‘Spotlight’-ing a news library

Spotlight (2015), the Best Picture winner from this year’s Academy Awards, focuses on the Spotlight team of reporters who, in 2002, published a series of stories about Catholic priests who, for decades, had been sexually abusing children in their parishes. Spotlight also won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay and was nominated for four other Oscars.

The film’s spotlight (har har) is on the months of investigative reporting that led to the publication of the initial story in January 2002, as the reporters went from investigating one priest, John J. Geoghan, to uncovering a decades-long cover-up from the Catholic Church. That first story, which you can read here, led to hundreds more stories, across the United States and around the world, as the film’s closing cards reveal. It also led to a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003 for the Boston Globe‘s Spotlight team, “for its courageous, comprehensive coverage of sexual abuse by priests, an effort that pierced secrecy, stirred local, national and international reaction and produced changes in the Roman Catholic Church.”

The Spotlight team was Mike Rezendes (played by Mark Ruffalo, in an Oscar-nominated performance), Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (played by Michael Keaton), Sacha Pfeiffer (played by Rachel McAdams, also an Oscar-nominated performance), and Matt Carroll (played by Brian d’Arcy James).

Fifteen minutes into the film, we get our first glimpse into the newspaper archives and library research team.

Reel Librarians | News librarian in 'Spotlight' (2015)

News librarian in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

Spotlight news reporter Matt drops off an info request to Lisa Tuite, the head of the news library. Lisa (played by Michele Proude) is sitting behind a desk and typing on a computer, and you can see shelves and shelves of files and boxes in the background.

Matt:  Hey Lisa. Could you pull all the relevant clips on that for me?

Lisa:  Yeah. [looks at paper] Is this for Spotlight?

Matt:  Just drop them off when they’re ready? Thanks.

A few minutes later, at 22 minutes into the film, there is a series of quick cuts and closeups of a variety of research methods and materials, including microfilm, photographs, clipping files, and keyword searching in an online database.

Reel Librarians | Variety of news research materials and methods in 'Spotlight' (2015)

Variety of news research materials and methods in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

It’s clear that the news researchers are all women, and we see closeups of the hands and backs of the researchers, almost no faces. The focus, therefore, is not on the librarians and researchers — the focus is on the research itself.

Also, news flash:  Not all information is available on the internet! There’s still value in research the “old-fashioned” way.

We then see the initial results of all that research rolled, literally, into the Spotlight offices.

Reel Librarians | News research files in 'Spotlight' (2015)

News research files in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

The research librarians are curious about the story, too, but the reporters have been directed to be “more discreet than usual” on this story. After more folders get dropped off, the Spotlight team discuss some of the possible leads.

Robby:  How much longer you need to get through the clips?

Sacha:  I mean, a few days. There’s a lot. Lisa’s still sending up more.

There are folders and folders of clippings and articles stacked up on the reporters’ desks. The research library team is definitely delivering on their end, and it is clear that their research is vital in helping the reporters pinpoint names of both priests and victims, as well as follow up on a victims’ organization and support group.

It’s also clear that Lisa, as head of the library, is well-known and on a first-name basis with the entire Globe staff. At 49 mins into the film, Matt asks advice from Eileen MacNamara, the columnist who had initially written about the priest Geoghan.

Matt:  Hey Mac, if I wanted historical data on a priest and parishes he’d been assigned to, where would I find that?

Eileen: The Geoghan case? It’s all in the clips. Lisa has the source material.

In the very next scene, we see Lisa again, this time in what must be the print collection of the newspaper library and archives. We get a closeup of the multi-volume Catholic Encyclopedia and paperback copies of the Massachusetts Catholic Directory, all with spine labels of what looks to be Dewey Decimal call numbers in the 200’s. [And that is correct, Class 200 in the Dewey Decimal classification system is about religion. Y’all knew I would doublecheck that, right?!]

Reel Librarians | Print directories in 'Spotlight' (2015)

Print directories in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

Lisa:  The Archdiocese puts out an annual directory. Every priest and parish.

Matt:  Oh, that’s great. Do these go back any further than ’98?

Lisa:  Oh yeah, going back to the ’80s in the mez. Beyond that, you gotta go to the BPL. [Boston Public Library]

Matt:  The mez, huh? Thanks, Lisa.

Lisa:  You bet.

Reel Librarians | Print collection of news library in 'Spotlight' (2015)

Print collection of news library in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

There are rows of shelves in the news library, and there looks to comfy seating in the back with a padded chair.

We next see Mike and Walter join Matt in the aforementioned “mez” (short for “mezzanine”), looking through the old church directories. The “mez” is decidedly less comfortable than the news library, with metal shelving, stacked-up boxes, no light (no one can find the light switch), and a suspicious smell.

Mike:  What the hell is that smell?

Matt:  There’s a dead rat in the corner.

Reel Librarians | Mezzanine library archives in 'Spotlight' (2015)

Mezzanine library archives in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

Reel Librarians | Church directory archives in 'Spotlight' (2015)

Church directory archives in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

These old church directories provide a series of vital clues that propel the rest of the investigation — and therefore, the rest of the film. The reporters realize that through these directories, they can track down priests who were reassigned by the church in order to obscure their crimes. With the 13 names of priests they currently have, Matt figures out that guilty priests were designated in the directories with a variety of related keywords, like “sick leave,” “absent on leave,” “unassigned,” “emergency response” and “treatment center.”

Reel Librarians | Sick leave designation in church directories

Sick leave designation in church directories

At 1 hour into the film, almost at the halfway mark of the 128-minute running time, the reporters realize there is an even bigger scope to the investigation. They could be looking at 90 or more priests, and they need a way to quickly identify them. They had been using the directories to track down and confirm priests revealed through interviewing victims — but what about using the directories the other way around? Therefore, the reporters use the directories — with the keywords they had already identified! — to track down more potentially guilty priests.

There is a resulting montage of this methodical research, all featuring the four reporters going through the directories, line by line, in different locations — at their desks, in the news library, even in public places like a bar.

We even get a quick clip of Sacha in what must be the Boston Public Library (Lisa had mentioned in an earlier scene that the BPL had even older copies of the church directories), at a library table and surrounded by the iconic green lamps you find in classical libraries. A security guard announces “Library closing,” and Sacha checks her watch.

Reel Librarians | Boston Public Library library scene in 'Spotlight' (2015)

Boston Public Library library scene in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

Matt (who was described by the Globe as “the database reporting specialist for the Spotlight Team”) then begins building a database of names. This research method results in a database file of 87 names.

Reel Librarians | Cross-checking names in 'Spotlight' (2015)

Cross-checking names in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

I have to admit, I clapped my hands at this montage and shouted out, “Keywords! It’s all about keywords!” My husband thought my outburst hilarious, but I was seriously pleased at the inclusion of this kind of old-school, thorough method of research — and critical thinking. It made my librarian heart smile and burst with pride!😀

By the way, this 2016 interview with the real-life Lisa Tuite reveals that it was also the news librarians — not just the reporters — who “manually cross-referenced the directories to follow priests from parish to parish. As names of the priests involved in the scandal came to light, Tuite and her team researched the priests’ backgrounds. Tuite’s “research forensics” revealed the story.” (By the way, Lisa Tuite is also personally thanked in the film’s acknowledgements.)

In a Boston Globe article from Oct. 28, 2015, Lisa is included in “The real people behind the ‘Spotlight’ characters,” about actors and the real people they are portraying.

Boston Globe article screenshot

I also looked up Lisa’s current staff profile page on the Boston Globe website:

“Tuite directs a staff of researchers who provide background and fact-checking to reporters and editors. The library manages the Globe text and photo archive as well. She joined the Globe in the library in 1979.”

Librarian staff profile page on Boston Globe site

Librarian staff profile page on Boston Globe site

In her scenes, Lisa is dressed in comfortable, professional clothing (cardigan and shirtdress in one scene and a button-down and black trousers in another), wears glasses and subtle jewelry (small hoop earrings and a thin gold watch), and has long brown hair with the front half pulled back. The film’s credits also list Zarrin Darnell-Martin as Intern Wanda (she’s the one who delivers the files to the reporters), and the IMDb.com cast lists includes Colleen Kelly as a Librarian, uncredited. There are at least two other library researchers uncredited, women you can see in the background of the library and archives research scenes. All fulfill the Information Provider role in this Class III film.

You can see Michele Proude’s clips in the film via Vimeo, here at https://vimeo.com/159127965.

Spotlight librarian video

Click on screenshot to play video of librarian scenes in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

I really enjoyed watching Spotlight, a film that is smart and mature — it goes deeper than the surface of the sensational stories they uncover and write about. And it doesn’t do that with flashy performances or “gotcha” moments. It builds slowly, methodically, until the evidence they uncover cannot be denied:  not by the reporters themselves, not by the church lawyers, not by the public, not by the audience watching the film. And as a librarian, I gotta love a film that treats research — “Get those directories upstairs!” — as pivotal and key scenes.

To sum up, I have to highlight a contribution to the “Auto-Cat” listserv (a listserv for automation & cataloging librarians) from Michael Klossner, who highlighted the library scenes in Spotlight. I can’t sum it up any better than he does:

The film is being described as a valentine to an old institution which is often considered out-of-date in the wired world, the newspaper. It is also a tribute to another old-school  institution, the library — in spite of the rat in the corner.

I highly recommend Spotlight not only as an excellent film, but also as a film that highlights excellent research. And kudos to Lisa Tuite and her staff of librarians and researchers at the Boston Globe news library!

The school library in ‘Pretty in Pink’

This week, I am analyzing another cult classic, 1986’s Pretty in Pink, written by by John Hughes and starring Molly Ringwald as Andie, Andrew McCarthy as Blane, and Jon Cryer as Duckie. The plot is as basic as they come:  the girl’s guy friend (Duckie) has a crush on the girl (Andie) while the girl has a crush on another boy (Blane). (The plot was recycled the next year by Hughes in Say Anything, with two girls and a guy making up the film’s love triangle.)

Sixteen minutes into the film, we see a wide shot of the school library, and then the camera focuses in on Andie, who is typing into a computer.

Reel Librarians | The school library in 'Pretty in Pink' (1986)

The school library in ‘Pretty in Pink’ (1986)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Pretty in Pink' (1986)

Andie working on a school library computer

We’ve already seen her in class — wearing glasses, which is the prop shortcut for “smart” — so we know she’s actually working on a school project and not just goofing around. She also types this herself, just to make it clear for the audience. Her computer is hijacked by an anonymous string of flirty messages. (Like texting! Only with clunky, vintage artifacts called “desktop computers”😉 )

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Pretty in Pink' (1986)

Computer flirting in ‘Pretty in Pink’ (1986)

And who is “meeting cute” with Andie via computer? None other than Andie’s crush, Blane!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Pretty in Pink' (1986)

Love begins in the school library!

True love begins in the library!😉

There is a reel librarian seen briefly in this short scene, but we don’t hear her speak — or even see her face! All we see is the back of her, an older woman in a flowery dress, leaning over and helping another student at a computer at the carrels. This reel librarian, unsurprisingly, gets no listing in the film’s credit, but she does fulfill the Information Provider role. This film lands in the Class IV category, films in which the librarian(s) plays a cameo role and is seen only briefly with little or no dialogue.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Pretty in Pink' (1986)

School librarian in ‘Pretty in Pink’ (1986)

The real star of this scene — besides the sweet expressions on the young lovers’ faces as they smile at each other over the library carrels — has to be the advanced computer graphics!

Behold:

Reel Librarians | Computer graphics from 'Pretty in Pink' (1986)

Computer graphics in ‘Pretty in Pink’ (1986)

What I enjoyed most about this one-minute scene is that it plays with almost no sound. No talking at all (true to libraries in the movies!), and no sounds except for the sound effects of typing on the keyboard.

The school library setting  in the film feels authentic to real life, with its rows of computer carrals, bookcases lining the walls, and the wooden card catalogs. It feels like a cheery school library, bright and welcoming, with classical touches like the bust statues scattered around the tops of the bookcases.

Looking through the filming locations in IMDb.com, I would guess it’s the school library from either the John Burroughs Middle School or the John Marshall High School, both located in Los Angeles. Each school has been a location for several films! This article on the Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations states that the John Marshall High School served as the exterior of Andie’s ‘Meadowbrook High School’ while the John Burroughs Middle School was used for the interiors.

 

Shushing Meryl Streep in ‘Ironweed’

Movie poster for Ironweed

Movie poster for ‘Ironweed,’ The Paramount Vault

As I mentioned last week, the Paramount Vault YouTube channel features select full-length films, including Ironweed (1987), which includes a short library scene. I immediately set to watching Ironweed — you can view the entire film here — and taking more notes for this analysis post.

Set in 1938, the film is based on the novel by William Kennedy (who also wrote the screenplay) and features Jack Nicholson, a homeless drifter, who returns to his home town and meets up with an ex-radio singer, played by Meryl Streep, who is ill and homeless. Both Nicholson and Streep were Oscar-nominated for their lead roles in this film. It is also interested to note that Nicholson currently holds the record for most Oscar nominations for an actor, while Streep currently holds the record for most Oscar nominations for an actress, as well as the most Oscar nominations for any actor or actress, period.

The library scene occurs almost exactly halfway through the 2-hour-and-23-minute running time of the film. The interior of the library scene, according to the IMDb.com filming locations trivia, was filmed on the second floor of the Troy Public Library in Troy, New York. (See more pics and read more about the library here in this ‘All Over Albany’ post, which also links the library setting to the Ironweed film.)

Here is the info about the librarian and library scene from reel librarian researcher Martin Raish’s site Librarians in the Movie: An Annotated Filmography. Raish characterizes the librarian’s behavior in Ironweed as welcoming and nice, as evidenced in the sentence, “A librarian… very nicely, tells her she is welcome to use the library.”

Ironweed info from Martin Raish website

‘Ironweed’ info from Martin Raish website

This makes it seem as if the librarian, played by Bethel Leslie, is quite friendly, but a little more is revealed as you watch the remainder of the two-minute library scene.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Ironweed' (1987)

Opening shot of the library scene in ‘Ironweed’ (1987)

Meryl Streep, as Helen Archer, is sleeping in the library beside the fireplace. The librarian comes over and hands her a Life magazine. She tells her, “My dear. You may stay as long as you read. I don’t allow sleeping.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Ironweed' (1987)

The librarian wakes up Helen and hands her a magazine to read.

The librarian is middle-aged-to-older (her lack of makeup and dowdy clues make her seem older), with greying, marcelled hair pulled back at the nape. She is dressed in earth tones and very conservatively, in a long cardigan sweater and long tweed skirt. What appears to be a watch charm or pendant hangs on a long chain from her neck.

As Helen tries to save face by saying, “I wasn’t sleeping. I was waiting for the fire, to die there,” the librarian smiles and pats her on the shoulder. One could see that as a friendly gesture, but it could also be viewed as condescending, as well. Perhaps it is both friendly and condescending? Or perhaps just pitying?

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Ironweed' (1987)

The librarian walks away in ‘Ironweed’ (1987)

As the librarian walks away, stepping quietly in her sensible brown heels, a smartly dressed woman looks over. She recognizes Helen and comes over, introducing herself as Nora Lawlor. The woman says she hasn’t seen Helen in twenty years and that she used to hear her on the radio but lost track. Helen says she toured abroad for several years, and Nora responds by saying how much she envies her.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Ironweed' (1987)

Nora Lawlor in ‘Ironweed’ (1987)

As Helen gets up to leave, Nora states she has seen Helen’s brother in church last week. This is a trigger point, as this information immediately riles up Helen, who declares her brother a hypocrite. She then begins shouting that he and her mother cheated her out her inheritance. Not five seconds go by before the librarian is back and shushing Helen.

[Side note:  How awesome would it be to be able to say, “I got to shush Meryl Streep in a movie!” Ah, the benefits of portraying a reel librarian.😉 ]

The librarian again puts her hand on Helen’s arm — the same hand that patted Helen’s arm and shoulder not one minute beforehand — and this time, the gesture is not so kindly. She states firmly, “I’m sorry, but you have to leave. You’re making MUCH too much noise,” as she propels Helen toward the door.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Ironweed' (1987)

The librarian ejects Helen from the library for making too much noise, in ‘Ironweed’ (1987)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Ironweed' (1987)

Helen leaves the library in ‘Ironweed’ (1987)

Although a very short scene, I have classified the library scene in Ironweed in the Class III category. In my opinion, the reel librarian serves as both a Spinster Librarian and as Information Provider. It is significant that in the first part of the library scene, she states, “I don’t allow sleeping.” I, not we. She personally embodies the rules of the library, and by extension, the rules of society. And in the latter part of the library scene, the arm that gently awakened Helen out of her slumbers is the same arm that forcibly ejects her out of the library one minute later. The librarian will brook no behavior that falls outside the narrow confines of her safe and secure walls. She exhibits the uptight nature and rule-mongering of the Spinster Librarian character type, along with the conservative clothing and hairstyle. The reel librarian in Ironweed also provides information about the library to both Helen and the audience.

In the next scene, Helen is drowning her sorrows in a glass of wine, still shouting, “Thieves!” at random intervals. The immediate cut from the dark-paneled walls of a library to the dark-paneled walls of a bar is a jarring juxtaposition, to be sure; both locales serve as places of safety and security, in their own, different ways.

And no one at the bar tells Helen to leave or to be quiet.

Lilly the Librarian in ‘Rising Sun’

In the 1993 drama, Rising Sun, young, beautiful woman is found strangled atop a table in the L.A. headquarters of a Japanese corporation. Who killed her? To solve the crime, Wesley Snipes, who plays Lt. Webster ‘Web’ Smith, partners with Sean Connery, who plays Capt. John Connor, an expert on Japanese culture. They delve into the seemingly seamy underworld of Japanese business etiquette.

Rising Sun (1993) official trailer HD,” Paradise Of Trailers, uploaded Oct. 2012. Standard YouTube license.

I’ve watched this film before (and I had totally forgotten it was based on a Michael Crichton novel!), and I’ve always wanted it to be a better film than it turned out to be. One night, when I was working on my computer, I came across this movie in my DVR listings, so I had it playing in the background while I was working on something else. I did NOT remember this movie having a reel librarian, but once your radar is on, you find them EVERYWHERE. When I heard the words “Lilly the Librarian” spoken in the background, I stopped what I was doing and looked up in surprise. Instant reel librarian research — and resulting blog post!😀

The scene happens exactly halfway through the movie, at 1 hour and 4 minutes. The scene lasts only a minute, and we get only a brief glimpse of Lilly the Librarian. It is also a rare instance where a Class IV librarian gets a name! (And a rare portrayal of a newspaper librarian/archivist, as well.)

So what’s the context? Smith gets a call from a reporter informant, Ken Shubik, who is keeping tabs on a weaselly investigator, played by Steve Buscemi (!). And yes, Buscemi’s character on the cast list is officially listed as Willy ‘the Weasel’ Wilhelm. Willy the Weasel is busy digging into any dirt he can find on Lt. Smith, and he’s enlisting the help of Lilly the Librarian at a newspaper library.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Rising Sun' (1993)

Ken Shubik:  Where the hell you been? Did you get my message?

Web Smith:  Yes, about the weasel?

Ken:  Last night, I’m working late at the paper, I see the weasel arrive, dressed in his tux. He goes right to the library. I could tell the ambitious little terd had the scent of blood. He’s still here. I asked Lilly the Librarian, what’s he checking out? A cop she says, a cop named Web Smith.

Willy the Weasel IS successful in digging up dirt — obviously with help from Lilly the Librarian. And actually, the brief scene reveals the possibility of TWO reel librarians, both of them redheads. Here’s the first, who walks away, shaking her head in frustration.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Rising Sun' (1993)

As the first woman walks away, we see another redhead — the one I theorize is the actual Lilly the Librarian — sitting at a desk filing periodicals, which you can see in the screenshot below and in the first screenshot above. Willy the Weasel, who has been pacing back and forth to a bank of computers, then walks back over to her, talking and pointing, and we see only the side of her head.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Rising Sun' (1993)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Rising Sun' (1993)

Lilly the Librarian definitely fulfills her role as Information Provider. Too bad that wasn’t enough to warrant a credit in the cast list.😦

This reel librarian cameo also reminded me a little of another reel librarian character in You, Me and Dupree (2006). Although the characters fill VERY different roles, there are some striking coincidences:

  • Both are redheads
  • We see both only briefly — and mostly from behind or from the side
  • We never hear them speak
  • Both are named similarly:
  • Both are uncredited in the cast lists

Amazing the things you start to connect when you dig into reel librarian research!

Amityville horrors

Today, I have a horror movie two-fer, 1979’s The Amityville Horror and 1982’s Amityville II:  The Possession. Amazingly, BOTH films feature reel librarian characters. Are there any similarities? Do the reel librarian characters serve the same purpose in both films? Let’s dive in!

*SPOILER ALERT*

Reel Librarians | The iconic house from 'The Amityville Horror'

The iconic house from ‘The Amityville Horror’

The Amityville Horror (1979)

In the horror classic, The Amityville Horror (1979), a newly married couple, played by Margot Kidder and a bearded James Brolin, merge their families and move into a large house for sale at a bargain price. Why priced so low? Because the house was the site of a mass murder, based on real-life events, where a son murdered his parents and siblings in their family home in Amityville, Long Island, New York. The film begins with a brief re-enactment of those murders but focuses primarily on the paranormal experiences of the Lutz family who moved in afterward, as written about by Jay Anson in The Amityville Horror, published in 1977. The story caught the attention of the public, with both the book and the movie being big hits (and spawning multiple sequels and remakes), but the story has also been controversial and led to multiple lawsuits.

About 70 minutes into the film, James Brolin drives off on his motorcycle to the Town Hall for building plans, to investigate what’s been happening in the house. (His dog has also been scratching and whining at one walled-up part of the basement.) The next scene cuts to closeups of drawings of flies, panning over to bookshelves in the public library.

Reel Librarians | Library bookshelves in 'The Amityville Horror' (1979)

Library bookshelves in ‘The Amityville Horror’ (1979)

Instead of the buzzing fly sound effects heard throughout the film, we hear loud whispering. Spooky… until we realize the whispers are coming from two older women at the Circulation Desk. Hmmm… symbolism?

Reel Librarians | Gossiping librarians in 'The Amityville Horror' (1979)

Gossiping librarians in ‘The Amityville Horror’ (1979)

The two reel librarians are wearing conservative blouses with high necks and long sleeves. While they are whispering, one flips through a stack of cards and photographs. They are too engrossed in their gossiping (I could make out the phrase “Oh no, no, no, she’s a nice person”) to notice that Brolin steals a book!

Reel Librarians | Library research in 'The Amityville Horror' (1979)

Library research in ‘The Amityville Horror’ (1979)

Reel Librarians | Stealing a library book in 'The Amityville Horror' (1979)

Stealing a library book in ‘The Amityville Horror’ (1979)

FOR SHAME, James Brolin, FOR SHAME. This is obviously another example of how his character has been influenced by evil spirits.😉

Note:  By the way, the bookshelf he was looking at is marked “100’s,” which is the “Philosophy and psychology” section in the Dewey Decimal classification system. Parapsychology and occultism are in the 130’s. At least they got that detail right in the movie!

Is the book important? We next see him in a local bar, sitting with friends Jeff and Carolyn. Brolin is describing weird things happening in the house, as Carolyn is flipping through the book. (So he can’t even be bothered to look at the book he stole from the library!)

Reel Librarians | Library book research at the bar in 'The Amityville Horror' (1979)

Library book research at the bar in ‘The Amityville Horror’ (1979)

After spotting an illustration that looks similar to the Amityville house, she cries out:

“Of course, it’s right here. It’s history! John Ketcham. We ran him out of Salem for being a witch. He built his house exactly where you’re living. You’re living on some kind of special ground that devil-worshipped death, sacrifice. George, there’s one simple rule. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change forms.”

John Ketcham, also spelled Catchum, is mentioned in Jay Anson’s book, where he claims the following info:

One of the more notorious settlers who came to the newly-named Amityville in those days was a John Catchum or Ketcham who had been forced out of Salem, Massachusetts for practicing witchcraft. John set up residence within 500 feet of where George [Lutz] now lived, continuing his alleged devil worship. The account also claimed he was buried somewhere on the northeast corner of the property.

From what I’ve been able to find online, there are historical records of a John Ketcham who settled in the area, but any ties to witchcraft seem to be unsubstantiated.

Back to the film… no more is seen of the stolen library book or the reel librarians, after they’ve served their purpose. (The same could be said of pretty much everything else in this oddly disjointed film.)

Margot Kidder does some research of her own later, as a clerk explains how to use microfilm to look through newspaper archives. However, it’s clear that she’s in a newspaper office, and not in a library. Peter Maloney is also listed in the film credits as Newspaper Clerk.

And yes, the Newspaper Clerk merits a mention in the credits, but neither of the two reel librarians are listed.

Amityville II: The Possession (1982)

The second film in the “Amityville” series is actually a prequel, even though the “II” in the title suggests that it’s a sequel. The events in Amityville II: The Possession are based on the real-life 1974 murders of the DeFeo family in Amityville, Long Island, New York (the eldest son was convicted in 1975 of murdering his entire family). The film credits parapsychologist Hans Holzer’s 1982 book Murder in Amityville as its source material. The prequel/sequel made much less money than the original film and was nominated for a Razzie Award the next year (Worst Supporting Actress for Rutanya Alda, who played the mother).

The film mixes together elements of the original The Amityville Horror (same house and setting), The Exorcist (the last third of the film), Flowers in the Attic (incest) and Poltergeist (building on ancient Indian burial ground).

The reel librarian enters the picture 80 minutes into its 104-minute running time. After the murders and subsequent arrest of the eldest son, a local priest is staring at the iconic Amityville house. A ghostly hand reaches out and touches his shoulder and startles him… and he turns around to find a kindly, grandmotherly woman all wrapped up in a scarf and overcoat. She asks if he’s okay and if she can give him a lift. As they walk away, she reveals that she knows “some strange stories about that house.”

Reel Librarians | Librarian in 'Amityville II: The Possession' (1982)

Librarian in ‘Amityville II: The Possession’ (1982)

The next scene cuts to a room that looks like an archives room in a basement (fluorescent lighting, low ceiling, and pipes are visible, adding to the basement feel). There are shelves and shelves of archives, and the older woman walks down the aisle, carrying a large volume.

Reel Librarians | Archives room in 'Amityville II: The Possession' (1982)

Archives room in ‘Amityville II: The Possession’ (1982)

Reel Librarians | Archives research in 'Amityville II: The Possession' (1982)

Archives research in ‘Amityville II: The Possession’ (1982)

The older woman reveals some personal info:

“I’ve been working here for 25 years. At first I thought it would be boring, but these records are more interesting than any novel.”

Her voice is soft and mellow, but it doesn’t quite take the sting out of hearing that this woman thought her job — apparently as an archives librarian — would be boring. SIGH. She’s also dressed quite conservatively (and stereotypically for a reel librarian), with a high-neck bow blouse and sweater vest cardigan.

She then fulfills her role as an Information Provider, as we get a close-up of the archives volume.

Reel Librarians | Archives closeup in 'Amityville II: The Possession' (1982)

Archives closeup in ‘Amityville II: The Possession’ (1982)

She tells him about a witchcraft lady who long ago desecrated and violated Indian law against building on an ancient burial ground, and that the house and land have been desecrated by people with no right to live there.

And the other foot drops. Shades of Poltergeist, anyone?

It’s also interesting to note that this is a different take on the reason given for the evil spirits in the first film. But at least this time, the reason is provided directly by a reel librarian.

Also interesting to note that the older woman is wearing a ring on her left hand, so it’s clear that she is married. No Spinster Librarian in this film! Although we never hear her name onscreen, the reel librarian character is revealed in the credits as Mrs. Greer, played by Petra Lea. This is Lea’s only film credit, and she passed away a few years later, in 1989.

Here’s a table comparing-and-contrasting the reel librarians in the first two films of the Amityville Horror series:

Title The Amityville Horror Amityville II:  The Possession
Year Released 1979 1982
Source Material Based on the real-life experiences of the Lutz family, as written by Jay Anson in The Amityville Horror, 1977 Based on the real-life murders of the DeFeo family, as written about by Hans Holzer in Murder in Amityville, 1982
Adaptation Original film adaptation Prequel to the events in Amityville Horror (despite the II in its title, which suggests a sequel)
When reel librarians appear on screen 70 minutes into the 117-minute film 80 minutes into the 104-minute film
Reel librarian characters Two older women; not listed in film credits Mrs. Greer, played by Petra Lea, works in the public library archives
Appearance and dress One blue-haired female, one white-haired female; No glasses; Conservative clothing, with high-necked blouses Grey hair; Glasses; Conservative clothing, with bow blouse
Total screen time A few seconds 1-2 minutes total
Reel librarian roles Information Providers, providing visual cues to library setting Information Provider. Voices the reason why there is evil in the house, as revealed in the town archives
Category  Class IV (cameo roles with little to no dialogue) Class III (minor character with speaking lines in a significant scene)

It is interesting that reel librarians are in both the first two entries in the Amityville Horror series of movies. In both films, they serve as Information Providers, but for different reasons. I am also glad that the reel librarian in Amityville II had a speaking role — and got included in the film’s credits!

Have you seen any of the Amityville movies? Did you remember there were librarian characters in both the first two entries in the Amityville Horror collection of movies?

Until next time…