant this story remains today.
This post was one of the most popular posts in 2017! Years ago, I had asked Bill Nikolai — a real-life librarian as well as an actor, a stand-in, and a photo-double — to share his story with my readers, and it was definitely better late than never! He has had such an interesting and inspiring life, on and off screen.
This post took quite a bit of time to research and put together — but it was worth it! It coincided with the annual Banned Books Week, and I thought a list of banned reel librarian movies added to that national conversation about censorship. And it’s a good kind of post to revisit every couple of years for updates.
I enjoyed this post mainly because the idea of Conan the Librarian and the serial killer librarian Chainsaw Sally getting together made me laugh. As did my subheading, “Conan and Sally sitting in a tree… K-I-L-L-I-N-G.” 😀
I didn’t expect much out of rewatching this 1969 film adaptation of the 1959 young adult novel of the same title — but I ended up falling in love all over again with the reel librarian in this film! Basically, the librarian helps save a young boy AND Christmas at the same time.
Did you enjoy these posts, too? Any personal faves of yours not represented here? Please leave a comment and share!
It’s perfect timing to spend some quality holiday time with a reel librarian
I have mentioned the reel librarian from My Side of the Mountain(1969) before, most recently in my library ladders round-up post. I had forgotten, however, that there was a Christmas scene in that film, so it’s perfect timing to spend some quality holiday time with a reel librarian.
The movie plot and the book it’s based on:
My Side of the Mountain (1969) is based on the Newbery Honor Award-winning book of the same title by Jean Craighead George, published a decade earlier in 1959. The librarian, Miss Turner, is a character in both the book and the movie adaptation. I haven’t yet read the book, although I have read other titles by that same author. I had watched this film years ago, but I recently rewatched the film for purposes of this post, borrowing the sole copy available throughout our various regional library systems.
Here’s a copy of the DVD cover, and I was happy to see the librarian is included on the back cover!
The basic plot? An independent-minded boy, Sam, leaves home to spend a year in nature, like his hero, Henry David Thoreau. It’s a coming-of-age story, one in which Sam learns about himself while he learns how to survive in the wild.
Where does the librarian fit into this plot? Sam travels to the public library in one scene, where librarian Miss Turner (Tudi Wiggins) helps him find information about peregrine falcons. Using the information he learned at the library, Sam then captures and trains a peregrine falcon to hunt for him. Wiggins receives third billing in the cast list, and she shows up at crucial times throughout the rest of the film.
Public library scene:
Almost a half hour into the film, Sam announces to his pet raccoon, Gus, that he’s “got to go into town… to read up on falcons.” The nearest town is Knowlton, which is a village around Lake Brome in Quebec, Canada (and also the inspiration for Louise Penny’s “Three Pines” mystery series!). The movie was shot on location in and around Knowlton, and the public library scene lasts about five minutes.
Here is a look at the interior of the public library, which is encased in wood panelling and lined with bookshelves. The librarian is seated at a large wooden desk, which has piles of books stacked on it, and she appears to be filing cards.
Sam walks in and goes straight to the librarian and does not waste any time asking for what he needs. Here’s how their reference interview goes:
Sam: Do you have any books on falcons?
Miss Turner: Falcons?
Sam: Especially the peregrine falcon.
Miss Turner: Peregrine falcons. Peregrine falcons were famous in England, I do believe [leading him into the stacks]. As a matter of fact, they were known as hunters for kings [reaches up on a library ladder to a top row]. If my memory serves me right, and it usually does. [hands him a book]
Miss Turner: Here’s another one that might be of help [hands him another book]. The only trouble is, you can’t take these books out. They’re just for reference.
Sam: Oh, that’s ok. I can sit here and use them.
Miss Turner: Well, have fun.
Sam: Do you think I could borrow a pencil?
Miss Turner: Of course. My name’s Miss Turner [sits down and takes off her glasses]. If you want anything, just call out. [hands him a pencil]
Sam: Thank you.
Miss Turner: What’s your name?
Sam: Sam. [says reluctantly]
Miss Turner: Sam.
Sam then takes the books and goes into another room, a reading room lined with more bookcases and a table in the center.
Sam then goes back into the main room of the library, back to the librarian, to return his books. He continues their conversation.
Sam: I guess I got everything I’ll need. Those birds sure are interesting. If I could only catch me one.
Miss Turner: [quoting Proverbs 1:17] ‘Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.’
Sam: Yeah, I guess so. Those birds are darn smart.
Miss Turner: Yes, they are, Sam. I often go up on McCracken’s Hill and watch them soaring over the mountains. I’m an old birdwatcher from way back.
Sam: I guess that’s how you knew about peregrine falcons right off. Well, goodbye.
Miss Turner: Sam… you’ll need a leather glove.
My reaction to this reference interview? The exchange sounded pretty spot-on to me, and it is one of the better reference interviews I’ve witnessed onscreen. In a brief amount of screen time, Miss Turner manages to:
listen to Sam and anticipates his needs (the “leather glove” comment at the end)
share relevant and information about herself to make a personal connection with a patron (her name and her interest in birdwatching)
quickly establish trust and interest in the patron’s needs (her knowledge about the history of peregrine falcons)
establish trust with the viewer by establishing trust with Sam
get across the idea that she is intelligent — quoting the Bible and knowing about peregrine falcons — in a way that is not condescending or off-putting
efficiently explain how reference books are different from other books in the library
Throughout the scene, she is warm and friendly.
Plus, we know that she has a life outside the library, because we learn that she loves the outdoors and birdwatching! This scene plants a seed that will pay off later in the film.
I thought it interesting to note that we first meet Miss Turner when she has her glasses on — to visually establish the fact that she’s a librarian? However, she takes them back off again as soon as she’s done finding the books, and we never see her wear her glasses again.
Soon after Sam captures and trains a peregrine falcon, who he christens “Frightful,” a traveling folk singer, Bando (played by Theodore Bikel), stops by his campsite. Bando sticks around for a number of weeks and teaches Sam more survival skills.
Bando is a collector of folk songs and also is no stranger to spouting quotations, either. He even quotes from Shakespeare at one point.
A little over an hour into the film, when Bando is packing up to leave before winter sets in, Sam asks him to post a letter he’s written to his family. Bando then quotes from Proverbs 25:25: “As cool water to the thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.”
Sam is instantly reminded of the librarian!
Sam: You know, sometimes when you get like that, when you start quoting something that you read in a book, you remind me of someone else.
Bando: Oh? Who’s that?
Sam: Oh, it’s this library lady down in the village. She’s that way.
Bando: My, oh, my. I didn’t think you’d ever communicate with any human animal. Apart from myself, of course.
Sam: Well, I only went down there once, to read up on falcons. She knew quite a lot about them, too. She belongs to some kind of bird-watcher’s club and all. She’s a great lady. You’d like her, Bando. I did. I even trusted her. And I almost told her my plan and all.
Miss Turner definitely made an impression! “Library lady” and a “great lady” all in one… 😉
About 10 minutes later after Bando sets off, Sam walks to the edge of the woods and announces to Frightful that he’s going into town. “Even Thoreau left his retreat at Walden Pond to go into Concord sometimes.“
As Sam ties Frightful up to a tree stump, he spies Miss Turner walking along a path, birdwatching. (She’s dressed in an outfit — a cardigan and skirt — that seems more suitable for working in the library than for birdwatching… perhaps she stopped by the trail after work?)
Miss Turner: I was just on the trail of a beautiful speckled grouse, and I think it got away from me somehow.
Sam: You remember me?
Miss Turner: Yes, I think I do. Aren’t you the Peregrine falcon boy? You do look different. Your hair’s so long now. Did you manage to observe those falcons at close range? I was only wondering because I found another very good book on them. I mean, if you’re interested.
Sam: Oh yes. You see, I caught one. Oh, I take the best care of it. I’ve even got it out here with me now. Say, would you like to see it?
Miss Turner: Of course I would.
Sam is so excited he grabs her hand to show her to Frightful.
Miss Turner: She’s a beautiful bird, Sam.
Sam: Wait til you see her in the sky. [Frightful takes off and swoops back down to Sam.]
Miss Turner: She’s glorious. She loves you, too… Come on down, take a look at the new book I found.
Sam: Well, I don’t get into town much, and I like to be alone.
Miss Turner: In any case, if you ever want to, come and see me. Please. As Cicero said, ‘We are never less alone than when completely alone.’
Later, in his journal, Sam writes:
I walked down the mountain today, when who did I meet on the outskirts, but Miss Turner, out on a hike. I showed her Frightful. It was good talking to her.
I couldn’t help but include the (hilarious!) facial expression on Miss Turner’s face at the moment Frightful swoops back down onto Sam’s leather glove. Frightful lives up to its name! 😉
Once again, Miss Turner demonstrates her warmth and kindness in this brief exchange. She shows that she remembers Sam — and his reference question! — and that she is observant, through her remark about his hair. And although off duty and outside the library, she is still a librarian! She has still been thinking about his reference question about peregrine falcons and set aside a book if he needs more information.
Up to this point, the librarian’s role has basically been that of an Information Provider. She has literally provided information to Sam about peregrine falcons, which he has made good use out of.
But this reel librarian is already something extra by this point — Miss Turner’s warm, friendly, caring personality goes beyond that of an Information Provider. She is not there to just find a book and provide a pencil. Rather, she is also there to provide a human connection with Sam — to remind Sam that he is not all alone in this world and that he has resources outside the forest. Like Bando, she is a vital link to the outside world, where there are people who care about him.
Librarian to the rescue:
Fifteen minutes from the end of this 100-minute-long film, Sam gets snowed in inside the tree he has made into his home. Just as oxygen is running out as Sam tries to dig through the snow, guess who comes to the rescue? Bando and the librarian, of course! (The film does do a nice job of setting up this exact scenario.) Miss Turner is outfitted more appropriately this time for the outdoors, wrapped up in a long hooded coat, ski wear, gloves, and snow shoes.
Christmas with a reel librarian:
Best of all, Miss Turner comes stocked with a picnic basket filled with a Christmas feast. Librarians are *always* prepared, y’all. RESPECT.
And in a scene that has to be unique amongst all reel librarian cinema, the librarian has Christmas dinner in a tree! “That was the best Christmas dinner I ever had.“
Bando also plays Christmas carols, and Miss Turner even joins in the singing!
Miss Turner also reveals that she kept thinking about Sam:
Miss Turner: I couldn’t get you out of my mind, Sam. I kept trying to think, how to get up to see you after the big storm.
Bando: And then I showed up. See, I remembered about the library lady.
Miss Turner: I invited myself along.
Sam: I’m glad you did, Miss Turner.
Sam: I’m glad you did, Miss Turner.
Bando then reveals that quite a few people are worried about him, as he takes out newspaper clippings from his pocket. Sam then decides that it is time for him to go home, and that he’s learned a lot about himself. They then set off back down the side of the mountain.
The significance of the reel librarian character:
Although Miss Turner may start off as what seems to be a typical Information Provider character type, she ends up, in my opinion, as an Atypical Portrayal of a reel librarian. She goes above and beyond her role as a librarian to provide research help. We learn of her interest in the outdoors in her introductory scene, and we then see her outside the library, birdwatching and hiking. She demonstrates that she really cares about her patrons, by remembering them and continuing to anticipate and think about how to meet their needs even after they have left the library. A true librarian at heart, and a truly positive portrayal of a reel librarian.
I had previously added Miss Turner to my “Hall of Fame” list, and here’s my write-up on that page:
An admittedly odd film (a 12-year-old boy leaves home and spends a year alone in nature—but that’s okay because he left a note to his parents and told them not to worry?!), but it does contain one of the most caring and thoughtful of all reel librarians. A public librarian helps a young boy find information about peregrine falcons and goes out of her way to find him more resources. She also gets a few scenes outside the library, where we see that she is an avid birdwatcher and nature enthusiast.
I have ultimately classified this film in the Class I category, in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, and the librarian’s occupation serves as catalyst or is otherwise integral to the plot. Miss Turner definitely fits that description. The information she provides is vital to Sam’s survival in the woods, of course, but the librarian’s personal connection with Sam also proves vital to Sam’s survival.
The reel librarian ends up a savior and a hero.
The reel/real library:
I wanted to end this post with a brief spotlight on the real library in Knowlton, Quebec. Below are screenshots of the exterior of the library, as seen in the film, as well as a close-up of the library’s sign (which you’ll notice, is in both English and French, as befitting a Canadian locale).
It’s obvious that the exterior of the library served as the library location in the film, as the brick exterior seen in the film exactly matches the drawing of the library highlighted on the library’s website:
I have to wonder if the library sign in the movie is one they created especially for the movie, however, since the real public library in Knowlton is known by the name of “Pettes Memorial Library,” as you can see above. And the library has always gone by this name, as according to the library website, it was “built and bequeathed to the people of Knowlton and the Township of Brome by Narcissa Farrand Pettes in memory of her late husband, Nathaniel Pettes.” According to this booklet, “The History of the Pettes Memorial Library,” available online, Narcissa Pettes’s donation specified the name of the library, “a building known as the Pettes Memorial, which forever hereafter is destined for a free public library.” The Legislature in Quebec also passed an act in 1894 “incorporating the Trustees under ‘An Act to Incorporate the Pettes Memorial.'”
I also found it interesting that this library, founded in March 1894, was the first free rural library in the province of Quebec. You can read more about the history of the library’s founding here on the History section of the library’s website.
I believe that “Conan the Librarian” and “Chainsaw Sally” would be a match made in heaven… or hell?!
It’s October, which means it’s scary movie time! I am commencing on my annual tradition of scary movie-themed posts during the month of Halloween. (Want to revisit past October posts? Just click on the Archives drop-down menu on the right navigation menu.)
A few years ago, I mused in my post about Chainsaw Sally (2004) that the title character, Sally, and “Conan the Librarian” in UHF (1989) would probably have a lot to talk about. Upon closer inspection, I believe that “Conan the Librarian” and “Chainsaw Sally” would be a match made in heaven… or hell?! 😉
Let’s explore the love and gore, shall we?
Conan the Librarian:
“Conan the Librarian” is a brief — but memorable — character featured in a brief sketch in the Weird Al Yankovic film, UHF(1989). The character is introduced in the form of a television ad for a show on an almost-bankrupt public TV station. “Conan the Librarian” is a parody of the famous “Conan the Barbarian” character created by R. E. Howard, and the clip lasts only 40 seconds. But it’s enough time for two scenes featuring “Conan the Librarian’s” wrath.
Conan’s first scene shows a balding, middle-aged man with thick glasses, cable-knit sweater, and tweedy jacket who, with a tremor in his voice, asks Conan the Librarian, “Can you tell me where I can find a book on astronomy?”
Conan heaves the man up by his shirt collar and shouts, “Don’t you know the Dewey Decimal System?!”
Conan then goes on to slice a young man in two because his books were overdue.
“Chainsaw Sally,” the title character in the indie 2004 film, wreaks havoc on library patrons all throughout her film.
What counts as a killable offense in Sally’s library?
A man who talks loudly in the library, spouting off curse words and heckling his girlfriend for needing to finish a school report. He also ignores Miss Sally’s warning that he be quiet in the library. (See his fate in the YouTube video below)
A woman who never returns a book she checked out.
A woman who works at the local ice cream truck misspells “malt” on an order form and also makes fun of Sally when Sally tries to correct her misspelling.
Both films are cult classics, and both characters are quite memorable. Both films are also comedies, although on different points on the comedy scale. (UHF often feels like a long series of comedy bits and sketches, while Chainsaw Sally is more of a dried-blood “dark comedy.”) Conan also serves as Comic Relief while Sally is the ultimate Naughty Librarian.
What is the secret to a successful relationship? One often-read tip is to share common experiences and/or similar values. In a twisted way, that would ring true for Conan and Chainsaw Sally. To wit:
They both make fun of patrons for not understanding or appreciating rules or organization (Conan berates a patron for not knowing the Dewey Decimal system while Sally chastises a woman for misspelling a word)
They retaliate through violence (hacking, slicing, etc.)
They enjoy weapons to aid in violence, like swords and chainsaws
They believe in over-the-top and deadly punitive punishments for overdue books
So much to bond over!
Chainsaw Sally. Dir. Jimmyo Burril. Perf. April Monique Burril, Mark Redfield, Alec Joseph. Shock-O-Rama Cinema, 2004.
UHF. Dir. Jay Levey. Perf. Weird Al Yankovic, Victoria Jackson, Kevin McCarthy, Michael Richards. Orion, 1989.
I wondered if any reel librarian movies have been banned. Short answer? YES.
Banned Books Week, as described on ALA’s site, is “an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers — in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”
Banned Books Week is a big deal for librarians — and for ALL of us, really, as censorship and challenges to our freedom to read occur every day — which got me thinking, what about banned films?
Movie censorship has its own history in the United States, including with the “Motion Picture Production Code” in the 1930s, when only a few big film studios controlled the content of almost all films made in this country. This code was more commonly known as the “Hays Code,” named after after Will H. Hays, president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), which later became the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). This code, enforcing rules of decency and conduct, was implemented in 1930, but wasn’t strictly enforced until 1934, and it lasted through 1968. The MPAA board, itself the subject of a 2006 documentary called This Film is Not Yet Rated, continues to cause controversy with its film rating system (the G through NC-17 scale). Some argue that this board’s non-transparent methods of rating films creates a chilling effect on filmmakers.
And censorship is nothing new internationally. Many countries still have boards that review and censor books and films. I saw the effects of this firsthand when I lived and worked overseas in the UAE. A lot of movies I watched in theaters in the UAE had scenes cut from them — it made watching The Watchmen, for example, very confusing, since sooooooo much was cut, including almost every scene with Dr. Manhattan — and I bought a book once because it had been censored. (Trinny & Susannah’s Who Do You Want To Be Today?: Be inspired to Dress Differently included photos of a topless Josephine Baker, and these photos had been marked through with a large black Sharpie.)
Circling back around to reel librarians, I wondered if any reel librarian movies have been banned. Short answer? YES.
Long answer: I did some research! The first step was to locate lists of banned or challenged films, including ones here, here, and here. I then compared these lists, and others listed below in the “Sources” section, to my Master List of reel librarian films.
Below is my (starting) list of titles of reel librarian movies that have been banned, either in the U.S. or internationally. I’ve arranged the list alphabetically by film title.
All foreign films made before 1980:
Where they were banned:
Uganda: From 1972-79, President Idi Amin banned all foreign films on the grounds that they contained “imperialist propaganda.” So technically, that means that all foreign films made before 1980 were banned in Uganda. Based on my recent post about reel librarian movie totals, that means at least 83 reel librarian films that were made before 1980 were banned.
Angels and Demons (2009):
A mystery thriller film directed by Ron Howard, based on Dan Brown’s novel of the same name and the sequel to the 2006 film The Da Vinci Code. It once again stars Tom Hanks as historian-adventurer Robert Langdon, who travels to the Vatican and Rome to track down a vial of antimatter that has gone missing. Set against a conclave to select a new Pope, this movie includes scenes in the Vatican Library.
Where it was banned:
Samoa: Banned by film censor Lei’ataua Olo’apu for being “critical of the Catholic Church” and to “avoid any religious discrimination by other denominations and faiths against the Church.”
The Big Sleep (1946):
A complex crime story with private eye Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) hired to keep an eye on General Sternwood’s daughter (Lauren Bacall). In a brief library scene, a young, blonde librarian is curious about Marlowe’s reading choices. The Hollywood Public Library and another female librarian, a brunette, also feature in the film’s trailer.
Where it was banned:
Ireland: In its original release due to sexual references.
Malaysia: It was banned originally, but the film passed in 1999 with a VCD release and a delayed DVD release from Warner Malaysia Video.
Blade (Wesley Snipes), a half-vampire, is on a mission to destroy vampires, while vampire Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) is on a mission to destroy the human race. Blade tortures the Record Keeper, who confesses he helped Deacon in translating the Vampire Bible’s prophecy.
Where it was banned:
Malaysia: The film was never released in cinemas, but it passed for a VCD release and a delayed DVD release.
The Blue Kite (aka Lan feng zheng, 1993):
This film, directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang, shows the perspective of a young boy, Tieto, growing up in the 1950s and 1960s in Beijing, China. The film is organized into three episodes: Hundred Flowers Campaign, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. Tieto’s father works in a library and, while he goes to the bathroom, is selected by his colleagues as a “rightist” to report to Mao Zedong’s Communist Party.
Where it was banned:
China: For being “offensive” and overtly criticizing government policies. The film was also smuggled out of China for final editing and not submitted to the China’s Central Film Bureau for post-production approval. Its director received a 10-year ban from making films.
Brief Encounter (1945):
A classic romantic drama about an ordinary English wife and mother (Celia Johnson) and an ordinary English husband and father (Trevor Howard) who meet one day by chance and fall in love. The woman stops by the Boots Lending Library on her weekly shopping trip.
Ireland: The film was considered “too permissive of adultery”
Note: As I mentioned in my analysis post for Brief Encounter, when she picks up her book at the Boots Lending Library, she states that “Miss Lewis had at last managed to get the new Kate O’Brien for me. I believe she’d kept it hidden under the counter for two days.” Kate O’Brien was an Irish novelist and playwright (1897-1974), who explored gay/lesbian themes in several of her works. Some of her work was quite controversial, as two of her books were banned in her native Ireland. Just like this film!
A supernatural horror film directed by Brian De Palma and based on Stephen King’s 1974 novel. The film focuses on Carrie, a shy, bullied high school student who is also in the process of discovering her supernatural powers. In one scene, Carrie searches through her high school library looking for books on mental telepathy.
Where it was banned:
Malaysia: This film was never shown in cinemas during its release. The ban lifted by 1996 with a VCD release from Warner-MGM Malaysia and with its out-of-print DVD release. Most other films based on or written by Stephen King have also been banned in Malaysia.
Citizen Kane (1941):
A classic saga about the rise and fall of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles). A reporter visits the Thatcher Memorial Library of Philadelphia to research Kane and runs into the steely, no-nonsense presence of the librarian.
Where it was banned:
United States: The film was not technically banned, but newspaper magnate and publisher Willian Randolph Hearst — who was the inspiration for the film’s main character — ran a dirty campaign to try and suppress the film, which included efforts of intimidation, blackmail, negative articles, and even FBI investigations. The film finally premiered in the U.S. in May 1941.
Hungary: As per a reader comment below: “[I]n the documentary “Visions of Light,” cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond tells an interviewer that in Hungary “the movie played in theaters for just one week, then the [Communist] government pulled it.” He says the next chance to see it came years later, in a tiny screening room at a film school.”
A Clockwork Orange (1971):
Sometime in the not-to-distant future, gangs of teenage thugs roam the streets and terrorize citizens. Alex, the leader of one of the gangs, is sent to prison, where there is, if I remember correctly, at least one scene is in the prison library. I need to rewatch the film to make sure!
Where it was banned:
Canada: Provinces Alberta and Nova Scotia banned the film, but Alberta reversed the ban in 1999. The Maritime Film Classification Board has also reserved the ban, and both provinces have now granted an R rating to the film.
Ireland: The film was banned due to its “extreme depictions of violence and rape.” The ban was lifted in 2000.
Singapore: The film was banned for over 30 years. An unsuccessful attempt at releasing the ban was made in 2006, but the ban was not lifted until 2011, when the film was shown as part of the Perspectives Film Festival.
South Africa: The film was banned under the apartheid regime for 13 years, then released with minor cuts and only available for people aged 21+.
South Korea: The film was banned due to “depictions of violence and gang rape,” but the ban has since been lifted.
United Kingdom: When the film was first released without cuts in the UK, it created a huge uproar because of its depiction of violence, and stories soon began circulating about “copycat” crimes. Kubrick also allegedly received death threats against his family. The film was then withdrawn from the UK for 27 years. The film returned to British screens in 2000, after director Kubrick’s death in 1999.
United States: The film was not banned in the U.S., but Kubrick was forced to cut 30 seconds of the film to transition from an X rating to an R rating.
Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939):
WWII propaganda film about a G-Man (Edward G. Robinson) who investigates a Nazi spy ring in the United States. There is a brief but important scene in the New York Public Library’s periodicals room.
Nazi Germany: Banned by Adolf Hitler because it was the first anti-Nazi movie made in Hollywood. Hitler also banned all Warner Bros. films and reportedly planned to execute the makers of this film upon winning the war. This film was not publicly screened in Germany until 1977.
The Da Vinci Code (2006):
An adaptation of the controversial Dan Brown adventure and mystery thriller involving a murder in the Louvre and a quest to find the Holy Grail. In the book, the main character, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), is a historian, and goes to a library for research. I need to rewatch the film, but if I remember correctly, that library scene was changed to a Google search on Langdon’s cell phone. I need to rewatch the film to make sure!
Where it was banned:
China: It was withdrawn from cinemas three weeks after the film’s release for “blasphemous content” and political reasons for upsetting Catholics in China.
Egypt: “Blasphemous content”
India: Banned in several states in India, includingPunjab, Goa, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, for its “perceived anti-Christian message.”
Jordan: “Blasphemous content”
Lebanon: “Blasphemous content”
Pakistan: Banned due to protest by the Christian community in Pakistan, due to “blasphemous content”
Philippines: “Blasphemous content”
Samoa: The film was banned outright after church leaders watching a pre-release showing filed a complaint with film censors. This banned included local television stations in Samoa, as well as the country’s only cinema. The government censorship office also prohibited the sale or rental of future VHS and DVD versions of the film.
Solomon Islands: Banned by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who states that the film “undermines the very roots of Christianity in Solomon Islands.”
A drama edited, written, and directed by Gus Van Sant, chronicling the events surrounding a school shooting, based in part on the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. There are a few scenes in the school library, including a school librarian and a student library worker.
Where it was banned:
An all-female reboot of the classic film. There is a library scene featured in the film’s trailer, but I have not been able to watch this film yet to determine if it’s a reel librarian or not.
China: Despite dropping the Chinese character for “ghost” from its Chinese title, the film was barred from premiering in the country.
The Girl Next Door (2004):
A romantic comedy about a high school senior who falls in love with the girl next door, before learning but that she is a former pornographic actress. At the end of the film, the main character breaks into the high school library to shoot a porn video.
Where it was banned:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2012):
American version of the Swedish novel about a disgraced journalist (Daniel Craig) who investigates the 40-year disappearance of a young woman. He is aided in his search by a punk investigator/computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Late in the film, Lisbeth researches records in a company’s archives, disgruntling an older archives librarian.
India: The film was banned for its “adult scenes of rape and torture,” and director David Fincher refused to cut scenes demanded by the Central Board of Film Certification.
Vietnam: It was banned because its international distributor, Sony Pictures, did not accept the requirement by the Vietnamese National Film Board to cut some sensitive scenes.
Peeping Tom (aka Face of Fear; Fotographer of Panic, 1960):
A young man (Carl Boehm) uses a handheld movie camera to film the dying expressions of girls he murders. Helen (Anna Massey) is a young woman who befriends him, and she reveals in one scene that she works at the public library.
Where it was banned:
Finland: Banned for 21 years
United Kingdom: This film was very controversial, blasted by critics, and pulled from theaters. Director Michael Powell’s career never recovered, although the film has subsequently earned critical praise.
The Reader (2008):
German-American film about Michael Berg, a German lawyer who, as a teenager in 1958, has an affair with an older woman, Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet, in an Oscar-winning performance), who resurfaces years later in a war crimes trial about from her actions as a guard at a Nazi concentration camp. Hanna learns to read in the prison library and with the help of the prison librarian.
Where it was banned:
Sex and the City (2008):
Movie sequel to the HBO comedy series of the same name about four female friends in New York City: Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte York Goldenblatt (Kristin Davis), and Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon). Carrie sees a wedding at the New York Public Library while returning a book, which inspires her to hold her upcoming wedding there, too.
Where it was banned:
The Shawshank Redemption (1994):
In this modern classic, young banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife. Andy maintains his innocence and plots to escape. Andy works as an assistant in the prison library and becomes friends with the prison librarian, Brooks.
Where it was banned:
Malaysia: For “depiction of cruelty, profanity, and violence.” It was later released on DVD.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991):
American horror-thriller film directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in two Oscar-winning roles. In the film, Clarice Starling, a young U.S. FBI trainee, seeks the advice of the imprisoned Dr. Lecter to apprehend another serial killer. In one scene, Clarice looks at newspapers on microfilm to learn more about Hannibal Lecter’s past. I need to rewatch it to doublecheck if this or other scenes include or mention a library or librarians.
Where it was banned:
Sleeping with the Enemy (1990):
Sara Waters (Julia Roberts) fakes her own death to escape her abusive husband (Patrick Bergin), and he comes after her once he discovers the deception. When Sara relocates to a small town, she starts working at the public library.
Where it was banned:
Best Picture winner for 2015. Focuses on the Boston Globe “Spotlight” team of reporters who published a series of stories in 2002 about Catholic priests who, for decades, had been sexually abusing children in their parishes. A few scenes and montages feature the Boston Globe news librarians and research methods of using church directories to track down priests.
Lebanon: The film was technically not banned by the country’s government. Instead, the country’s film distributors made a collective decision to self-censor the film by not presenting it to the General Security censors, which kept the film from being shown in the country. The reason was due to the “sensitive” topic of the film, the topic of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests.
The Ten (2007):
The film is comprised of ten stories, each inspired by one of the Ten Commandments. Chaper two, “Thou Shalt Not Take the Lord’s Name in Vain,” stars Gretchen Mol as a librarian who experiences a sexual awakening in Mexico with a local man (Justin Theroux) who turns out to be Jesus Christ.
Where it was banned:
Have you seen any of these reel librarian movies that have been banned or suppressed? Are you inspired now to watch any of them? Does your library shine the spotlight on censorship during Banned Books Week?
This week’s post shines the spotlight on Bill Nikolai
Last week, I promised a post about another adventurer librarian… this time, a real one! 😀
This week’s post shines the spotlight on Bill Nikolai, a librarian at Vancouver Community College (VCC) in Vancouver, British Columbia… who also happens to be an actor, a stand-in and a photo-double (those are two different jobs, as I have found out), as well as a paraglider, among other things. Wow!
A few years ago, Bill contacted me after he came across my post on Reel Librarians about our visit to the Vancouver and the (awesome) Vancouver Public Library, a post that included a behind-the-scenes look at a TV pilot that was shooting at the library one of the days we happened to visit. After a few emails back-and-forth, I asked Bill if we could do a librarian profile, and just three years later… here we are! And it’s sooooooo worth the wait, as Bill has had — and continues to have — an amazing life, both in AND outside the library.
By the way, here’s the quick backstory for the photo shown at right: This pic was a photo gag for an April Fool’s blog post about fitness in the VCC Library, and was also part of a “Men of IT” charity calendar at VCC.
From the film biz…
Prior to beginning his career as an academic librarian, Bill, in his own words, “dabbled in the film biz” after taking acting courses as an undergraduate.
He so much resembled actor Richard Dean Anderson that he ended up as his double for both MacGyver and Stargate SG-1. (Side note: I *loved* MacGyver, y’all. LOVED. Watching MacGyver every week with my family remain some of my happiest memories of childhood. I grew up in the country backwoods of northeast Texas, with access to only one TV channel, ABC. Thank goodness MacGyver was on ABC!) So this bit of trivia about MacGyver had me geeking out and asking Bill questions like, “How glorious was Richard Dean Anderson’s feathered mullet up close?“
And here are some awesome photos of some AWESOME mullets, courtesy of Bill himself:
Bill Nikolai and Richard Dean Anderson had a lot of fun on and off set, occasionally skiing together as well as playing a version of hockey on set with pucks made out of used camera tape, with doorways and table legs used as goals. Such an awesome visual — I’m sure there were a lot of double-takes (har har, pun intended) when they were together! ♥
Bill also got an occasional line or two on Stargate SG-1 as the character Tech. Sergeant Vern Alberts, in addition to photo-doubling and standing in for Richard Dean Anderson.
More about the Stargate experience and his role as Vern Alberts:
“Stargate was an interesting gig in that mostly I worked as a stand-in, but I also often would do Richard’s off-camera lines for other actors if he wasn’t available on set for their singles (as opposed to two shots or other wide shots that included RDA). Sometimes the shot would catch a bit of “Richard’s” back (an “over-the-shoulder” shot); often that shoulder would be mine. I did a lot of the close-up hand doubling as well, both on MacGyver and Stargate. Lastly, occasionally, I would get a line or two as my own recurring character, an Airforce Tech Sergeant (my character finally became known as Vern Alberts), often with General Hammond (played by the late Don Davis) hovering over my shoulder in the Stargate control room. The name “Vern” was established in an episode called Window of Opportunity when Rick shouts “How’s the wife and kids, Vern?” as he is cycling past me in a hallway. My real-life middle name is Vern (after my father, Werner); the “wife and kids line” was improvised, so just before delivering it, Rick asked me what I wanted my first name to be. Vern was a bit of an homage to my dad.”
Here’s the backstory of the photo above, courtesy of Bill:
“This episode involved a spacecraft crashing into the ocean and Colonel O’Neill (by then, a general, I believe) is forced to try to regain control of the craft as it sinks and fills up with water. I was there to potentially double RDA in some of the scenes. ( I have Advanced SCUBA training and am comfortable in confined spaces.) In the end, Rick did all his own action in this episode. This was just prior to the start of library school at UBC and coincidentally, this episode was largely shot on campus in the Marine Engineering facility, where the production had access to a large tank that could accommodate the submerged spacecraft.”
What was Bill’s favorite day on a set? It was for a 2000 TV movie called First Target (also, check out the film’s trailer here, which also features him!), and as Bill described it, “[A day] in which I got to kiss a very bad girl, then got drugged, kicked and drowned by her.” The “very bad girl” was a beautiful assassin, played by Ona Grauer, and it serves as the one time he also got to do a stunt. The TV movie also starred Daryl Hannah.
You can check out the scene in the video below:
… to the library biz…
Bill earned his Master’s in Library Science at the i-School at the University of British Columbia in 2008 at the age of 51 and has been working full-time ever since at the Vancouver Community College Library, where he co-led the library instruction program and teaches information literacy classes. (As Bill and I are both librarians at community colleges, we have shared via email our common experiences about our love of teaching; our love of serving a diversity of students; and the myriad responsibilities, and usually smaller library staffs, that are a common reality for many community college librarians.) Before earning his MLS, Bill also had an academic career as an ESL instructor at different universities in Japan.
Bill subsequently returned to school and completed a second Master’s Degree. He now works as a mild-mannered college librarian in Vancouver.
Behold the “mild-mannered” librarian below, in a fun photo collage of him in 2006, before and after scary-looking monster makeup on the set of the failed TV pilot A.M.P.E.D. Of course, my favorite part is the photobombing of the classic library science textbook, Reference and Information Services: An Introduction. Bill had just started his library science program at UBC, and he brought along study material for the long hours spent in the makeup chair.
Fun fact: I also had the SAME textbook in library school for my reference services course in library school!
Also, I think I might just have my next Halloween costume idea… 😀
With retirement from the library on the horizon, Bill has started to get back into the acting game, as he is still a member of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), which is Canada’s version of the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) in the United States. He recently had a non-speaking acting role on the TV series Supernatural (April 2017, Season 12, Episode 18, “The Memory Remains“). His character was named “Black Bill,” and his role was to “slit someone’s throat in a flashback sequence … very un-librarian-like!” 😀
The feature interview, entitled “Bill Nikolai: Flybrarian,” is a great read, with more pics of Bill and his wife, Linda. I really loved this quote in particular, which is toward the end of the article:
… and up to the skies:
Bill Nikolai, librarian and paraglider, showcases how he likes to combine his “thinking person’s pursuits” — literally! This was another gag shot for another charity calendar. In the photo below, Bill is “reading” Inside the Sky: A Meditation on Flight, by William Langewiesche.
And last but not least, below are a couple of videos Bill has shared about his “paragliding obsession” mentioned in the article linked above.
The “Paragrinding” video below was shot in September 2013 and screened at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, as well as at the Legacy Film Festival on Aging in San Francisco. (Bill shot all the GoPro footage.)
And here’s a link to a very recent paragliding video (3 minutes) that Bill also shot:
Like I said, Bill’s story was worth the wait, right?! 😀
Thank you so much, Bill, for getting back in touch with me and your willingness to share so much of your fascinating personal and professional story and behind-the-scenes photos. I am so honored to feature you here on Reel Librarians. You go into the Reel Librarians hall of fame, for sure, as you have an insider’s view in both the library and cinematic worlds.
By the way, when I first asked Bill about doing a “guest post” or profile for Reel Librarians, his charming and modest response was that he wasn’t sure his story would be “much of great interest to the librarians out there.”
Well, I’m a fellow librarian, and I find Bill’s story extremely interesting — AND inspiring!
Anyone else feel inspired around here? Please leave a comment and share!
“Biography.” Bill Nikolai, Internet Movie Database.