Reader poll of runner-ups: Soylent Green and the Books

Last week, the winner of the reader poll of runner-ups (say that phrase 3 times fast!) was the 1973 sci-fi classic, Soylent Green. In the year 2022, food is scarce, and a majority of the world’s population relies on a food product called “Soylent Green.” A detective, played by Charlton Heston, investigates the murder of a Soylent official… and discovers the secret behind Soylent Green.

Reel Librarians| DVD cover for 'Soylent Green' (1973)

DVD cover for ‘Soylent Green’ (1973)

If you don’t already know what Soylent Green really is, then I won’t spoil it for you. (I just hope you didn’t have any with your Thanksgiving leftovers!ūüėČ ) “What is the secret of Soylent Green?” is also the hook¬†for the original trailer:

The film stars screen legend Edward G. Robinson, in his final performance. The director’s commentary track on the DVD also revealed that Robinson was almost totally deaf by the time he made this film. He learned his scenes by timing during the rehearsals!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Edward G. Robinson as Sol Roth in ‘Soylent Green’ (1973)

Robinson plays Sol Roth, and we meet him within the first five minutes of the film. He’s described in the trailer as:

Sol Roth, Thorn’s private library. A Living Book in a world without books.

This futuristic world — only 5 years away from our current present day! — has stopped printing books for almost 20 years. The word “Book” now refers to people, to former scholars and librarians who serve as personal researchers for others. Sol¬†is a self-described “Police Book,” assigned to Detective Sergeant Thorn, and there is a “Supreme Exchange” where he goes almost daily for information and to talk to other Books.

Real books are treasures to be hoarded in this overcrowded, dirty, violent nightmare of a future, and Thorn and Sol live together in comparative luxury, in an apartment filled with bookcases.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Bookcases in Thorn’s and Sol’s apartment

Even though they look to have a lot of books, we learn that Sol is having trouble finding files for Thorn, looking up information on suspects and cases. This scene also sets up their relationship and how insulting each other is their way of showing their mutual love and respect for one other.

Thorn: What’d you dig up on those cases I gave you? You’ve been telling me that for the last three days.

Sol: ¬†Well, I can’t locate the files. I spent hours on it at the Exchange today. Talked to every other Book who was there. […] What the hell kind of miracle do you want of me? I’m just an ordinary Police Book, not the Library of Congress. I don’t know why I bother.

Thorn: ¬†Because it’s your job. Besides, you love me.

Thorn then goes to the apartment of Simonson, the Soylent official who has been killed (another screen legend, Joseph Cotten, in a¬†cameo role), and Thorn comes back with multiple treasures. Twenty-two minutes into the film, we are treated to a wondrous site: ¬†new books. Thorn brings back two large volumes¬†from the dead man’s¬†apartment, books entitled¬†Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report from 2015 to 2019.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Book cover for the Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Sol’s amazement at the new reference books Thorn finds

Sol:  Where the hell did you get all these?

Thorn:  Off his shelves. They were the only reference books he had. You like them?

Sol:  I love them. Do you know how many books were published in this country, once upon a time? When there was paper and power and presses that worked.

A little over 10 minutes later, Thorn again asks for more info about Simonson.

Sol’s response: ¬†I‚Äôve got a handful of reference work 20 years out of date. You throw out a name, and you expect a miracle?

He then proceeds to read out Simonson’s bio from the last biographical survey that was published, in 2006.

Thorn then asks about the books he brought back from Simonson’s apartment.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Sol describes the Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report

Sol: ¬†Oh, very technical and highly classified. Unnumbered copies. Officially they don’t exist. […] What else do you want?

Thorn:  Everything. Across the board.

Sol:  Across the board? That’s impossible.

Thorn:  Check the Exchange.

Sol:  Check the Exchange? I need you to tell me that? You know, I was a teacher once, a full professor, a respected man.

This short conversation conveys a lot of information — about the books, about Sol and his past, as well as about the Exchange and its importance in their work.

The next scene that features the Exchange, which comes in at a little over an hour into the film, is one of the most important scenes in the entire movie. It anchors the film and sets up the finale. It is a scene in which the Books reveal that they know the secret of Soylent Green… only Thorn, and by extension the audience, remain¬†in the dark.

Sol takes the two large volumes with him to the former public library, now known simply as the “Supreme Exchange.” A sign on the door reveals it’s for “Authorized Books Only,” and as Sol earns admittance, he is therefore visually confirmed as an “Authorized Book.”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Supreme Exchange: Authorized Books Only

Sol slowly walks past row after row of crumbling books and papers, on his way to talk to the others. The books and the Books are all that is left of civilization, of knowledge, of humanity.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Bookshelves in the Supreme Exchange

As the director states on the commentary track, Sol is “reporting on this committee on what he’s learned through his research,” and he brings the two volumes to the Exchange Leader. The other Books greet him by name, so they are obviously familiar with and comfortable around him.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

The Books at the Supreme Exchange

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

The Exchange Leader looks in reverence at the volumes

The rest of¬†this scene — a pivotal scene lasting only a minute and a half total! —¬†features all of the Books: ¬†Celia Lovsky as Exchange Leader,¬†Morgan Farley as Book #1, John Barclay as Book #2,¬†Belle Mitchell as Book #3, and Cyril Delevanti as Book #4.

However, only two of the Books exchange words during this scene, Sol and the Exchange Leader. Here’s their entire conversation:

Sol:  It’s horrible.

Exchange Leader:  You must accept it.

Sol:  I see the words, but I can’t believe them.

Exchange Leader:  Believe. The evidence is overwhelming. Simonson was a member of the board. He learned these facts, and they shook his sanity. The corporation knew he was not reliable anymore. They felt he might talk, and so he was eliminated.

Sol:  Then why are they doing this?

Exchange Leader:  Because it’s easier. I think expedient is the word. What we need is to prove what they are doing, before we bring it to the Council of Nations.

Sol:  Good God.

Exchange Leader:  What God, Mr. Roth? Where will we find Him?

Sol:  Perhaps at Home. Yes. At Home.

The director’s commentary during this scene is illuminating and thoughtful:

This sequence is an interesting comment on the state of humanity in¬†this period. When this hidden-away little niche in this enormous library. That’s all there is. There are really no big libraries, and communication is very difficult. People have to actually get together and¬†talk to each other, but they have nothing technical to help them. They have to read the books, and analyze them themselves. Which is not a bad idea, but under these circumstances, it’s terrible when you think there are no books being printed, everything is stopped. No paper, no ink. Just these wonderful people, like this actress, Celia Lovsky, who carries the scene. She’s wonderful, brings the whole feeling in her face of what is really wrong with that civilization.

Can you imagine? These are the only people left who can analyze information, who even know how to read reference books — or any books! And they are all old. The director rests the camera on their faces and wrinkles, and he does not flinch away. When they are gone, there will be no one left to remember. Librarians are holding down the fort for civilization in this film; they are gatekeepers in a very literal sense.

Although the rest of the Books are silent, their expressions speak volumes.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Books at the Supreme Exchange

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Books at the Supreme Exchange

It’s honestly¬†hard to watch this movie today, as parts of it feel TOO real, thinking how close we really might be to the edge of this dystopian future. Corruption is a fact of life in Soylent Green, and people are categorized into functions: ¬†Furniture, Books, and so on.¬†And the Books, although they hold the key to knowledge in this future, are arguably no more effective than Thorn himself is as a policeman. But they all carry themselves with dignity, particularly Sol and the way he holds himself upright in his threadbare blazer and beret. All of the Books, including Sol, serve as reel librarians in the role of Information Providers.

Sol does go Home, and his final words¬†to Thorn are, “You‚Äôve got to prove it, Thorn. Prove it. The Exchange…”

Sol’s words spur Thorn to finally uncover the terrible secret behind Soylent Green. As he walks home to his apartment, he passes by the old public library building and current home of the Supreme Exchange. Before, when Sol entered the building, it was quiet and deserted. Now it is the scene of violence. Foreshadowing of the future, perhaps?

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Sol walks to the Supreme Exchange, the former public library

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Violence in front of the Supreme Exchange, the former public library

The final words of the film also focus on the former library, as Thorn’s supervisor states, “I promise. I‚Äôll tell the Exchange.”

I originally had placed¬†this film in the Category III and listed only the four Books and the Exchange Leader as reel librarians. Upon rewatching the film, I realized that I had overlooked Sol Roth as another reel librarian. We learn he was a former teacher, yes, but as an “Authorized Book,” he also serves the same role as the other Books. I have therefore reclassified this film as a Class I film, as Sol’s job¬†is indeed integral to the plot.

I will leave you with a riddle from Michael, a longtime reader of Reel Librarians:

All librarians may be books, but are all books librarians?

What say you, dear readers?

Pitfalls and fantasies in ‘The Pit’

A couple of months ago, Movie Vigilante, a long-time reader and supporter of Reel Librarians (thank you!), gave me a heads-up about the new release of the 1981 film, The Pit (aka Teddy). It’s a pretty¬†obscure film, but one that has developed its own cult following. I pre-ordered a copy of the DVD, and it arrived on my doorstep this past weekend, just in time for me to watch and analyze it for the blog. As the film is a horror film — and it even begins¬†with a Halloween party scene! — it’s perfect¬†timing to round out our scary movie theme for October.

*PLOT SPOILERS THROUGHOUT*

The basic plot? This plot summary from IMDb.com sums up The Pit quite well:

Twelve year-old Jamie Benjamin is a misunderstood lad. His classmates pick on him, his neighbors think he’s weird and his parents ignore him. But now Jamie has a secret weapon: deep in the woods he has discovered a deep pit full of man-eating creatures he calls Trogs… and it isn’t long before he gets an idea for getting revenge and feeding the Trogs in the process!

One major detail this plot summary leaves out? That Jamie talks to Teddy, his teddy bear… and Teddy answers him back. Teddy even gets highlighted in the film’s title card sequence, as seen below.

Reel Librarians | Title card from 'The Pit' (1981)

Title card from ‘The Pit’ (1981)

The original screenplay, written by Ian A. Stuart, was a bit different from the final film. Jamie was younger, 8 or 9 years old, and the “tra-la-logs” (what Jamie calls the Trogs) were imaginary, not real. It’s kind of a shame that the director,¬†Lew Lehman, didn’t follow that original vision. I always prefer psychological horror — are they real? are they not real? — because your imagination makes things¬†scarier and more horrifying. And that’s the major pitfall (har har) of this film, the cheesy special effects. Plus some gaping plot holes that rival the actual pit in¬†The Pit. ;D

The Pit¬†is definitely an odd film in many ways, including the fact that it’s a Canadian horror movie that was filmed¬†entirely in the United States. More specifically, it was filmed in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, utilizing well-known locales in that city. Beaver Dam is even thanked in the film’s credits!

Reel Librarians | Special thanks in end credits of 'The Pit' (1981)

Special thanks in end credits of ‘The Pit’ (1981)

When I unwrapped the DVD, I read the back of the cover, which states: ¬†“Jamie will teach everyone a lesson: ¬†the kids who teased and bullied him, the mean old lady down the street, even his pretty new babysitter.”

Reel Librarians | DVD cover for 'The Pit' (1981)

DVD front and back covers for ‘The Pit’ (1981)

My senses went up at the “mean old lady” comment, wondering if this was the reel librarian? But I was mistaken! The reel librarian character, Marg Livingstone, is a much younger and attractive woman (in her 30s?) played by Laura Hollingsworth. IMDb.com lists this as Hollingsworth’s sole film credit. She gets 4th billing, and the credits also list a Library Clerk, played by Cindy Auten.

But before we get to the library scenes — there are several in this film! — let’s get to the context. Within the first five minutes of the film,¬†Jamie (played by Sammy Snyders) is seen writing sentences on a school¬†blackboard, punishment for bringing in a naughty book. The schoolteacher opens the book, titled¬†Creative Nude Photography, and comes across a page with a nude silhouette that’s been cut out.

Reel Librarians | Book closeup in 'The Pit' (1981)

Book closeup in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

Even though the book clearly has NO CALL NUMBER on the spine (the tell-tale clue to differentiate between books in a bookstore vs. a library), the schoolteacher assumes it’s a library book. She also states that she’s sure “Ms. Livingstone can find some way to repair it [the book].”

We then see her walking up to a large and beautiful stone building with the words “Williams Free Library” in scrollwork atop the front windows.

Reel Librarians | Williams Free Library exterior seen in 'The Pit' (1981)

Williams Free Library exterior seen in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

Side note:  The Williams Free Library was also the first public library in the United States to have open stacks, which is quite impressive. This stone building was completed in 1891 and is one of the most well-known buildings in that region. Beaver Dam built a new library in 1984, so this building now houses the Dodge County Historical Society.

Even though a few websites erroneously list¬†Miss Livingstone as a school librarian, it’s clear that she’s actually a public librarian. Here’s a peek into the library itself (the library interiors were actually filmed at Wayland Academy in Beaver dam), when the teacher comes in to the drop off the book. In the screenshot below, you can see a corner of the nameplate on the front counter, which reveals¬†the librarian’s name (and marital status) as Miss M. Livingstone. You are invited to also¬†visually contrast the more formal (and dare I say, more glamorous?) attire and hairstyle of the librarian with the more casual look and hairdo of the library aide beside her.

Reel Librarians | Public library counter in 'The Pit' (1981)

Public library counter in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

Here’s how this scene plays out:

Librarian:  Hello, Marian. What can I do for you?

Teacher: ¬†I’m returning this. Jamie, one of my little boy borrowed it. There isn’t likely to be any record of it having gone out. Perhaps you could slip it back for me?

Librarian: ¬†I’ll make sure it’s put back on the shelves.

Teacher: ¬†There’s been a little clipping from one of the pages, I’m afraid. One of the figures cut out. Can you fix that?

Librarian: ¬†We’ll just take out the whole page. Thank you.

The dialogue¬†of this exchange seems innocuous enough, but the expressions on their faces reveal a deeper subtext. The librarian’s face visibly tightens when the teacher mentions the clipping, and the teacher notices this and looks a bit puzzled.

The next scene reveals WHY the librarian reacted this way to the news about Jamie and the clipping from the book. After the teacher leaves, Miss Livingstone immediately takes the book and her purse to a back room in the library. Unbeknownst to her, Jamie is also peeking in on this scene. (One of many convenient plot points.)

Reel Librarians | Library backroom in 'The Pit' (1981)

Library backroom in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

She then takes out an anonymous letter from her purse, which reveals that Jamie has sent her the nude clipping with a picture of her head glued on top! Definitely creepy and unsettling! And now the librarian knows who sent her the letter. But instead of alerting authorities, she just rips up the letter.

Reel Librarians | Ripping up an anonymous letter in 'The Pit' (1981)

Ripping up an anonymous letter in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

The commentary track, provided by a film critic and film historian, highlights a major problem I had with this scene.¬†It’s clear Miss Livingstone is an object of Jamie’s fantasies, but what was his¬†plan or motivation for sending the letter? Is he trying to flatter her? Or is he trying to creep her out? It’s unclear.

Whatever Jamie’s motives, Miss Livingstone remains suspicious of Jamie. This also rises to the surface in the next scene in the library, almost a half-hour into the film. This is when Miss Livingstone meets Jamie’s new babysitter, Sandy, who has come to the library to check out books on “problem children.”

Sandy: ¬†I’m working for Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin, looking after…

Miss Livingstone: ¬†Jamie. Yes, well, I can certainly understand why you’d want a book on problem children. […] Look, I’d like to tell you something about that little boy that you might not know. As another woman, I’m sure you’ll understand.

Reel Librarians | Library scene in 'The Pit' (1981)

Library scene in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

Although¬†Miss Livingstone takes the opportunity to warn Sandy about Jamie, it’s clear that, once again, she chooses NOT to¬†go to the police or other authorities to warn them about Jamie’s escalating behavior.

The next, and final, scene that takes place in the library clocks in at 37 minutes, when Miss Livingstone observes Jamie browsing the shelves¬†at the library. The camera angles on this scene are fantastic, revealing the librarian’s suspicions nature about Jamie. It also visually posits the librarian as the “peeping tom” in this scene. Role reversal!

Reel Librarians | Librarian observes Jamie in 'The Pit' (1981)

Librarian observes Jamie in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

Reel Librarians | Librarian observes Jamie in 'The Pit' (1981)

Librarian observes Jamie in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

The librarian then questions the library aide, seen shelving behind Jamie, about what he checked out.

Miss Livingstone:  What kind of books was that little boy taking out?

Library Aide:  Art.

Miss Livingstone:  What kind of art?

Library Aide:  Some drawing and painting. How-to-do-it stuff. And some on animal husbandry.  Maybe wants to be some kind of veterinarian.

Reel Librarians | Library steps from 'The Pit' (1981)

Library steps from ‘The Pit’ (1981)

We then see Jamie opening up one of the animal husbandry books on the library steps, where¬†he learns about carnivores. Uh oh! This is a pivotal scene, as the library book provides Jamie with knowledge about what to feed carnivores. He starts out buying meat from the butcher’s shop to feed the tra-la-logs… and then when his money funds out, he starts¬†feeding them humans! Convenient that he only feeds them people who have¬†been mean to him…

Jamie’s¬†next prank is quite complex, as he successfully blackmails the librarian. He waits until her niece, Abigail (which he keeps mispronouncing as Abrigail, very annoying), is out of the house and¬†Miss Livingstone is doing yoga in her leotard. He then plays a tape recording over a public pay phone with a pre-recorded message stating that he has kidnapped Abigail and won’t release the child¬†unless Miss Livingstone takes off her clothes. Jamie then sneaks under her window and takes pictures of her on his Polaroid as she undresses.

Reel Librarians | Peeping Tom and polaroids from 'The Pit' (1981)

Peeping Tom and polaroids from ‘The Pit’ (1981)

Major plot holes with this scene? First, Jamie makes NO ATTEMPT to disguise his voice on the recording, and Miss Livingstone has had several disturbing encounters with Jamie already. Why doesn’t she recognize his voice? (The commentary track also brings up this issue.) Second, he says on the recording that he’s watching her yet she DOESN’T BOTHER¬†to look out the window, where she could easily spot Jamie with his camera.¬†Third, a 12-year-old boy has pre-recorded the blackmail message, therefore having to anticipate the reactions of a 30-ish woman. Like I said before, another¬†very convenient plot point.

When Jamie takes the Polaroids home, he shows them to Teddy, who says,¬†“I’m going to look at these a lot.” Creepy! And then¬†I realized that these Polaroids of the librarian are actually included on the film’s poster. Double creepy!

Reel Librarians | Polaroids in a scene from and poster for 'The Pit' (1981)

Polaroids in a scene from and poster for ‘The Pit’ (1981)

We never see the library or librarian again in the film.¬†It’s interesting to note that Miss Livingstone does survive in the end, and there doesn’t seem to be any attempt on Jamie’s part to include her with the “bad people” he lures into the pit. (By the way, the aforementioned niece, Abigail, is not so lucky. She was mean to Jamie and played a trick on him with her bicycle. She got scolded by her librarian aunt for this trick, but that was not punishment enough for Jamie… )

In general, Miss Livingstone comes across as a pleasant, stylish, competent, and intelligent¬†woman (except for when she didn’t recognize Jamie’s voice over the phone). She is seen both inside and outside the library, including at home with her hair down) as well as¬†around town. The reel librarian is a supporting character, earning The Pit a spot in the Class III category.

Reel Librarians | Closeups of the librarian in 'The Pit' (1981)

Closeups of the librarian in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

As for what purpose or role she fulfills in the film? Primarily, she’s an Information Provider: ¬†she, or the library she represents, provides pivotal information to Jamie — unwittingly helping escalate his behavior. Miss Livingstone also provides a reference point, a touchstone, for the audience as she mirrors our growing dread and suspicion of Jamie.

Although she doesn’t actually portray a Naughty Librarian in the film, it’s almost as if the filmmakers are¬†pitting her character against that fantasy in others, namely Jamie. This is also echoed in the commentary track for the first library scene, as the film critic and film historian (both males) talk about how Miss Livingstone is an¬†object of Jamie’s affection.

1st commentator:  You can tell because the glasses are so enticing. [sarcastic tone]

2nd commentator: ¬†At some point … the hair’s going to go down and the glasses are going to come off, and she is going to be a hottie.

Here’s how the reel librarian character is described on¬†the Canuxploitation site:

“Miss Livingston is the world’s most uptight librarian and appears to hold some deep, dark secret which is never revealed.”

I don’t agree with this characterization, that she is “the world’s most uptight librarian.” I interpreted her reactions to Jamie’s behavior as quite understandable, as a woman who is trying to do her job and go about her daily life. Instead, she has to deal with unwanted and inappropriate — not to mention¬†unsolicited! — sexual attention and fantasies from a young boy.

Can you tell who¬†I sympathize with in this movie? It sure isn’t Teddy…

One final note: ¬†Although the creatures are listed as “Trogs” in the film’s credit, Jamie refers to them as “tra-la-logs” throughout the entire film. Every single time, this made me think of the “Mr. Trololo” singer and YouTube video clip¬†that made the rounds on the Internet a couple of years ago. More creepiness!

So that wraps up this year’s scary movie posts, an annual tradition each October on the Reel Librarians blog. Here are the scary movies and reel librarians we looked at this past month:

After collating this list, I also realized that during this past month we have looked at movies from four different decades: ¬†the ’50s, the ’70s, the ’80s, and the ’90s.ūüôā

Which scary movie post was your favorite? Please leave a comment and share.

Nymphomaniac librarian in ‘The Wicker Man’

That post title should get some visits for sure!ūüėČ

The 1973 British cult classic, The Wicker Man, is a slow-burning (hah!) mystery, a film that slowly builds tension and horror as the central character, Sergeant Howie, along with the audience, slowly put all the pieces together behind the mysterious disappearance of a young girl. The screenwriter, Anthony Shaffer, wanted to craft a more literate kind of horror film, and he definitely succeeded! 

Sgt. Howie is played by¬†Edward Woodward, a stick-up-his-ass policeman who travels from the mainland by boat¬†to a remote island to investigate the girl’s disappearance, and is frustrated¬†by the villagers’ attempts to mislead or thwart his efforts. Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark… er, I mean, Summerisle.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot of title screen from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Title screen from ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

When first released, the film did receive an “X” rating from the British Board of Film Censors, now the British Board of Film Classification. The BBFC site explains¬†why the film received that rating; the film is now classified as “15.”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot of X rating card for 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

X rating card for ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

*SPOILER ALERTS*

Ingrid Pitt, a¬†well-known star of the Hammer horror films of the early 1970s, is listed 5th in the credits as simply “Librarian.” But Pitt herself,¬†in a¬†documentary about the film, stated, ‚ÄúMy part isn‚Äôt very much, actually. What can a nymphomaniac librarian do? Not very much. But I thought it would be interesting to be involved in this type of film.‚ÄĚ

In another video interview, she states (with a wink), “It was a nymphomaniac librarian I was playing, and I always liked the librarian bit, because I’m really into books.

The Wicker Man : Ingrid Pitt Interview (1998),” uploaded by¬†Blackdog TV – Cinema, Standard YouTube license.

When I first watched the film, back in college, I thought this film was incorrectly listed as having a librarian, despite the “Librarian” credit for Pitt. Why? Because in one scene, Howie visits an office with a sign on the door that reads, ‚ÄúRegistrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages. Authorised Registrar for Civil Marriages,” and he researches the Index of Deaths. I had written back then that “The credits list Ingrid Pitt‚Äôs role as ‚ÄúThe Librarian,‚ÄĚ even though she works in a office clearly marked as Registrar.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Registrar sign in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

But¬†there’s more to it than that! It is confusing, as there are two separate scenes, and two separate sets or locations: ¬†one scene in the Registrar’s office and another scene in the public library, when Sgt. Howie researches May Day rituals. It adds to the confusion that Ingrid Pitt does appear in the Registar’s office scene but¬†not¬†appear in the¬†actual library scene. The film’s Wikipedia entry splits the difference, stating, “Ingrid Pitt, another British horror film veteran, was cast as the town librarian and registrar.”

So let’s dig a little deeper.¬†It’s “nymphomaniac librarian” time!ūüėČ

A little over a half-hour¬†into the 90-odd-minute film, Sgt. Howie goes to an office with a¬†sign on the door, ‚ÄúRegistrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Authorized Registrar for Civil Marriages,‚ÄĚ as seen in the above screenshot. He walks into a shabby, disorganized office, with cubbies full of leaning books and folders, and paperwork littering a desk, where a blonde woman sits, eating lunch.¬†

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Registar’s office in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Registrar’s tight-lipped smile in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

He asks to see the Index of Death, and she immediately responds, ‚ÄúDo you have authority?‚ÄĚ He has to get permission from Lord Summerisle, played by Christopher Lee.¬†Sgt. Howie threatens her with jail on the mainland, and she reluctantly opens a drawer and hands him a thin ledger, accompanied by¬†a curt, thin-lipped smile. This scene showcases the “Information Provider” part of her role.

She answers his questions with¬†civility ‚ÄĒ but no more ‚ÄĒ and there are a few closeups of her face, buttoned-up clothing, and braided bun hairstyle.¬†This scene serves a purpose, to provide a contrast with how we later see the librarian/registrar. (The Registrar’s messy, cluttered office, also provides a contrast with the clean and tidy library we see later.)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Closeup of Registrar/Librarian character in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

So let’s get to when Sgt. Howie visits the public library, an hour into the film, where he¬†researches May Day rituals. There’s a closeup of the stone sign, “Public Library,” and a well-lit, tidy room full of bookcases and tables. We hear an overlay of narration as he reads about the May Day rituals of sacrifice.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Public Library sign in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Research scene in the public library in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

What’s confusing about this scene, as I mentioned before, is that Ingrid Pitt is NOT in this scene very clearly set in the public library, even though her character is listed as the librarian. But there IS¬†another woman in the scene, an older woman with grey hair, who is clearly annoyed at Sgt. Howie when he reads aloud a few lines. When I first watched the film, I thought this woman must be the librarian, but that’s what I get for assuming!ūüėČ

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

A patron’s frown in the library scene

When do we next get to see the librarian? Sgt. Howie goes searching for the missing girl, vowing to search every house in the village. Upon entering one house and¬†bathroom, we get a glimpse of the “nymphomaniac” side of this reel librarian. Ingrid Pitt lounges in a half-tub of water, clearly naked, with her hair loosely pinned up. One hand covers her¬†breasts while the other hand rests in-between her legs. She reaches up to bite her thumb in a coquettish way — much different from her earlier, tight-lipped smile in the Registrar’s office! This visual contrast definitely emphasizes¬†the part of her role that is the “Naughty Librarian“!

Reel Librarians | Collage of contrasts for librarian character in 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Collage of contrasts for librarian character in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

Sgt. Howie is clearly embarrassed and stammers, ‚ÄúI‚Äôm sorry.” As he closes the door, we can see a lacy negligee hanging on¬†the hook.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Librarian’s negligee in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

And we get yet another clothing change for our erstwhile librarian. No lacy negligee but this time a peasant blouse and flowing yellow skirt, as well as flowing, loose hair, for her part in the May Day ritual.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Another look for the librarian in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

The librarian’s May Day costume in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

The librarian gets one more scene, toward the end, blocking Sgt. Howie atop¬†the cliffs. In again fulfilling the “Information Provider” part of her role, she helps explains why he’s¬†‚Äúthe right kind of adult‚ÄĚ they’ve needed and researched for their May Day ritual of sacrifice.¬†

Even though this is a reel librarian role that is never actually seen in the library — isn’t it confusing¬†that she is only seen, in a professional capacity, in the Registrar’s office, and not in the library?! — Ingrid Pitt does appear in scenes throughout the film. It is obvious, therefore, that she is an important person in the community, part of Lord Summerisle’s inner circle.

The story was inspired by David Pinner’s 1967 novel Ritual, but the novel was¬†uncredited in the film. I haven’t read the novel, so I don’t know if there’s a librarian character or not in the book. I also haven’t seen the 2006 American remake of the film starring Nicolas Cage and how closely it aligns (or not) to the book or the 1973 original film.

Has anyone else read the book or seen the 2006 remake? If you have, please leave a comment and let me know if a librarian character is in either one.

‘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!ūüėÄ

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‚Äô backgrounds. Tuite‚Äôs ‚Äúresearch forensics‚ÄĚ 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”ūüėČ )

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!ūüėČ

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‚Äôs ‚ÄėMeadowbrook High School‚Äô while the John Burroughs Middle School was used for the interiors.