First impressions: ‘Hidden Figures’ and its library scene

I recently watched the Best Picture-nominated film Hidden Figures, which is a biographical film featuring three African-American female mathematicians — or “computers” — at NASA during the early 1960s. The film sheds lights on their individual and collective struggles to earn personal and professional respect, both as women and as African-Americans in a field dominated with white males. The three female leads all deliver top-notch performances:  Taraji P. Henson as brilliant mathematician Katherine G. Johnson; Octavia Spencer in an Oscar-nominated performance as mathematician and computer programmer Dorothy Vaughan; and Janelle Monáe as firecracker engineer Mary Jackson.

Here’s an official trailer for Hidden Figures:

Hidden Figures | Official Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX,” uploaded by 20th Century Fox, Nov. 16, 2016, Standard YouTube license.

Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson all accomplished firsts during their lives:  Johnson became the first African-American woman to desegregate the graduate school at West Virginia University; Vaughan became the first African-American woman to supervise a staff at NASA; and Jackson became the first African-American female engineer at NASA.

Based on the non-fiction book of the same title by Margot Lee Shetterly, it is an inspiring story of “hidden figures” finally being publicly recognized for their amazing contributions and talents and intelligence. These are stories of American heroes that need to be shared and experienced.

For more information on the real-life “hidden figures,” please read this insightful and informative NPR article and interview on ‘Hidden Figures’: How Black Women Did The Math That Put Men On The Moon.

First impressions of the film? It is excellent on all fronts; the film does justice to the legacies of the real-life women it’s based on. Highly recommended! It is also a very well-structured film, although some dates were switched around and characters merged to simplify the story and increase the drama. You can read more about the historical accuracy here and additional trivia here on IMDb.com. The film is also Oscar-nominated for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay. Hidden Figures has also become the highest-grossing film thus far of the Best Picture nominees.

There is a pivotal library scene, clocking in around 2/3 of the way through the film, if I am remembering correctly. Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) visits the local public library to look at computer programming books in the library’s “white” section because what she’s looking for isn’t available in the library’s “colored” section. A reel librarian (Rhoda Griffis as “White Librarian,” how the character is listed in the credits) tells her she doesn’t “want any trouble” and has Vaughan thrown out of the library. When Vaughan and her two boys are back on the bus, she pulls out a library book out from underneath her coat, a book on the Fortran programming language. Her sons are aghast — and I, too, let out an audible gasp in the movie theater! — but Vaughan’s defiant reaction is, “I pay my taxes for this library just like everybody else!

Here’s how a review on the “Library” Books blog sums up the importance of this scene and what it sets in motion:

She [Vaughan] uses the book to secretly learn to program the new room-sized IBM mainframe computer that has recently arrived at NASA that will surely put her and many of her denizens out of a job. By learning the computer language she not changes her own destiny, but that of dozens of other women, both black and white, who work for the space program. This episode is one of many in the film that reminds us that what is legal is not necessarily right, and what is illegal is not necessarily wrong. Powerful lessons that are still relevant today.

Here’s another trailer for the film that includes a peek at the library scene at 1:45 minutes into the trailer:

Hidden Figures Official Trailer #1 (2017) Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe Drama Movie HD,” uploaded by Zero Media, Aug. 14, 2016, Standard YouTube license.

While Vaughan visited the public library to seek out more up-to-date materials, it is another book — this time, an older book — that provides the solution to another pivotal plot point. When Katherine Johnson is stuck in figuring out a key mathematical conversion to help bring a rocket back down safely, she is inspired to use “old math” for the solution. So she goes straight to the “Colored Computers” area, where there is a bookcase filled with older, hand-me-down books — and finds exactly what she needs! What is old is new again.

I will need to rewatch the movie in order to delve deeper into the library scene and the role that books and research play in the film, but it’s pretty obvious to me that the “White Librarian” character serves the role of Information Provider. She is there not to provide information to any characters, but rather to reflect the societal rules that were in place to unjustly segregate citizens. Her reel librarian character echoes the “That’s just the way things are” barriers of the time period, barriers that were starting to crack, brick by brick and book by book.

Have you seen Hidden Figures? What are your thoughts on the film and/or its library scene? Please leave a comment and share!

Reel librarians in ‘Rollerball’ | Analyzing the 1975 original film and 2002 remake

I have seen Rollerball, the 1975 sci-fi cult classic starring James Caan, several times, and the film features a couple of reel librarians and corresponding library scenes. I had not yet seen the 2002 remake starring Chris Klein, due to scathing reviews, but I decided to watch the remake recently for the purposes of comparing and contrasting it to the original film — and to see if the reel librarians made the cut in the remake. I also wanted to revisit the original Rollerball film, to see how well it held up.

Ready, set, analyze!


The original film: Rollerball (1975)


In Rollerball (1975), a not-too-distant future controlled by corporations, Jonathan E. (James Caan) is the star of the ultra-violent sport Rollerball. The corporate executives want him to quit, but Jonathan defies them.

Rollerball Official Trailer #1 – James Caan Movie (1975) HD,” uploaded by Movieclips Trailer Vault, 2012, under a Standard YouTube license.

Library computer center scene

The first library scene — in this future, they are called “computer centers” — takes place 35 minutes into the 2-hour film. It is a short scene, lasting only a minute and a half. Jonathan goes with friend and teammate Moonpie to the local branch, and the location is like that of a futuristic mall, with escalators. (This location is in Germany, and as director Norman Jewison reveals on a commentary track, it’s a building that was built specifically for the Olympic Games.)

Reel Librarians | Library of the future, set in a mall-like luxury center, in 'Rollerball' (1975)

Library of the future, set in a mall-like luxury center, in ‘Rollerball’ (1975)

There are different information desks, including one labeled “Library” and another one labeled “Travel.” The message is that the “Library” is just another service and just another desk among countless others.

Reel Librarians | The library Circulation desk in a scene from 'Rollerball' (1975)

The library Circulation desk in a scene from ‘Rollerball’ (1975)

At the “Library” desk, a young, pretty, brunette Circulation Clerk — listed as “Girl in Library” in the film’s credits and played by Nancy Bleier– starts off the conversation.

Girl in Library:  Can I help you, please?

Jonathan:  Yeah. I tried to order some books. They sent me this notice that I had to appear at the center personally.

Girl in Library:  That’s right. This is our circulation unit. You can make your choice here or by catalog. There must be some mistake. The books you’ve ordered are classified and have been transcribed and summarized.

Jonathan:  Who summarized them?

Girl in Library:  I suppose the computer summarized them.

Moonpie:  What do you need books for?

Jonathan:  I just want to study up on some things.

Girl in Library:  You could go to the computer center where the real librarians transcribe the books, but we have all the edited versions in our catalog, anything I think you’d want.

Jonathan:  Well, let’s see then. This is not a library, and you’re really not a librarian.

Girl in Library:  I’m only a clerk, that’s right. I’m sorry about it, really.

Cue vacant expression:

Reel Librarians | The Circulation clerk's vacant smile and facial expression

The Circulation clerk’s vacant smile and facial expression

Jonathan:  And the books are really in computer banks being summarized. Where is that?

Girl in Library:  There’s a computer bank in Washington. The biggest is in Geneva. That’s a nice place to visit. I guess that’s where all the books are now.

Jonathan:  Thank you.

This is a pivotal scene, one that confirms Jonathan’s suspicions that “something is not right” and provides him motivation to seek out the real books — and a reel librarians — in Geneva. The “Girl in Library” fulfills the Information Provider role.

Here’s how Norman Jewison described the scene and its importance, in a commentary track on the DVD:

Here is where we bring into the story, bring into the film, that knowledge and access to knowledge is controlled. Much like it was controlled in Nazi Germany, during World War II, or indeed in the Soviet Union, where books were banned. And of course in America. It’s happened here too. Where people are prevented from finding out information that may in some way increase their opposition, perhaps to established authority.

We keep referring to “something’s going on,” there’s some sort of conspiracy, this is the build to reveal to Jonathan, the gladiator, that he is really just a cog in the wheel and is being totally manipulated.

Reel Librarians | Walking and talking outside the mall library

Walking and talking outside the mall library

Jewison and screenwriter William Harrison also emphasized this theme as Jonathan and Moonpie walk out of the library:

Moonpie:  Yeah, but why books? I mean, anything you’d want to know, you could hire yourself a corporate teacher. Call somebody up. Use your privilege card.

Jonathan:  I can’t, and that’s just it. I feel like there’s something going on. Somebody’s pushing me.

Geneva library scene

An hour and a half into the film, Jonathan travels to the central computer bank in Geneva that the Circulation Clerk had mentioned. Jonathan wants to go to computer center in Geneva and see what he can find out. The Geneva library computer center looks like a classical building from the outside, but it’s all polished doors and computer machinery and fluorescent lights inside.

The exterior of the library computer center is the League of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. As director Norman Jewison stated in the director’s commentary, “We tried to show that there was still some respect for some older pieces of architecture, so we decided that we would make the League of Nations into the world’s library.

Reel Librarians | Contrasting the exterior and interior of the main library computer center in Geneva, in a scene from 'Rollerball' (1975)

Contrasting the exterior and interior of the main library computer center in Geneva, in a scene from ‘Rollerball’ (1975)

This is a longer scene, clocking in at six and a half minutes, and the English actor Ralph Richardson plays the librarian, who is star-struck at first by meeting Jonathan. We also get to see the librarian’s office, which looks like a computer storage area.

During this scene, the librarian happens to mention — in an offhand, casual kind of way — that he’s misplaced some data.

Reel Librarians | Librarian meets celebrity, in the Geneva library scene from 'Rollerball' (1975)

Librarian meets celebrity, in the Geneva library scene from ‘Rollerball’ (1975)

Librarian:  Hello, hello. Yes, it is. The famous Jonathan E. Hard to believe. Sorry things are in a mess. The rollerball champion. Wonderful. Not many people come to see us, you know. We’re not easy to talk to, Zero and I. We’re a little confused again here today. This is embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to misplace things.

Jonathan:  Misplaced some data?

Librarian:  Hmmm, the whole of the 13th century. [Tears up cards and throws them on the floor.]

Reel Librarians | Losing the whole of the 13th century, no biggie

Losing the whole of the 13th century, no biggie

Librarian:  Misplaced the computers, several conventional computers. We can’t find them. We’re always moving things around, getting organized. My assistants and I. But this, this is Zero’s fault. Zero. He’s the world’s file cabinet. Yeah. Pity. Poor old 13th century. Well. Come along now. You want to get started, don’t you?

Jonathan:  Yes, sir.

Librarian:  This way. Now, we’ve lost those computers, with all of the 13th century in them. Not much in the century. Just Dante and a few corrupt popes. But it’s so distracting and annoying. You’ve unlimited restrictions here, of course. But you have to come so, so many times. It all takes such effort.

Yes, you read that right. The librarian just dismissed the WHOLE OF THE 13th CENTURY that just disappeared from archival existence. That “Just Dante and a few corrupt popes” amount to “not much.” So I’m pausing in the middle of their conversation to have a moment of silence for the “poor old 13th century” that just got wiped out. RIP, 13th century, RIP.

It’s also becoming obvious how emotionally numb and exhausted the librarian has become.

Reel Librarians | Reel librarian exhaustion, as seen in 'Rollerball' (1975)

Reel librarian exhaustion, as seen in ‘Rollerball’ (1975)

Jonathan:  Do the executives still come here?

Librarian:  Oh, they used to. Some of them.

Jonathan:  What about the books?

Librarian:  Books, books, oh no, they’re all changed, all transcribed. All information is here. We’ve Zero, of course. He’s the central brain, the world’s brain. Fluid mechanics, fluidics. He’s liquid, you see. His borders touch all knowledge. Everything we ask has become so complicated now. Each thing we ask. This morning we wanted to know something about the 13th century. It flows out into all our storage systems. He considers everything. He’s become so ambiguous now. As if he knows nothing at all.

Jonathan:  Could you tell me something about the corporate wars?

Librarian:  Wars? War? Oh, yes, of course. We have them all here. Punic War. Prussian War. Peloponnesian War. Crimean War. War of the Roses. We could recall them in sequence. But corporate wars… hmmm. Well, Zero will, or can, I’m sure, tell you anything.

Reel Librarians | Zero is not a hero

Zero is not a hero

Librarian:  A memory pool, you see. He’s supposed to tell us where things are and what they might possibly mean. Look, Zero, a visitor. Jonathan E., the rollerball champion. You’ve filed away a lot of data on him. Do you remember?

Jonathan:  Does it answer you?

Librarian:  Oh yes, it speaks. It finds things, and loses them, and confuses itself. [Dusts it.] Ask anything. He’ll find it for you, section and lot. Won’t you, Zero?

Jonathan:  All right. I’d like, uh, I’d like some information about corporate decisions:  how they’re made and who makes them.

Librarian:  Zero, you heard the question. Answer him.

Zero:  Negative.

Librarian:  You don’t have to give him a full political briefing. Answer.

Zero:  Negative.

Librarian:  This is Jonathan E. He has to know. Make it simple. Answer.

At first, the librarian speaks lovingly and protectively of Zero, almost like a parent reminiscing about a spoiled child’s antics. Things quickly go downhill from there, as the librarian realizes that Zero refuses to provide the information asked of it. In short, Zero lives up to its name.

Reel Librarians | Librarian dusts off Zero

Librarian dusts off Zero

Zero:  Corporate decisions are made by corporate executives. Corporate executives make corporate decisions.

Librarian:  I know we have the answers. It’s the waters of history.

Zero:  Knowledge converts to power. Energy equals genius. Power is knowledge. Genius is energy.

Librarian:  I don’t want to bully you. You have to answer!

Reel Librarians | Librarian sees red in 'Rollerball' (1975)

Librarian sees red in ‘Rollerball’ (1975)

Zero:  Corporate entities control elements of economic life, technology, capitol, labors, and markets. Corporate decisions are made by…

Librarian:  You have to, Zero! [kicks the base] Let’s show him! Answer him!

Zero:  Negative. Negative. Negative. Negative. Negative. Negative. Negative.

Reel Librarians | Librarian vs. Zero the library computer

Librarian vs. Zero the library computer

As the librarian kicks Zero, in a fruitless attempt to prize information out of it, Jonathan — along with the audience — realize how impotent we all are in this corporatized world. The librarian is educated and intellectual and still valued knowledge, but it is to no avail. The librarian in Geneva is of no more use than the Circulation Clerk back home.

Here’s how Norman Jewison summed up the scene in his director’s commentary:

We came up with the name of Zero for the name of the computer, because we felt that somehow zero was the beginning, and the end, of everything. And I guess we were trying to indicate that as you hear in this scene, that all knowledge. […] I think probably Kubrick’s film 2001, which dealt with HAL, actually was part of the inspiration for this scene. When you start to deal with information stored in one place and one computer, naturally the computer must take on a kind of an identity. You can see here… this is a wonderful scene. [Chuckles.] You can see this is a difficult question for… He’s trying to get Zero to give him some information.

And this is where Jonathan realizes that even the computer is, will not reveal the certain truths that he wants about who really is in charge. So we have a society in which nobody knows really, who’s calling the shots. And there’s only one man questioning it, and he can’t even, he can’t find the answers. And this is where the picture takes off, a little bit, emotionally.

The original 1975 version of Rollerball ends up in the Class III category of films featuring reel librarians, and Ralph Richardon’s librarian ends up being another Information Provider, however ineffectual his information turned out to be.

Although the library scenes in the movie combine for less than 10 minutes total, it’s obvious — especially from Norman Jewison’s commentary — how important those scenes are to the film’s overall message as well as its flow and plot progression.


The remake:  Rollerball (2002)


Rollerball Official Trailer #1 – Jean Reno Movie (2002) HD,” uploaded by Movieclips Trailer Vault, 2012, under a Standard YouTube license.

As I mentioned before, the 2002 remake of Rollerball was not well-received, to put it mildly. It has a 3% — !!! — freshness rating at Rotten Tomatoes. As in 97% rotten. Yikes. The remake’s director, John McTiernan, also went to federal prison due to an investigation resulting from the production of this film. Double yikes.

As for the question of whether or not the reel librarians made it to the remake, the short answer is NO.

The long answer? Also NO.

There is just no room for subtlety or subtext in this remake, which is all about quick action shots and bad special effects. This remake epically fails on all levels, including acting, storytelling, casting, accents, reel librarians, you name it. Very disappointing since the original film was, well, so original. Some movies just don’t need to be remade. The Rollerball remake ends up in the Class V category, films with no librarians.

Just one more cinematic reason why I watch some films so you don’t have to. 😉


Details:

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

Remake:  Rollerball. Dir. John McTiernan. Perf. Chris Klein, Jean Reno, LL Cool J, Rebecca Romijn. MGM, 2002. Based on the short story “Roller Ball Murder” and 1975 screenplay, both by William Harrison.

A disappearing reel librarian

I had heard good things about the 2014 film The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, when it premiered two different versions, Him and Her, at the Toronto Film Festival. I was intrigued by the concept: the two versions of the film reflect different perspectives of a married couple, played by the always excellent Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy, as they struggle to cope emotionally after a traumatic experience. The writer/director, Ned Benson, then did a third version (!) combining the two perspectives, entitled Them. I had never gotten around to watching the film(s), but then I picked up a copy I spied at our local public library.

Here’s a trailer for the film:

My husband, Sam, and I were planning on just watching the combined version, Them, when surprise! Eleanor’s sister, Katy, played by Jessica Chastain’s real-life friend Jess Weixler, turns out to be working at a public library! You know what that meant… I had to watch all 3 versions! Fortunately, each film is distinctly different, albeit with a few overlapping scenes, and it is collectively an impressive artistic achievement for all involved.

Therefore, I have structured this post starting first with Them, and then I will delve into the Him and Her versions to see what else we glean about Katy’s character and backstory.

*POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERTS THROUGHOUT*

Them

This combined version is 2 hours long, and we don’t find out until 1 hour and 19 minutes into the film that Eleanor’s sister Katy works at the library!

So let’s back up to when we first see Katy in the film, which is within the first few minutes. After a suicide attempt, Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) is in the hospital, and Katy comes to pick her up. She hugs her, quickly establishing the warm, caring relationship between the two sisters.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

The two sisters, Katy and Eleanor, hug in ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)

Katy, who lives at home with their parents and her young son, then brings Eleanor back home. The brief scenes of Eleanor’s family welcoming her home further establish how much Eleanor is loved by her family. She also has a good relationship with her nephew, and it’s sweet to witness how Katy gently corrects her son’s grammar and language and calls him “Lovey.”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

Eleanor’s family in ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)

Of course, not all is sunshine and roses, as Eleanor works through her depression. Her father, played by William Hurt, is a psychology professor, and he brings the head of the department home one day, in hopes of helping his daughter. Eleanor does not respond well to this idea. Katy is right beside her sister in these scenes, coming across almost like her sister’s protector and bodyguard.

Katy also gives Lindy Booth in the TV movie The Twelve Trees of Christmas a run for the title of “most adorable reel librarian ever,” as evidenced by facial expressions like the one below when she admits to having a date with a dentist.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

An adorable facial expression from Katy, played by Jess Weixler

Fifty minutes into the film, Katy is getting ready for her date, and she admits to feeling fat. She’s trying on a sheath dress, and her sister helps her smooth out the dress over her Spanx underwear. How many other times do we see reel librarians in their underwear?! Of course, we don’t know yet watching this version of the film that she is a librarian…

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

A reel librarian in her Spanx underwear, trying on outfits for a date, in ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)

A few minutes later, after she returns home from the date, Katy admits that she’s drunk. She giggles after telling her sister, “I could’ve given him a normal kiss good night instead of jamming my tongue down his throat.”

That then lead to a heart-to-heart conversation between sisters, in which Katy admits to being mad at her sister (for attempting suicide):  “You are kind of a selfish bitch. I was really mad at you.”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

A heart-to-heart conversation between sisters in ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)

She also reveals that Eleanor’s husband, Conor (James McAvoy), came by the house looking for her. Katy also expresses empathy for Conor and how badly Eleanor has treated him.

Finally, at one hour and 19 minutes into the film, Eleanor surprises Katy at the public library. Katy is shelving magazines — but really reading them instead! 😉 (We’ve all been there.)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

Shelving periodicals at the public library in a scene from ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)

Eleanor, tapping Katy on the shoulder:  Ma’am?

Katy gasps, turned around:  Yes. [Realizing it’s Eleanor.] You’re a dick.

Katy:  You look like ass. Where were you last night? You want to take a load off?

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

Periodicals section at the public library in a scene from ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)

[Katy and Eleanor walk to a niche beside a stair’s landing]

Katy:  I come here on breaks. One of the librarians advocates a whole nap philosophy.

Eleanor:  Nap philosophy?

Katy:  Yeah, naps throughout the day, like, help with productivity and stuff. If you.. want to read this. [hands her a magazine] What?

Eleanor:  I was hoping you could read my mind.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

The two sisters take a break in the library in a scene from ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)

Katy:  Wouldn’t that be nice?

Eleanor:  You want to do something stupid this weekend?

Katy:  Yeah. I’m the queen of doing something stupid. What are you thinking?

Eleanor:  Get bent, take a train to the city, save the world.

Katy:  When did you become an idealist?

Eleanor:  A couple of seconds ago.

Katy:  I have a date with the dentist this weekend… I should get back to work. I’ll come wake you up in a little bit.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

Periodicals closeup

Side note:  I laughed out loud at how the magazines were placed on the periodical shelves, which you can see better in the closeup above of Katy. I am very familiar with that kind of magazine holder with the red spines, but I have NEVER seen magazines placed on their side like that in a library before. At least, not when there’s enough room to place them upright so that patrons can, you know, READ THE TITLES. Did this film not employ a real librarian consultant? But at least you know they filmed in a real library, because there are call numbers on the spines of the books!

Eleanor and Katy then go to a club, along with Katy’s dentist date, and they have fun dancing together. They both admit they feel old, which is a charming bit.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

A reel librarian dances in a club scene from ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)

Eleanor starts kissing another guy while Katy looks on in concern, and we don’t see Katy again until almost the very end of the film, when she drives Eleanor to their airport.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

Katy drives Eleanor to the airport near the end of ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)

Him

This version of the film is an hour and a half long. We never get to see Katy in this version, as she and Conor never have any scenes together. This version should be subtitled The Disappearance of the Reel Librarian, right?! 😉

However, we do get many more scenes with Ciarán Hinds, who plays Conor’s father. That almost makes up for the lack of Jess Weixler in this version.

Her

This version of the film is an hour and 40 minutes, and we get many more details and backstory about Katy. Many scenes we see in the Them version that feature Kay are also extended in the Her version.

Extended scene in the car

Even though Katy is the younger sister, it’s obvious that she’s very protective and motherly toward Eleanor. When she picks her up at the hospital, the scene continues to them getting into Katy’s car. Katy attempts to buckle her seatbelt for her, as Eleanor’s arm is in a sling, but Eleanor isn’t having any of it.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

Sisters Eleanor and Katy in an early scene from ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)

New scene in the bathroom

A few minutes later, at 17 minutes into the film, Katy is washing her sister’s hair in the bathtub. I think this is the first scene I’ve ever seen in which a reel librarian is washing someone’s hair! This scene also reveals that Katy works at the library. (Remember, we don’t find out that fact in the Them version until well over an hour!)

Katy is trying to convince Eleanor to come with her to Charlie’s, a mutual friend, because “it would be good” for her to get out and be social after her depression.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

Katy washes Eleanor’s hair in a scene from ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)

Katy:  Ok, there was an article.

Eleanor:  Oh my god, you’ve been reading stupid shit online again.

Katy:  Yeah. But there was something in Psychology Today that I saw at the library, and you should take a look at it. I’m managing the periodicals. I’ll give you a copy.

New scene at a friend’s place

The next scene then takes place at Charlie’s place, where we get many more details about Katy, including the fact that she used to be an actress. We also see Katy dressed in a casual outfit of sandals and a floral romper. (!!!)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

Reel librarian Katy in a floral romper

Charlie:  What have you been up to, Katy?

Katy:  Um, what do you mean?

Charlie:  I mean, what have you been up to?

Katy:  Well… Philip, uh, is going into the second grade. And… he’s about to be eight. I’m also studying to take the LSAT. And I am a part-time librarian out in Westport, so… I have that going for me.

Charlie:  No more with the acting?

Katy:  No, I mean… life just… kind of put a damper on it.

Charlie:  Whatever happened to dreams?

Extended scene at the house

At 30 minutes into the film, we get an extended scene of when Eleanor’s father brings home the chair of his psychology department. Katy literally blocks her sister from storming out of the house, and they get into a fight. In the Them version, it comes off like Katy is protecting her sister from their dad’s interference; in the Her version, we understand that Katy is physically making sure her sister doesn’t run away again!

Eleanor:  I will bite you!

Katy:  I will bite you back!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

Sisters Katy and Eleanor get into a fight in a scene from ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)

Extended scene getting ready for a date

The next scene is an extension of the scene in the Them version, in which Katy gets ready for her big date. We learn more about her acting career and her life as a single mom.

Katy:  Oh fuck, I don’t understand why this asshole walked into my library. … We’re just going to pretend to be interested in each other over cheap cabernet, and he’s gonna, like, ask me all the same stupid questions that they ask about Philip, like who the dad is, and then look at me like I’m half a moron for the choices that I’ve made. You know, it was easier when I was an actress, because I could just fuck my co-stars, but this real-life, pseudo-adult crap sucks my ass.

Katy [to Eleanor]:  You were always who you were gonna be, I mean, like a woman. I always… wasn’t yet.

At this personal confession, the two sisters embrace again. Their relationship is such a special one, and it’s enjoyable to see on screen a variety of love stories, including the love between sisters.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

Two sisters embrace

Same scene in the library

Interestingly, the scene in the library featured in the Them version is the same as in the Her version. I wasn’t expecting that! I guess I was expecting the library scene to be longer in this version.

Altogether, in Her, we get 3 extended scenes featuring reel librarian Katy — 2 of which reveal more details about working in the library — as well as 2 additional scenes unique to this version.

Extra features and interviews

One of the special features on the DVD was an interview with Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy. In the interview, Chastain revealed that she and Jess Weixler were best friends and roommates while attending Julliard drama school and were in every play together. After graduation, they never got to work together again, until this film, which Chastain also helped produce.

Jess Weixler also talks more about this, and her role in the film, in a 3-part series of interviews with Multiplex, which you can watch here at https://www.youtube.com/user/MultiplexShow/search?query=jess+weixler

Reel librarian role and purpose

So after considering all three versions of this story, what was the purpose of Eleanor’s sister Katy being a reel librarian? It is interesting to note that it is only the Her version that reveals what Katy used to do, and how Katy feels like her life has led to her making different decisions. And what’s more different from an actress than a librarian?! 🙂

There is an element of bemusement that she works in a library, even as it’s obvious that her work is rubbing off on her. This is evident by how she mentions an article she read in Psychology Today, and by the fact that she’s been promoted to managing the periodicals. But even in the Them version, it never feels like Katy is dedicated to the library; rather, it feels apparent that working in a library is a temporary gig. Katy reveals this in the scene at Charlie’s, in which she says she will be going for her LSATs (the entry exam to study law).

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

Sisters Katy and Eleanor in ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)

Katy is a supporting character, one step removed from the leads, and is seen in several significant scenes in the Them and Her versions of the film. She gets the most screen time in the Her version, of course, and overall, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby winds up in the Class III category of films featuring reel librarians.

So what is Katy’s role in the collective films? There are elements of the Spirited Young Girl to her character: namely, that she is a younger woman and has no intention of working long-term in the library. She also reveals that she feels like she’s never grown up and is still figuring out what she wants to do with her life.

Ultimately, however, I feel that her character — at least in the Her version — winds up as an Atypical Portrayal, in which the reel librarian portrayals go beyond stereotypical constraints. Katy is certainly intelligent, as well as funny and fun-loving, and we see her interact with warmth and kindness with her son, sister, and parents. We also get to see the ballsy side of Katy, like when she fights with her sister. We also see her sweet, goofy side, like when she gets butterflies before her date, and how she dances and admits to feeling old at the club. We also hear Katy curse quite a bit!

In short, we get to enjoy a well-rounded character, one who is a woman first, and a librarian second.


Have you seen any version of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby? If not, are you interested in watching one or more — or all! — versions? Please leave a comment and share. 🙂

A reel librarian for the ages in ‘The Age of Adaline’

Earlier this year, I watched the 2015 film The Age of Adaline, starring Blake Lively as the title character. I saved my analysis post of this film for the end of this month, as the film is set around the New Year holidays.

Here’s a trailer for the film:

The plot? Adaline, a young woman and a recent widow, gets into a car accident in the 1930s and stops aging as a result of the accident. After decades of living alone, she meets a man, Ellis (Michiel Huisman) who makes her question her life choices. Even though that plot has a bit of mumbo jumbo narration thrown in to try and explain the scientific reasoning behind Adaline’s agelessness, it’s played as a pretty straightforward romantic drama. Blake Lively definitely commits to the title role and brings a world-weariness to her portrayal of Adaline. However, the real stars that shine in the movie are Harrison Ford, who plays Ellis’s father, William, and Ellen Burstyn, who plays Adaline’s daughter, Flemming.

The director, Lee Toland Krieger, reveals on the bonus features how much thought he put into the look and feel of the film, focusing on different camera techniques to visually depict the different decades of the film and its flashbacks. The film is stunning to look at.

*SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD*

Just five minutes into the film, we get a sweeping view of Adaline as she walks up the steps of a library. The film is set in San Francisco, but these scenes were filmed at the Vancouver Art Gallery in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Age of Adaline' (2015)

Adaline walks up the library steps

As she walks into a light-filled room rimmed with bookcases and filing cabinets and card catalogs, we see a woman sitting at the desk by a computer (Cora, played by Indian-British actress Anjali Jay), and a man standing by the window (Kenneth, played by Japanese-Canadian actor Hiro Kanagawa). We also glimpse an older woman in the background by the bookshelves, but she doesn’t get a screen credit. Adaline’s co-workers are surprised to see her.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Age of Adaline' (2015)

Adaline’s co-workers are surprised to her on New Year’s Eve

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Age of Adaline' (2015)

Adaline greets her co-workers at the library on New Year’s Eve

Kenneth:  We thought you might not be coming in today, it being New Year’s Eve and all.

Adaline:  It’s still a Wednesday. The fun doesn’t start till tonight anyway.

Kenneth:  Well, are you up for a little excitement right now?

Adaline:  Sure, what is it?

Kenneth:  Your favorite. The news reel archives. It’s finally being digitized. We need a little help getting it ready to be shipped.

Adaline:  I’d love to.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Age of Adaline' (2015)

Adaline and the archives

We then go into a scene in which Adaline sets up the film reel projector and settles in to watch news reel archives of San Francisco. This is a clever set-up for the narrator to take over and introduce her life while a montage of clips visually accompany the central plot phenomenon. As the narrator explains, at age 29 in 1937, Adaline gets into a car accident. As a result, her cells stop aging, leaving her perpetually 29 years old, even as her daughter and everyone else around her ages.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Age of Adaline' (2015)

Adaline watches a news reel from the early 1900s

Although only a few minutes long, these scenes in the library archives are crucial to introducing the film and introducing us to the character (and motivations) of Adaline. Through her conversation with Kenneth, we learn that Adaline eschews socializing and is committed to her work, and that she loves working with archives. And then we find out why through the montage. We also see in the montage that Adaline studies up on her condition, taking a clerical job at a school of medicine. It’s a very clever and compact scene, one that includes an emphasis on archives and the value of researching and reading.

We also get introduced to the style of Adaline, who is in her prime — and dresses accordingly — through multiple decades. She has a classic style, which comes across as retro-inspired in the present day. She is a lady, and her clothing and hairstyles reflect that. I am definitely adding Adaline to my list of most stylish reel librarians!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Age of Adaline' (2015)

Adaline in her closet

Reel Librarians | A collage of Adaline's style through the decades

A collage of Adaline’s style through the decades

Adaline then dresses up for a New Year’s Eve party, where she “meets cute” with Ellis in the hotel elevator, setting off the romance part of the film’s plot.

Ellis:  I don’t want to come across like a know-it-all.

Adaline:  Too bad, I adore know-it-alls.

Ellis is (understandably) smitten, but Adaline keeps an emotional distance, as she doesn’t want to get involved with anyone. She is also about to change identities yet again, something she does every decade to escape notice.

Unbeknownst to her, Ellis had already noticed Adaline before the party. Later, he describes how he first noticed her when she was reading a Braille book on the front steps of the library. For someone who’s trying to go unnoticed, she fails spectacularly!

Reel Librarians | A collage of Adaline reading a book in braille on the library steps

A collage of Adaline reading a book in braille on the library steps

A half-hour into the film, Ellis returns to the library to donate a lot of rare first editions. (It turns out he has made a lot of money in the tech industry and is now giving back and doing good works.) Just the way to capture a reel librarian’s heart!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Age of Adaline' (2015)

Ellis returns to the library to donate books

Adaline’s co-worker, Cora, gets some lines to provide the backstory — plus reveals the name of where they work.

Cora:  Major news. Mr. Jones is donating $50,000 worth of first edition classics to this library.

Adaline:  What books? Do you know?

Cora:  We’re going to find out very soon. Because his office called to say that he’ll be here to deliver them himself.

Cora [to Ellis]:  On behalf of the San Francisco Heritage Society, I’d like to express our sincere gratitude for your most generous gift.

Note:  I could not find record of a San Francisco Heritage Society (y’all knew I would look that up, right?). However, I suspect it’s standing in for the California Historical Society, which has headquarters in San Francisco. The California Historical Society does have its own library.

Ellis then proceeds with his real mission: to flirt with Adaline. Cue the obligatory library ladder scene!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Age of Adaline' (2015)

Library ladder scene in ‘The Age of Adaline’ (2015)

Ellis:  Hey, it’s me. The know-it-all. I got something for you, too. Some flowers. [Gives her a gift of first editions: Daisy Miller, Dandelion Wine, White Oleander.]

Adaline:  Very clever. How did you know I work here?

Ellis:  I just joined the board. I saw you coming out of our meeting.

Adaline:  Oh. You could have mentioned that in the elevator.

Ellis:  I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some donating.

Adaline:  Great. I’ll be here.

Ellis:  No way. I would like for you to accept the books on behalf of the library.

Ellis wants to take a photograph of Adaline accepting the books, but of course, she has her own reasons for not wanting to be photographed. She initially refuses, giving him a stern look, as seen in the screenshot below. (By the way, I love the composition of this shot! They all look like professionals, but Adaline stands out in green against the blacks and greys of her reel librarian co-workers.)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Age of Adaline' (2015)

Adaline refuses to be photographed accepting a donation of books to the library

Then Ellis threatens to take away his donation.

Ellis:  Suit yourself. If you won’t accept them, I won’t donate them.

Adaline:  You wouldn’t do that.

Ellis:  I will. I’ll even have a book burning. Okay, fine, fine. Here’s an alternative. Let me take you out tomorrow.

I know this is the central romance of the film, and this is supposed to be another “meet cute” scene, but I was incensed at this. A man “joking” about a book burning?! I was literally shouting at the screen, “NO!!!! That is NOT the man for you. Walk away!”

Ellis then attempts to make up for this later when he woos Adaline by complimenting the way she reads. He seems to appreciate Adaline’s intelligence and knowledge, even saying, “You can tell me anything you want, and I’ll believe it.”

His father, William, is not so easily convinced. Ellis wants Adaline to meet his parents, and we get a brief scene an hour into the film between William and his wife, Kathy. William questions any woman who’s beautiful who is “hiding out in a library,” and he suspects her of being a gold-digger.

William:  So, what’s the story with this girl? She works there?

Kathy:  I’ve told you everything Ellis told me.

William:  A beautiful girl working in a public library.

Kathy:  Maybe she likes books. And silence.

William:  Or maybe she Googled him, and found out about his generous contribution and then worked her way in there so she could get her hooks into him.

But Adaline shows up William when they all play Trivial Pursuit. William has had a longtime winning streak — he’s a professor — but Adaline sweeps the game due to her lifetime of knowledge. It’s an enjoyable scene.

More romantic drama ensues, including a super-awkward love triangle, plus some more scientific mumbo jumbo thrown into the mix. I won’t reveal the ending of the film, but it’s pretty predictable. Enjoyably predictable, but predictable nonetheless.

So why is Adaline working in a library? As the New York Times review puts it, “By the time the present rolls around, Adaline has become an emotional shut-in.” The library — or at least the library at this particular historical society — is a quiet place, which suits her. There is no mention of qualifications or education for any of the four librarians pictured onscreen, but it’s obvious that Adaline has lots of personal experience with the older technology and artifacts.

We see Adaline do a variety of tasks in the library, including helping out with archives, running news reels on film projectors, stacking and shelving books, and filing cards. Her co-workers are seen working on computers. They must leave the older technology to Adaline! 😉

Reel Librarians | A collage of Adaline using older technology in the library

A collage of Adaline using older technology in the library

Adaline mentions several times about having to work for a living:

  • I only get an hour” [for lunch]
  • Some of us work for a living.”

However, we witness a flashback scene in which we learn that she has bought stock in Xerox. My thoughts are that she doesn’t actually need to work for a living; she simply prefers to do so in order to keep her mind alert, to utilize her knowledge and skills, and to indulge her nostalgia for the past. An historical library and museum are a good fit for those purposes.

Adaline’s co-workers serve the role of Information Providers, which is pretty straightforward. We don’t learn much about them as individuals, but I do enjoy the diversity of the reel librarians seen onscreen, representing different ages, genders, and ethnicities.

What purpose then does Adaline provide in this role as a reel librarian? I believe she serves the role of a Liberated Librarian:

  • Female Liberated Librarians tend to “discover” themselves with the help of a man or in the face of an adventure/disaster. (Check. Her life does change when she meet Ellis.)
  • The “liberations” can be positive or negative. (It’s positive in this film)
  • They are usually substantial roles with the librarian’s “liberation” often the film’s major plot. (Check and check. Adaline is the title character, and her “liberation” is both emotional and physical.)

Adaline is, indeed, “hiding out” in the library, trying to go unnoticed and to stay emotionally unattached. She is perfectly content in her life and at the library — but she is also content to leave that job and move on in order to preserve her privacy.

The Age of Adaline (2015) ends up in the Class II category, films in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, but the librarian’s occupation does not directly affect the plot.

The film’s conclusion, however, does not answer whether or not she will continue to work at the library. My guess — or rather, hope? — is that she will, but then, I’m also a romantic librarian at heart. ♥


And with that, 2016 comes to a close for Reel Librarians. I’ll be back next week — and next year! — with a wrap-up for 2016. Have a great New Year’s holiday!

Revisiting ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

As we get closer to Christmas, I thought it would be good timing to revisit one of the first posts I ever wrote on the Reel Librarians blog, a post analyzing the 1946 Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Screenshot from 'It's a Wonderful... Stereotype?' post on Reel Librarians

Screenshot from ‘It’s a Wonderful… Stereotype?’ post on Reel Librarians

My post, entitled “It’s a Wonderful… Stereotype?” was first posted on Sept. 21, 2011. I have reprinted it below in its entirety. Enjoy!


It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s a wonderful movie, truly. One of my personal favorites, actually. And a personal favorite for many, especially as a TV staple at Christmas, thanks to its lapsed copyright in 1974 (although that was successfully challenged in 1993). The director, Frank Capra, is in top form, as is James Stewart, who displays devastating depth as George Bailey, an ordinary man who aches to be extraordinary. Both deservedly earned Oscar nominations, out of 5 total, including Best Picture.

In the film’s nightmarish second half, George gets a rare second chance to see how life would have been without his presence — a concept that’s been seen time and time again, but it still feels fresh and raw every time I rewatch this movie. And I still find tears in my eyes toward the end when everyone chips in to save good ol’ George Bailey, and when James Stewart whispers, “Attaboy, Clarence” and winks after the bell rings on the Christmas tree. Oh, who am I kidding?! I’m tearing up right now even typing about it!

But…. how do you solve a problem like Mary?

Mary is George’s wife and one true love, played with intelligence and warmth by Donna Reed. We see lots of her in the film’s first half, through childhood adventures and young adulthood until George finally realizes he’s in love with her. Throughout these scenes, she is quite lovely and open and trusting and displays a great sense of humor. She is worthy of his love and his equal in every way. And she MUST be believable as his one true love in order for the second half of the film to work, because what she becomes is the straw that finally breaks George. Throughout the nightmare he witnesses in the second half — his brother dying, his mother withdrawing into a bitter old woman — it is the scene with his wife that finally gets to him.

And what does Mary become if George is out of the picture? A Spinster Librarian! Sigh.

Her scene as the Spinster Librarian is only about 30 seconds long, but that image continues to haunt librarians. Just look at the physical before-and-after:

Mary in the movie’s first half

Mary in the movie’s second half, as the Spinster Librarian

In the first half, she looks lovely. Modern hairstyle, flattering clothing, fresh and clean. But without George, she suddenly loses her sense of style?! Glasses, sensible clothes, hat, hair pulled back, gloves, no makeup. She is so covered up, almost hiding, with the hat and the gloves and the buttoned-up clothes. This image is the stereotypical prototype for all Spinster Librarians. This does make sense, as the Spinster Librarian is one of the character types that heavily rely on stereotypical visual cues:  the severe hairstyle, glasses, and prim clothing.

But worse than that is the change in Mary’s personality. In the first half, she is warm and funny and sweet. In the second half, she has become shy, furtive, non-trusting, and scared of men. A typical Spinster Librarian, right? (Sigh.) Mary clutches her purse, and finally screams and faints when he declares her to be his wife.

Clarence telegraphs the change in Mary:  “You’re not going to like it, George. She’s an old maid. She’s just about to close up the library!”

What’s so disturbing about this scene — again, only about 30 seconds long! — is the uncomfortable undertones of this scene (at least for librarians). That without men in our lives, the ultimate nightmare for women is… to become “old maid” librarians?! That if we get married, we are spared from this oh-so-terrible fate? Again, sigh.

I know this scene is taken to extremes for the sake of the plot. George is near breaking point, and he needs a shock to get him to appreciate life again. And Mary becoming an “old maid” highlights the point that they are each other’s true loves — that without the other, they are not truly whole. Plot-wise, this scene makes sense. But emotionally, as a librarian, it is hard to swallow.

So this movie will continue to be a personal favorite — but a personal favorite with an asterisk.