A reel archivist returns in ‘National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets’

Last week, I dived deep into the archivist’s role in 2004’s National Treasure… so it should come as no surprise that this week, it feels fitting to explore the 2007 sequel, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets.

Here’s a snippet of the sequel’s plot, from the back of the DVD:

This film “[t]akes you on a globe-trotting quest full of adrenaline-pumping twists and turns — all leading to the final club in a mysterious and highly guarded book containing centuries of secrets. But there’s only one way to find it — Ben Gates must kidnap the President.”

So… in the first film, Ben Gates steals the Declaration of Independence; in the sequel, he “upgrades” to kidnapping the President. Okaaaaaaaaaaay.

*POTENTIAL SPOILERS THROUGHOUT*

Here’s a trailer for National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets:

NATIONAL TREASURE 2: BOOK OF SECRETS (2007) – Official Movie Trailer,” uploaded by soundfan, is licensed under a Standard YouTube License

What do I like about the film?

That the word “book” is in the movie’s subtitle, that Helen Mirren co-stars in the sequel (she plays an expert on ancient Native American languages), and that the Library of Congress also gets a co-starring role! 😉

What do I NOT like about the film?

Uh, everything else. The talented cast is wasted in this paint-by-numbers, pedestrian action film. And it’s not just me! The film “earned” two Razzie Award nominations:  Worst Actor for Nicolas Cage and Worst Supporting Actor for Jon Voight.

Bookstore scene:

Eight minutes into the film, we get a wide shot of a scene that’s clearly set in a bookstore (not a library!). The sidekick, Riley (Justin Bartha), has written a book, and it’s clear he’s trying to cash in on the fame. (But the book he’s written will be an important plot point later.)

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

You’re no Indiana Jones, dude.

However, no one’s really interested in the sidekick.

Trouble in (archives) paradise:

We also learn early one that Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) and Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger, downgraded from 2nd billing in the first film to 3rd billing in the sequel, boo!) have broken up. But Gates needs to break into her house because of PLOT reasons that have something to do with John Wilkes Booth, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and the reputation of the Gates family.

As Gates puts it, “I need to get Abigail’s ID. She has access to the Booth diary page.”

Long story short, they do break in, and Gates pulls open Abigail’s desk drawer to grab her ID badge… which now reads “Library of Congress.”

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Abigail Chase’s Library of Congress ID

There’s no explanation given, but it’s clear that Chase has moved from the National Archives to the Library of Congress within the previous three years. My thoughts for the reason why? Because of PLOT. 😉

And OF COURSE Chase comes home early — she’s been on a date! — and we get to see her all gussied up in a fancy dress and heels. She’s been on a date with the “White House curator” (another reel archivist?), and here’s his reaction to her home:

ConnorWow. You work in a museum, and you live in one.

ChasePretty much.

Caught red-handed breaking into her house, Gates tries to smooth-talk his way out of the situation, but Chase sees right through him. The resulting conversation echoes their first conversation together from the first film.

ChaseHand it over, Ben.

GatesI need to see the Booth diary page.

ChaseYou saw the page yourself. There is no treasure map on it.

GatesNo, it’s a cipher leading to a map. Anyone spectral-image the page?

ChaseNo need to. The ink writing on the page is clearly visible.

GatesIt could have been erased or faded. You’re the director of document conservation. You know all this.

ChaseIt’s not up to me. It’s not my department.

Gates: That department reports to your department. Come on. One look under infrared.

I do enjoy this bit of conversation, even if only to get a clue about her new job and title!

The white glove returns!

The next scene takes place in what I assume is a lab in the Library of Congress, where Chase is using a computer and infrared scan. The iconic white gloves, an essential tool in the archivist’s toolbox, do make an appearance, but it’s interesting to note that Chase only has a white glove on her left hand, and not her right hand while she’s using the computer.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Modern archival equipment!

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

White gloves in hand for the reel archivist

This short scene is also notable for its use of modern archivist technology this time — no lemon juice or hairdryers this time! 😉

They do find a cipher on the back of the page — DA DA DUMMMMMMM! —  and she sends the document to the scanner.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Cipher discovered!

Chase takes off the glove on her left hand and pull outs a copy of the document from the scanner. You can see her white gloves in the background of the closeup.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

A reel archivist’s tools: white gloves, tape, and infrared scanners

Here’s how this scene and its importance to Chase’s identity as a reel archivist is described in the “Crossing a Librarian with a Historian: The Image of Reel Archivists” article by Aldred, Burr, and Park:

“In the sequel National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007), we once again encounter Abigail Chase; she performs one “archival” function: she uses a computer to manipulate a digital image of a page torn from John Wilkes Booth’s diary, all the while either wearing or holding a white glove. This humorous image aside, we learn that she is now working for the Library of Congress and is Director of Document Conservation.” (p. 85)

The book of secrets:

The “book of secrets” is solved midway through the film. Remember Riley’s treasure-hunting book that nobody wanted to read? Turns out, he wrote a chapter about “The President’s Secret Book” and a secret seal. (The trio had discovered this seal on an adventure in London, for reasons of PLOT.)

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

The chapter on the secret book in Riley’s book

It was definitely a moment for “suspension of disbelief” and massive eye-rolling, because the “President’s Secret Book” and secret seal feels like something both Chase and Gates would already know about, right? But at least Riley gets his moment in the spotlight.

Library of Congress connection:

So all of this secret book nonsense leads Gates to, naturally, have to kidnap POTUS in order to confront him about the book and how to find it. As you do. This leads them to the Library of Congress.

PresidentThe book exists.

GatesWhere is it?

PresidentWhere else do you keep a book? In the Library of Congress.

POTUS then gives Gates a code:  XY 234786.

I immediately shouted out at the screen, “It’s a call number!!!!” And of course, it had to be a Library of Congress call number, which start with a combination of letters, followed by numbers. (Dewey Decimal call numbers start with numbers, 000s through 900s.)

And now we know why Dr. Abigail Chase had to switch jobs from the National Archives to the Library of Congress. I had mused it was for reasons of PLOT. And here’s where that plot point pays off…

Library of Congress archivist leading the way:

At 1 hour and 11 mins into the film, Chase leads the way to the Library of Congress. Doesn’t she look totally bad-ass in her black leather jacket? #ArchivistRoleModel

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Library of Congress entry

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Reel archivist in charge and coming through!

RileyWhere do we start?

ChaseXY is the book classification code. Stands for special collections, which means very special books.

Of course the reel librarian/archivist would figure out straight away that it’s a call number!

Note:  The Library of Congress classification system generally follows the alphabet for the first part of its call number combinations, as you can see here, meaning there are potentially 26 major categories of call numbers. However, 5 of the 26 English language letters are not currently used for call number categories, being kept in “reserve” for future use. “X” is one of those letters not currently used for Library of Congress call numbers. (I, O, W, and Y are the other letters not in use.) So it could be possible, theoretically, that the Library of Congress could use the “X” category for secret collections not known to the public.

I loved how, in this screenshot below, you can spot two librarians on duty in the iconic round reference desk in the middle of the Library of Congress Reading Room. This film has both reel archivists AND reel librarians! 😀

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Two reel librarians on duty at the Library of Congress Reading Room reference desk

We also get a shot of another reel librarian, or rather library assistant, opening up a back door and rolling out a library cart.

None of the reel librarians in this scene, however, recognize Chase.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Reel librarian alert, with an iconic prop, the book cart.

Chase leads to the way to the alcove, which is labeled “Deck 7, Q-Z.”

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Library alcove set in the Library of Congress

But the book is not on the shelf, where the call number indicates it would be.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Call number closeup

RileyMaybe someone checked it out.

ChaseWhy would he send us here if there’s no book?

RileyHe probably wanted us to get caught.

Library ladder alert! I will need to add this film to the library ladders round-up post:

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Library ladder alert!

Gates figures out the secret book’s secret hiding place, by use of additional clues POTUS gave him.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

The book of secrets discovered!

Trivia from IMDb.com reveals that:

The area of the Library of Congress, in which Gates finds the Book of Secrets, does not exist as an area of book shelves. These book shelves were constructed as a prop library in a previously empty balcony of the Library’s Main Reading Room, and dismantled after the scenes were shot.

And the director confirms this on the commentary track:

We also had to build this room, in the Library of Congress, true to the style of the Library of Congress. The last thing you want to do is destroy the Library of Congress. If a light falls off her, we’re gonna break a library. So the goal here was just to get this room to look like the Library of Congress.

Although the trio are being hunted down by FBI agents — because of that whole “kidnapping the President” thing — there is still time for humor.

Random FBI AgentSo Gates abducts the president, lets him go, and then heads to the Library of Congress? Why?

FBI Agent SaduskyMaybe he wants to check out a book.

Escape from the Library of Congress:

The trio then try to elude the FBI agents on their tail. Chase leads Riley to the reference desk, where they escape down the secret stairs that lead to the basement of the Library of Congress. And OF COURSE the librarians on duty don’t notice this. Suspension of disbelief, y’all.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Escape through the Reading Room reference desk

The two run past a circular piece of machinery, which you can see in the screenshot below, which the director revealed on the commentary track that he was fascinated by and had to include in the final film:

These are extraordinary places underneath the Library [of Congess]. Go in that door, you down stairs, there’s a whole transport system of books. I mean, look at that. That’s how books get sent around the library on these little elevators that go up and down. All right, I don’t know what that has to do with the library, but we’re shooting it.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Running through the Library of Congress basement

I also loved how when the FBI agents came down the central staircase, a librarian immediately points the way to help them catch the adventurers.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Librarian helper

Don’t mess with librarians! 😉

Reel archivist and librarian roles:

Once again, Diane Kruger’s portrayal of reel archivist Dr. Abigail Chase in this Class I film lands in the Atypical Portrayal category. She is a major character, and we see her both in and out of library and archival space, interacting with modern archival equipment. She is smart, funny, and not afraid to show her flexibility and resourcefulness when needed. She is a reel archivist role model!

The other reel archivist, the White House curator Connor (played by Ty Burrell), serves as both an Information Provider and Comic Relief. And the four other reel librarian cameos glimpsed in the Library of Congress scene all serve as Information Providers.

My personal connection to this movie:

Fun fact! During an American Library Association national conference in Washington D.C. a few years ago and a special tour the Library of Congress provided for librarians only, I actually got to go down those exact stairs and explore the basement of the Library of Congress! It’s amaaaaaaaaaaaaazing! The Library of Congress collection is actually spread out over several buildings, and they are all interconnected by the system of pulleys and conveyer belts you see in the film.

The tour guide was also a librarian who had been at the Library of Congress one of the days they filmed this scene for the film. Cool, huh? 😀

Comments?

Have you seen National Treasure or its sequel, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets? Did you enjoy them and/or the major archivist role in these films? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used:

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Reel librarian in ‘Evil Under the Sun’

This week is finals week for summer quarter, and then I’m off for a few weeks! (In real life — I am scheduling posts for the blog during my summer break, no worries.)

And on the theme of vacation… I recently rewatched the adaptation of Evil Under the Sun from the long-running series (1989-2013) of Agatha Christie’s Poirot starring David Suchet. (And in my humble opinion, Suchet is THE Hercule Poirot for all time. Absolute perfection as the little Belgian detective.) The TV movie aired in July 2003, and it’s based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie.

Evil Under the Sun is set at a luxury island hotel off the coast of Devon, where Poirot is on holiday. During his stay, a beautiful young woman, Arlena Stuart Marshall — who has been flirting with another guest, a married man, and generally upsetting everyone in her vicinity, including her own husband and stepchild — winds up strangled on a secluded beach. Poirot is ALWAYS going on a busman’s holiday!

Here’s a video review of the book:

EVIL UNDER THE SUN by Agatha Christie | Project Poirot SPOILER FREE Review” by bookslikewhoa is licensed under a Standard YouTube License

Fun fact:  The setting for this story was inspired by the Burgh Island Hotel, where Christie actually stayed in real life! And this adaptation was actually filmed at the Burgh Island Hotel!

Librarian connection

So what does this movie adaptation have to do with libraries or librarians? Just a little over one hour into the movie, Poirot visits the mainland and has lunch with Captain Hastings and Inspector Japp. During lunch, Poirot reels off a list of questions about the murder, including:

“Also I wonder what was in the book that he [Arlena’s stepson, Lionel] was reading.”

Lionel had stated that he went to the mainland the morning of the murder to get a book.

Next stop? The public library!

We hear the librarian stamping in the moment we are introduced to her. Harriet Eastcott plays the Librarian; her character has no name, just the name of her profession.

Screenshot from library scene in 'Evil Under the Sun' Poirot TV movie

Meet the librarian in ‘Evil Under the Sun’ Poirot TV movie

Poirot has asked about the book Lionel has checked out, and the librarian immediately recognizes the name.

LibrarianLionel Marshall, a young man staying on the island. Let me have a look.

She then goes to the card catalog and flips through cards.

Screenshot from library scene in 'Evil Under the Sun' Poirot TV movie

The librarian flips through the patron files

LibrarianHe borrowed a book yesterday morning.

She then looks at the card more closely and has a puzzled, thoughtful look on her face.

LibrarianOh, yes, of course I remember now. I thought it was a rather strange choice, but he said it was for a homework project.

PoirotAnd the name of the book, if you please, madame?

LibrarianDangerous Chemicals and Poisons.

Screenshot from library scene in 'Evil Under the Sun' Poirot TV movie

Backdrop of library shelves in library scene in ‘Evil Under the Sun’ Poirot TV movie

Duh duh dummmmmmm! SUSPICIOUS. This scene lasts only 30 seconds total, but it does move the plot along and serves to establish a potential suspect. The reel librarian serves as an Information Provider.

NOTE:  I have written about this before, but this scene exhibits completely unethical behavior on the part of the librarian. At least here in the United States (although it may be different in the United Kingdom), you need a court order to view patrons’ library records. It may be convenient as a private detective or a police officer to go into a library and ask for a patron’s library records, but it is unlawful without a court order or warrant. And it is certainly unethical for a librarian to give out that information without requesting proof of a court order or warrant! I just had to do my duty in helping protect patrons’ privacy and reiterate that.

A couple of more notes from this short scene:

  • I appreciated how the costume designer matched the color of the librarian’s cardigan to the color of the curtains. This immediately and succinctly ties her visually to the setting of the library.
  • The set designer didn’t need much to establish the library setting, just a row of bookcases behind the librarian, a second row of bookcases (with organizational signs along the top in an Art Deco font, nice touch) behind Poirot, a table with card catalog drawers, and a few props like a stamp, pencils, and a notice board. I don’t know if this scene was filmed in an actual library — I couldn’t see any credits to that effect or anything mentioned online — but it could just as easily have been filmed on a set.

How does this scene compare with the book?

*POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERTS*

There is a public library mentioned in the book source material, and Arlena’s stepchild does check out a book that elicits suspicion.

However, there are some key differences, including:

  • Arlena has a stepdaughter in the book, Linda Marshall, which got changed to stepson Lionel in this film adaptation
  • Linda is obsessed with witchcraft and checks out a book on witchcraft, not poisons — still suspicious, but in a totally different way
  • Linda also later attempts suicide, but that is scrubbed entirely from the film adaptation

Final thoughts?

All in all, this short library scene is very efficient, and the reel librarian is a classic kind of Information Provider. She also looks fairly stereotypical for a reel librarian, being a white, middle-aged woman dressed in conservative clothing. Her demeanor is one of trying to be helpful (although winds up being inadvertently unethical). No glasses, but her hair is pulled back in a low chignon bun.

Are you a fan of the David Suchet Poirot series of episodes and TV movies? Have you seen this particular adaptation of Evil Under the Sun? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used:

Me before you (and the library, too)

I recently watched the tearjerker romance Me Before You (2016) on Amazon Prime, and I was — once again — surprised to see a library scene pop up in the middle of the film. The film stars Emilia Clarke as Lou Clark, a ditzy but warm-hearted girl who loves bright colors, striped tights, and fashion with a bedazzled “F.” Sam Claflin plays Will Traynor, a recently paralyzed man that Lou helps take care of.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

Here’s a trailer for Me Before You, directed by Thea Sharrock in her directorial debut:

Me Before You Official Trailer #1 (2016) – Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin Movie HD,” uploaded by Movieclips Trailers, Standard YouTube license

The film is based on the novel by Jojo Moyes, who also wrote the screenplay. I have to note that it has become a controversial film, with criticism and protests from the disability rights movement protesting the film’s central issue of disabilities and voluntary euthanasia. (I did warn you about spoilers.) But it’s not really a spoiler when the fact that Will wants to kill himself comes up halfway through the film and provides the motivation for the remaining half of the film — and the library scene. And that it’s a plot point featured in the trailer.

So. Will is depressed and convinced he is a burden to his family and cannot reconcile the ideal of his former self with his current self. (Can you understand why this film has garnered criticism?) In an attempt to stimulate Will and get him out of his depression, Lou tries to plan fun activities for him. This idea comes out of a conversation with her sister, Treena (played by Jenna Coleman).

TreenaIf this is what he really wants, then use the time he’s got left. Make it special. … A bucket list. Show him how good this time can be.

LouBut.. what if that list could do more than that? What if it could make him change his mind?

Cue library research montage!

The director then cuts immediately to a public library. This scene occurs 47 minutes into the film.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Me Before You' (2016)

Lou and the library

And I am assuming this scene was filmed in an actual library, because — you may have guessed it, so say it with me now — there are CALL NUMBERS on the spine of the books. Thank goodness! (I wrote a blog post a few years ago about how you can spot the difference between a bookstores and a library onscreen, if you need a refresher.)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Me Before You' (2016)

Call numbers!

Note: I’m not sure where this scene was filmed, as its filming locations on IMDb.com don’t list a public library. If anyone reading this blog knows the real-life library used in this scene, please leave a comment and share!

Research is hard, y’all

I laughed so hard at the next bit of the scene. The director starts out with a shot of Lou searching online from the perspective of the audience looking over her shoulder (so that we see the back of her head and the computer screen, a website about activities and support for quadriplegics)…

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Me Before You' (2016)

… then overlays a shot of Lou’s face getting more confused as she reads the computer screen…

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Me Before You' (2016)

… and THEN finishes off with Lou’s doubly confused face(s), one looking down at a stack of books she has loaded into her arms and the other still staring at the computer screen.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Me Before You' (2016)

Priceless.

Also… maybe ask a librarian for help next time. That’s why we’re here!

The reel librarian

The first time I watched this scene, I thought it would turn out to be a Class V film, a movie that may have a library scene but does not feature any reel librarians. But the second time I watched this scene, I am convinced that I spy a reel librarian — or at least the back of one leaning down to either retrieve or shelve a book. I’ve indicated the character I’m referring to in the screenshots below. The bun, cardigan, and dowdy skirt sealed the deal for me. Even though no background character from this scene is listed in the credits, I’m putting Me Before You in the Class IV category, with cameos and bit parts for reel librarians.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Me Before You' (2016)

The back of a reel librarian

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Me Before You' (2016)

The backside of a reel librarian

A real-life story

The entire library scene only lasts thirty seconds. Near the beginning of this research montage, Lou pulls out a book from the bookcase, and the title clearly reads Walking Papers.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Me Before You' (2016)

‘Walking Papers’ book spotlighted in this library scene from ‘Me Before You’ (2016)

And it’s a real book! (Y’all knew I would look that up, right?!) Its full title is Walking Papers: The Accident that Changed My Life, and the Business that Got Me Back on My Feet by Francesco Clark, published in 2010. Here’s the write-up of this book on Amazon:

Walking Papers is the incredibly inspiring story of a young man who wouldn’t give up. Francesco Clark was a twenty-four-year-old with a bright future when he went to Long Island for the weekend–but a nocturnal dive into the pool’s shallow end changed everything, forever. Paralyzed from the neck down, Francesco was told by his doctors that he would never move from his bed or even breathe without assistance. But Francesco fought back. Within days, he was breathing on his own. His father, a doctor himself, investigated every opportunity for experimental treatment, and Francesco used every resource available to speed his recovery. To avoid having his lungs painfully suctioned, he sang, loudly, for hours–and that was just the beginning.

[…]

Seven years after the accident, Francesco continues to improve and to surprise his doctors–for instance, he can now work on a computer. Walking Papers is the inspiring story of how, with individual determination and unconditional family support, Francesco Clark overcame extreme adversity and achieved an extraordinary triumph.

And come to find out, Francesco Clark was NOT happy that his autobiography was spotlighted in this film. As he stated in an interview:

“I was never asked if my book could be included in the movie, nor was I ever told that it would be included. While I understand that this movie is based on a work of fiction, my book – and my life – is not.”

Got research?

If you just can’t get enough of the time-honored tradition of fast-forwarding plots with library research montages, then check out my posts for WarGames, He’s On My Mind, and Spotlight, just to name a few.

Sources used:

‘Naughty Librarian’ character type summed up in an SNL skit

In last week’s post featuring the reel librarians program I recently presented at my college, I mentioned that a class of students were able to attend. The students were really engaged during the program and asked lots of questions. I’ve also enjoyed follow-up interactions from a few of those same students, who have been letting me know about how much more aware they are now of librarian portrayals. It is so true that when you start looking for librarians in film, you start seeing us EVERYWHERE.

‘The Librarian’ SNL skit:

A couple of students have even passed on additional movie or TV examples of reel librarians, including a Saturday Night Live skit Margot Robbie did a couple of years ago, a skit entitled “The Librarian.”

SNL's

SNL’s “The Librarian” skit, 2016

Click the images in the post to open up the video in a new window.

The concept of this skit, available on NBC’s Saturday Night Live site, is simple. Margot Robbie plays a school librarian, Ms. Dalton, complete with a pussy-bow blouse, cardigan, glasses, and bun. She confronts a bunch of male students drooling over her and begins to take her hair out (literally)… and then some. Things turn unnerving and horrifying very quickly, turning desire into distress. As The Independent noted at the time, “That ‘Ohhhhhhh yeeeeeeaaaaaah’ song you might remember from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (‘Oh Yeah’ by Yello) plays as Robbie starts to undress, but then things take a turn for the macabre.” The “Oh yeahs” morph into “Oh NOs!”

The ‘Naughty Librarian’ character type:

This skit lasts only 3 minutes and 5 seconds, but WOW is it spot-on, acknowledging and then upending soooooooo many stereotypical traits of the “Naughty Librarian” character type.

Margot Robbie as

Margot Robbie as “The Librarian” in the 2016 SNL skit

This skit basically checks every box for this character type:

    • ✔ Young to middle-aged
    • ✔ Wears conservative clothing and then “lets her hair down”
    • ✔ Includes sexual undertones in conversation
    • ✔ A flirtatious or sexually charged librarian who often becomes violent (or demonstrates otherwise criminal behavior) when sexual desires go unfulfilled, repressed, or challenged

Fantasy… or nightmare?

I primarily focus on film, so I admit that I’m not as knowledgeable about TV series or skits featuring reel librarians. This skit, which went live in fall 2016, was not on my radar (so I am thankful for the student letting me know about it!). So it was interesting to watch this clip for the first time after the #MeToo movement, which has, and continues, to bring about a social reckoning of sexual harassing behavior, behavior both explicit and/or passive-aggressive (this skit has both). Sure, this skit is fun and sexy, and you don’t have to go any deeper than that. But there’s a darker undertone that I argue actually feels right at home in our current climate. The boys in the skit start out passive-aggressive, making suggestive and sexualized comments at their table about the librarian, but then one student says one out loud to Ms. Dalton, albeit by proxy (“Jeremy thinks you’re hot!“). The librarian directly calls out the student and challenges him (“What are you going to do about it?“), which sounds like a fantasy at first… until that fantasy quickly turns into a nightmare. Be careful what you wish for! Ultimately, Ms. Dalton holds the male students accountable for their behavior and brings about her own reckoning.

And Margot Robbie totally commits to this skit, bringing the same maniacal edge to Ms. Dalton as she did to the character of Harley Quinn in 2016’s Suicide Squad. A Nerdist review even wonders, “If Harley had to fight the Librarian, who would win?

Bottom line? Don’t mess with librarians — real OR reel!

Sources used:

Hooten, Christopher. “Margot Robbie stars in ‘sexy librarian’ SNL skit.” The Independent, 3 Oct. 2016.

The Librarian.” Saturday Night Live, 42.1. Perf. Margot Robbie, Bobby Moynihan, Keenan Thompson. 2016.

Thompson, Luke Y. “Margot Robbie Unleashes Her Inner Supervillain Again as SNL’s ‘Librarian’.” The Nerdist, 2 Oct. 2016.


And if you have more examples of reel librarians to send my way, please leave a comment and/or contact me via email (reel.librarians@gmail.com) or through the “Ask the Real Librarian” form on the navigation bar above. Thanks in advance!

Reader poll write-up, spring 2018: Ask the Dust

As per the winning entry in the most recent reader poll, this week I am analyzing the 2006 film Ask the Dust this week. I had never seen the film before.

Ask The Dust – Trailer,” uploaded by YouTube Movies, Standard YouTube License

What’s it all about?

The 2006 film stars Salma Hayek, who plays Mexican immigrant Camilla, and Colin Farrell, who plays Arturo Bandini, the son of two Italian immigrants. Here’s the film description from Amazon Prime:

“Arturo Bandini (Colin Farrell), a young would-be writer who comes to Depression-era Los Angeles to make a name for himself. While there, he meets beautiful barmaid Camilla (Salma Hayek), a Mexican immigrant who hopes for a better life by marrying a wealthy American. Both are trying to escape the stigma of their ethnicity in blue-blood California. The passion that arises between them is palpable.”

Bandini Quartet cover

“John Fante, Ask the dust” by giuliaduepuntozero is licensed under CC BY ND 2.0

The film is based on the book by Italian-American author John Fante and was first published in 1939 — but the book, and its author, fell into obscurity in subsequent decades. However, Robert Towne rediscovered and used the book as inspiration for the Depression-era (and Oscar-winning) dialogue he wrote for the 1974 classic Chinatown, and writer Charles Bukowski helped the book get republished and wrote a foreword for the 1980 reprint edition by Black Sparrow Press. The book is part of the “Bandini Quartet,” four novels about central character Arturo Bandini.

I had admittedly never heard of the book or the author before, but by all accounts, it’s an underrated gem of a novel — and both its style and subject matter have been extremely influential in the last few decades. For that reason alone, I’m glad I watched this film!

On paper, the film has a lot going for it:  it’s based on a groundbreaking novel; stars two talented and award-winning actors; was written and directed by Robert Towne (the same one who rediscovered Fante’s work in the 1970s!); and was produced by Tom Cruise.

The final result, however, is frustratingly disappointing, all the more so considering the talent involved. Hayek and Farrell display very little chemistry onscreen — or rather, Hayek has sexual chemistry for days (and is the bright spot in this film), but Farrell cannot seem to, uh, rise to the occasion. Farrell has a natural Irish brogue, and acting with an American accent seems to have dampened his naturally charismatic personality. (Yes, an Irishman is playing an Italian-American immigrant.) There is also waaaaaaaay too much voice-over narration, an expository trick that falls as flat as Farrell’s American accent.

Reel librarian fake-out

Within the first few seconds of the title cards, Eileen Atkins’s name came on screen against a backdrop of an open book, a fountain pen, and glasses on a chain. I immediately perked up at these often librarian-adjacent props and thought, “Oh! Perhaps Eileen Atkins is also playing a librarian!”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from library scene in 'Ask the Dust' (2006)

Credit card for Eileen Atkins in ‘Ask the Dust’ (2006)

Alas, no. Fake-out! The first few minutes of the film reveal that Eileen Atkins plays Arturo’s no-nonsense landlady, not a librarian. She does wear glasses on a chain, but the open book in the credits turns out to be the guest registration book.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from library scene in 'Ask the Dust' (2006)

Eileen Atkins as the landlady, not the librarian

The real reel librarian

Nine minutes into the scene, Arturo recalls a memory from when he lived in Colorado. (I didn’t get at first that this was a flashback scene, but then I recalled the librarian role was listed in the credits as “Denver librarian.”) He is in a public library, and he sets down a book on the front counter to check it out.

The librarian at the counter, played by Natasha Staples, is young, blonde, and attractive. She is also fashionably dressed in modern, stylish clothes (for the 1930s time period), and it’s obvious that she has made a considerable effort with her makeup and curled hairdo. She and her red lipstick definitely stand out amidst all the hazy earth tones of the rest of the library setting.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from library scene in 'Ask the Dust' (2006)

Public library scene and background

Here’s how their “meet cute” moment plays out, as Arturo sets down the book on the counter:

LibrarianYou have nice hands.

ArturoI do?

LibrarianVery.

There is definite flirty eye contact happening between the two.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from library scene in 'Ask the Dust' (2006)

Arturo and the librarian “meet cute”

Then the librarian looks down as she stamps his card, her eyes registering his name. She looks up at Arturo.

LibrarianBandini? You’re Italian. 

Her face subtly hardens, and her voice flattens out.

LibrarianThat’ll be two cents every day it’s overdue.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from library scene in 'Ask the Dust' (2006)

Reel librarian discrimination and dismissal

This is the librarian’s last line, and it is a clear dismissal. Arturo’s face falls as he realizes that the librarian is no longer interested in him, due to his name and Italian roots.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from library scene in 'Ask the Dust' (2006)

Meet disappointment

This library scene lasts only 30 seconds and includes the bare minimum of sets and props, including stacks of books and a stamper.

The reel librarian’s role

What is the reel librarian’s role in this short scene? Although the reel librarian is onscreen for only a few seconds, she stands out enough to merit a Class III category, in which librarian(s) plays a secondary role, ranging from a supporting character to a minor character with perhaps only a few lines in one memorable or significant scene.

Primarily, this reel librarian serves as an Information Provider character type. In addition to helping set the library scene, her role reflects the discrimination toward Italian immigrants at that time. This scene provides necessary backstory for Arturo’s personal frustration and experiences suffering unfair treatment and discriminatory behavior due to his name, ethnicity, and background. The plot is then set for Arturo to meet Camilla, a Mexican immigrant who has also suffered discrimination to her name, ethnicity, and background.

It’s also interesting to note that this reel librarian partially fulfills the Naughty Librarian character type. It’s clear that she’s willing to be naughty… if the man has the right name, of course.

Sources used

Ask the Dust. Dir. Robert Towne. Perf. Colin Farrell, Salma Hayek, Donald Sutherland, Idina Menzel, Eileen Atkins. Paramount, 2006.

Ask The Dust – Trailer,” uploaded by YouTube Movies, Standard YouTube License.

Woodard, Rob. “How Ask the Dust nearly missed greatness.The Guardian, 14 Jan. 2009.

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