Call number shenanigans | Public library scene in another ‘Psych’ TV episode

I was still enjoying watching episodes of the Psych TV show before our Amazon Prime free trial ran out… and color me surprised when I came across another library scene — and this time, a librarian character! — in the Season 5 episode “Dual Spires.”(See my post from a few weeks ago about a school library scene in a Season 2 episode of Psych.) This episode, which originally aired back in December 2010, brilliantly riffs off of the iconic Twin Peaks series. Below is a 20-second promo for the episode, which includes a peek at the reel librarian on the intro image and at the very end:

The basic plot of this episode? Here’s the write-up from Prime:

Shawn and Gus receive a mysterious email inviting them to the Cinnamon Festival in Dual Spires, a quirky small town nearly invisible on a map. They arrive to find themselves embroiled in the mystery of the drowning death of a teenage girl — who was declared dead under similar circumstances seven years ago in Santa Barbara. Sherilynn Fenn, Sheryl Lee, Dana Ashbrook, Robyn Lively, Lenny Von Dohlen and Catherine Coulson guest star.

The call number clue

When Shawn and Gus arrive at the town — which has a population of 288 — they are on the spot when the girl’s body is discovered by the lake. Twelve minutes into the 50-minute episode, Shawn also finds the one spot of cell phone coverage by the lake — they’ve been told the town has no internet or phone coverage — and his phone goes off, alerting him to a new email.

There’s a close-up of the email message, which is one short line: F796.352

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Call number clue from “Dual Spires” Psych episode

I immediately screamed out loud, “It’s a call number!!!

Note:  Because I am a librarian, I also knew that this call number was a Library of Congress call number, a classification system that uses a combination of letters and numbers. And y’all know I looked up the general topic area for this particular call number, right? Class F, as according to the Library of Congress site, is the section for “Local History of the United States and British, Dutch, French, and Latin America,” and the call number range for 791-805 focuses on the history of New Mexico.

Back to the episode…

First library scene

A few minutes later, Shawn and Gus then bicycle to the local public library after a suspect, the town’s resident jock, says he was in the library during the night the teenage girl died. The first library scene occurs 20 minutes into the episode.

The exterior of the library kind of looks like a converted train station, doesn’t it?

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Public library exterior in “Dual Spires” Psych episode

The interior of the library reveals it to be one long room, with a fireplace on one end and rows of bookcases on the other. The librarian’s desk faces the door, and the middle of the room contains a chunky wooden table, wooden filing cabinets, and old-fashioned library card catalog drawers. The librarian’s desk has stacks of books piled up on it, along with a magnifying glass and a retro-style tabletop fan. Basically, this library is where time stopped in the 1940s.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Library interior from “Dual Spires” Psych episode

The reel librarian in this episode also looks like she hails from the 1940s, in her retro attire and hairstyle. Sherilyn Fenn, who starred in the original Twin Peaks TV series, plays the librarian, Maudette Hornsby. Her character name provides an initial clue that her reel librarian character is going to play off of reel librarian stereotypes, particularly the Naughty Librarian character type. Demure yet sexy attire? Check! Glasses? Check! Suggestive, flirty dialogue? Check!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

The reel librarian Maudette Hornsby from “Dual Spires” Psych episode

Let’s listen in on their conversation, which provides a lot of exposition and flirting:

Shawn: Excuse us.

Maudette: Shhhh. Keep your voice down, please.

GusIt’s just us and you.

Maudette: Just a bunch of words on paper to you guys, right? Wrong. Each is alive with a story to tell. Listen.

[Pause, as Shawn and Gus cock their ears in silence.]

Maudette: I’m just messing with you guys! Thanks for playing along. That was really sweet. I’m Maudette Hornsby. Isn’t cherry the best? [sips a cherry soda and straw suggestively, invoking the “cherry stem” scene from Twin Peaks]

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

GusThe best what?

MaudetteEverything, silly. I thought you were psychic.

Shawn I am. I am the psychic. But how did you know that?

MaudetteMmmm, word travels. You know, we don’t get a lot of gossip around here. So, untimely death, a psychic, and a black man all in one day. Epic.

ShawnI really thought we were being discreet.

GusDo you even know what discreet is? That’s a serious question.

ShawnI know what–

Gus:  [To Shawn] Shhh. [To Paula] Was Randy Jackson [the football star] with you the night Paula died?

MaudetteWhy? Do you think she was m-u-r-d-e-r-e-d or something?

ShawnM-a-y-b-e.

MaudetteYes, Randy was here. We have a very special bond, you see. His mom passed away when he was very young. Sheriff Jackson never remarried, so I sort of stepped in and filled a role. For both of them.

Shawn then spies a row of books behind the librarian, and the camera zooms in on the call numbers. These are clearly call numbers using the Library of Congress classification system, which uses a combination of letters and numbers on the first line of call numbers. But one call number in the middle reveals it’s part of a “Parent Teacher” collection, which is odd because none of the other spine labels have that designation. (My thought at this point was that the propmaster didn’t look too closely at their book props.)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Closeup of Library of Congress call numbers

But the glimpse of call numbers are enough for Shawn to put two and two together and realize that their email clue is a call number.

GusDo you mind if we poke around?

Shawn Poke. Peek. Peek around.

MaudetteKnock yourselves out.

Shawn and Gus then walk around the back of a standing bookcase, where Shawn reveals his deductions.

ShawnOkay, remember the last email, the one with all the weird hieroglyphics?

Gus:  They were letters and numbers, Shawn.

ShawnOkay, it was one of these things. [Points to a call number on the shelf.]

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Call numbers are not hieroglyphics, Shawn

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Closeup of Dewey Decimal call numbers

GusThe Dewey Decimal system? I didn’t even know they still used this.

ShawnThat’s ’cause people don’t want to crack war codes when the payoff is Jane Eyre.

GusWhat was the number, Shawn?

ShawnF796.352

Gus700’s, that’s sports and recreations.

Okay, I have to press pause on this analysis — and this episode, which I literally did in real life at this point — because THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS WRONG WITH WHAT JUST HAPPENED. Let me break down it down.

  1. I am usually #TeamGus, but WTF with the dismissal of the Dewey Decimal system?! That’s just cold, Gus. Just about every public library system worldwide uses the Dewey Decimal system.
  2. This second closeup of the call numbers, as seen above, highlights call numbers that are clearly using the Dewey Decimal system — which uses numbers only, between the range of 000’s to 900’s, for the first line of its call numbers — instead of the Library of Congress system we just saw seconds ago on books behind the reel librarian’s desk. And NO LIBRARY EVER IN THE HISTORY OF LIBRARIES uses both Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal classification systems for organizing their collections. You choose one or the other. Most public and school libraries go with Dewey, while most academic libraries go with Library of Congress. The only reason you would have both call numbers in your library is if you are in the middle of transitioning from one system to the other (which is so tedious, y’all, and most libraries don’t bother).
  3. Shawn clearly recalls the call number and says aloud the “F” in that call number yet fails to notice that the call numbers he just pointed to do NOT have letters at the beginning of their numbers. And Shawn is the one who is supposed to be so detail-oriented that he’s able to pass off those observational skills as being psychic. (Uh, spoiler if you’ve never seen the show.)
  4. Gus is correct that the “796” part of the call number falls in the “Arts & recreation” range of the Dewey Decimal classification system, and the 790’s are specifically “Sports, games & entertainment” (and yes, a search for 796.352 on WorldCat pulls up books on golf, because I am thorough, y’all, unlike the consultants on this show). But that doesn’t matter, because that “F” in front of that call number completely changes that call number from a Dewey Decimal call number into a Library of Congress call number. If the call number clue had JUST been “796.352,” I would not be getting ALL CAPSY right now.
  5. So the show switches — mid-library scene!!! — from Library of Congress to Dewey Decimal call number systems, and seems utterly clueless about THEIR OWN CLUES.

This show should have consulted with a real-life librarian, who would have pointed out that error in a nanosecond. And yes, I totally yelled that at the screen.

But the show wasn’t done being clueless. Because as Gus backs out and peeks at the librarian — slurping her cherry soda — we get more close-ups of books on the bookcases. And these books have NO CALL NUMBERS whatsoever on their spines.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Closeup of no call numbers

So. We have three different call number situations going on in this scene, within a span of 30 seconds:

  1. Library of Congress call numbers on a row of books behind the librarian
  2. Dewey Decimal call numbers on a row of books in a standing bookcase
  3. No call numbers at all on a row of books at the end of a bookcase.

The propmaster for this episode totally messed up. I. Am. Seriously. Displeased. And thank you, reader, for allowing me to rant online about my rage over these call number shenanigans.

But time stops for no librarian, so the scene continues as Gus and Shawn move around to the next bookcase.

GusThese books are archaic.

ShawnAnd really old.

GusExcept this one. [Pulls out a book, reads title.] Putt Your Way to a Better Life.

ShawnBy Earl Wyndam.

This is an inside joke for Twin Peaks fans, as “Windom Earle” was a character from the TV series. But y’all know I also doublechecked WorldCat for that title, right, just to be sure? Yep. No such title.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

More book clues in the “Dual Spires” Psych episode

GusMy short game could use some work. [thumbs through book]

ShawnThere’s no pictures?

GusThis is the weirdest golf book I’ve ever seen.

Shawn then takes the book and flips off the cover, revealing the book’s true title:  Reincarnation and Rebirth, by Ann Power. Clue!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Closeup of another book clue

Again, I looked that title and author up in WorldCat, just to make sure. No book by that exact title, although some come close, but there is an author by that name who looks to be an historian.

ShawnOur emailer wants us to think that Paula was reincarnated? We should get back to the lake. Juliet should have something by now.

As clues go, this one’s more than a little thin. But the object of this library scene is to get to the next clue. And set up another potential suspect, which the next shot does.

Shawn puts the book back on the shelf, replacing the cover. Immediately, we get a tried-and-tested scary-movie trick of a person’s face staring from the other side of the bookcase. This time, it’s a close-up of the librarian, who is giving her best “librarian glare.”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Librarian glare!

MaudetteYou’re gonna need a library card if you want to check something out.

ShawnI think we’re good, Maudette.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Two scared dudes

The reel librarian definitely scared them! (And the audience?)

Second library scene

This first scene in the library lasts only three-and-a-half minutes. The second scene set in the public library comes in at 29 minutes into the episode, when Shawn and Gus need some more clues (and a new suspect). This second library scene is even shorter, only two minutes long, but it starts out memorably, with a close-up of the reel librarian’s peep-toe heels — and her legs.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

A peep at the librarian’s peep-toe heels

ShawnNice shoes.

Maudette I know.

ShawnGus was wondering if you would like to be his date to Betty Boop Night at the road house.

[…]

Maudette [to Gus]:  Sure you can keep up with me? I like to dance ALL night long.

There is a suggestive pause, which includes multiple flirty looks from Maudette.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Reel librarian flirting

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Reel librarian flirting

GusWell.. Shawn?

MaudetteRelax. [Rolls her eyes.] Okay, here we go. This is the most recent Dual Spires yearbook.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Librarian to the research rescue!

ShawnThank you, Maudette. Feels a little thin.

Maudette Small book for a small school. [We learn that there were only 6 people in the graduating class, and Maudette’s class only had 3 graduates! Exposition much?]

ShawnPaula sure is in a lot of photos.

MaudetteOh, that’s not surprising. She loved the attention.

Shawn thumbs through the yearbook and then notices a clue. He does NOT have a poker face.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Clue face

Then as the guys leave, Maudette thumbs through the yearbook herself, seeming determined to figure out the clue for herself.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Librarian hunts for clues in the yearbook

There is another library scene in the episode’s final 10 minutes, a scene that sets up the final action, but I don’t want to give away any major spoilers. Let’s just say… Maudette is keeping a few more secrets that play a vital and personal role in figuring out the mystery and the murder(s).

Significance of reel librarian role

So what is the significance of Maudette’s role as a reel librarian? She is a supporting but memorable character, one who plays off both the Naughty Librarian and Information Provider character types, winking suggestively at Shawn and Gus, as well as the audience. Maudette also provides a lot of exposition and clues to the audience.

We also learn more about Maudette’s personal life, through details she and other characters reveal, like how she was close to the football star student and his dad. However, we never see her physically outside the library. She is physically — and, uh, literally — tied to her library until the very end.


Have you seen this episode of Psych? Did you remember this reel librarian character? Please leave a comment and share! And feel free to browse more TV reel librarian characters on my TV Shows page.

Sources used:

“Dual Spires.” Psych. USA Network, Dec. 2010.

Psych on USA Network – “Dual Spires” 12/1 Promo” uploaded by Psych on USA, Standard YouTube license.

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Conan the Librarian and Chainsaw Sally

It’s October, which means it’s scary movie time! I am commencing on my annual tradition of scary movie-themed posts during the month of Halloween. (Want to revisit past October posts? Just click on the Archives drop-down menu on the right navigation menu.)


A few years ago, I mused in my post about Chainsaw Sally (2004) that the title character, Sally, and “Conan the Librarian” in UHF (1989) would probably have a lot to talk about. Upon closer inspection, I believe that “Conan the Librarian” and “Chainsaw Sally” would be a match made in heaven… or hell?! 😉

Let’s explore the love and gore, shall we?

Conan the Librarian

“Conan the Librarian” is a brief — but memorable — character featured in a brief sketch in the Weird Al Yankovic film, UHF (1989). The character is introduced in the form of a television ad for a show on an almost-bankrupt public TV station. “Conan the Librarian” is a parody of the famous “Conan the Barbarian” character created by R. E. Howard, and the clip lasts only 40 seconds. But it’s enough time for two scenes featuring “Conan the Librarian’s” wrath.

"Conan the Librarian" character from 'UHF' (1989)

“Conan the Librarian” character from ‘UHF’ (1989)

Conan’s first scene shows a balding, middle-aged man with thick glasses, cable-knit sweater, and tweedy jacket who, with a tremor in his voice, asks Conan the Librarian, “Can you tell me where I can find a book on astronomy?

Conan heaves the man up by his shirt collar and shouts, “Don’t you know the Dewey Decimal System?!

Conan then goes on to slice a young man in two because his books were overdue.

Here’s the “Conan the Librarian” scene:

I explored this character more in this 2011 post, “He’s… Conan the Librarian!

Chainsaw Sally

“Chainsaw Sally,” the title character in the indie 2004 film, wreaks havoc on library patrons all throughout her film.

Reel Librarians | The lead librarian and title character in 'Chainsaw Sally' (2004)

The lead librarian and title character in ‘Chainsaw Sally’ (2004)

What counts as a killable offense in Sally’s library?

  • A man who talks loudly in the library, spouting off curse words and heckling his girlfriend for needing to finish a school report. He also ignores Miss Sally’s warning that he be quiet in the library. (See his fate in the YouTube video below)
  • A woman who never returns a book she checked out.
  • A woman who works at the local ice cream truck misspells “malt” on an order form and also makes fun of Sally when Sally tries to correct her misspelling.

I delved deeper into this film and title character in this 2013 post, “Little Miss Serial Killer Librarian.”

Conan and Sally sitting in a tree… K-I-L-L-I-N-G

Both films are cult classics, and both characters are quite memorable. Both films are also comedies, although on different points on the comedy scale. (UHF often feels like a long series of comedy bits and sketches, while Chainsaw Sally is more of a dried-blood “dark comedy.”) Conan also serves as Comic Relief while Sally is the ultimate Naughty Librarian.

What is the secret to a successful relationship? One often-read tip is to share common experiences and/or similar values. In a twisted way, that would ring true for Conan and Chainsaw Sally. To wit:

  • They both make fun of patrons for not understanding or appreciating rules or organization (Conan berates a patron for not knowing the Dewey Decimal system while Sally chastises a woman for misspelling a word)
  • They retaliate through violence (hacking, slicing, etc.)
  • They enjoy weapons to aid in violence, like swords and chainsaws
  • They believe in over-the-top and deadly punitive punishments for overdue books

So much to bond over!

Conan and Chainsaw Sally collage

Conan and Chainsaw Sally collage

Sources:

Chainsaw Sally. Dir. Jimmyo Burril. Perf. April Monique Burril, Mark Redfield, Alec Joseph. Shock-O-Rama Cinema, 2004.

Scene From Chainsaw Sally,” uploaded by OneMinuteReviewer, 2011. Standard YouTube license.

UHF. Dir. Jay Levey. Perf. Weird Al Yankovic, Victoria Jackson, Kevin McCarthy, Michael Richards. Orion, 1989.

UHF Conan The Librarian,” uploaded by sirstrongbad, 2006. Standard YouTube license.

 

The reel librarian in The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood’s classic and award-winning book, The Handmaid’s Tale, has never been out of print since its initial publication in 1985. It struck a chord then, and it continues to strike a chord today, recently returning to bestseller lists. A new 10-part series starring Elisabeth Moss will premiere next week, on April 26, on Hulu.

The Handmaid’s Tale Trailer (Official) • The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu” uploaded by Hulu is licensed under a Standard YouTube License.

This series, which looks like it will be pretty faithful to the source material, is not the first cinematic adaptation of Atwood’s book. That distinction belongs to the 1990 version of the film, starring the late Natasha Richardson in the title role. The film was directed by German director Volker Schlöndorff and the screenplay written by English writer Harold Pinter.

This dystopian tale is set in a world under a fundamentalist theocratic dictatorship, called the “Republic of Gilead,” in which fertility has become rare, and fertile young women, trained as Handmaids, are treated as slaves in the households they are assigned to.

The 1990 version

The 1990 film was received with a lukewarm reception, both by critics and at the box office. I agree with Washington Post movie critic Rita Kempley, who wrote that the film “is also a touch dated, though it remains an intriguing quilt of what-ifs.”

Here’s a trailer from the 1990 film version:

The Handmaid’s Tale (1990) – Official Trailer” uploaded by Shout Factory is licensed under a Standard YouTube License.

Having watched the 1990 film multiple times and read the book (I need to reread it!), I also agree that the impact of the storyline is weakened in the 1990 film version, including the ending and even the costuming (the handmaids wear sheer red scarves over their hair instead of the white “winged” headgear described in the book).

But the sheer power of the story and its all-too-familiar dystopian possibilities continue to linger in one’s mind, which makes the 1990 version still a worthwhile experience to watch.

Differences between the book and the film

In the book, the narrator — known as “Offred,” literally “Of Fred” — never reveals her “real” name, although it is implied that her name is June. She also never reveals many details of her occupation before the Age of Gilead, simply that she worked in an office. Very little is revealed in the book about the narrator’s appearance, except for this brief passage:

I am thirty-three years old. I have brown hair. I stand five seven without shoes. I have trouble remembering what I used to look like. I have viable ovaries. I have one more chance.

In the film, however, we learn early on Offred’s real name, which is Kate. We also learn about her former occupation, that she was a librarian. And of course with film being a visual medium, we immediately see what she looks like.

Getting to know the narrator

So let’s get into how the film reveals the reel librarian part of the narrator’s character.

At the beginning of the movie, right after the credits, Kate/Offred and her husband (Luke) are driving. Kate was the one driving, as we see her get out of the driver’s side. She wears glasses — a detail that we never see again in the film.

Reel Librarians | A screenshot from 'The Handmaid's Tale' (1990)

The narrator, first seen wearing glasses, in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (1990)

Kate, along with her husband and daughter, attempt to cross the border and escape. This attempt fails. Kate is separated from her daughter and sent to a camp to be trained and conditioned in her new role as Handmaid.

Fifteen minutes into the film, Offred meets the Commander’s wife, Serena Joy (played by Faye Dunaway), in her first placement interview. Serena Joy states bluntly to Offred:

Here’s how it works… If I get trouble, I give trouble back. Is that clear?

I’ve read your file. I know you’re not stupid.

Reel Librarians | A screenshot from 'The Handmaid's Tale' (1990)

Offred and Serena Joy meet for the first time in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (1990)

This detail — that others know that Offred is not stupid — is a thread the Commander (played by Robert Duvall) later picks up. It is obvious to all, including the audience, that Offred is educated and intelligent.

Scrabble and revelations

Forty minutes into the film, the Commander invites Offred into his private office for the first time, because he wants to “get to know [her] a little.” The narrator is understandably wary, but the Commander surprises her by wanting to play Scrabble! He asks her if she has ever played Scrabble before, and she responds that she had played when she was young.

Reel Librarians | A screenshot from 'The Handmaid's Tale' (1990)

The Commander and Offred play Scrabble for the first time, in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (1990)

As they wrap up their first game of Scrabble, their conversation continues, and this is when we first hear of the narrator’s former occupation.

Offred:  I can use my last three letters in one go. I’ve won.

Commander:  You certainly have won. Congratulations. I think you play this game a lot better than I do. I know you do. But I knew you would.

Offred: Why?

Commander:  Because you’re a librarian.

Offred:  Was.

Below is Natasha Richardson’s facial expression right after she says that last line, “Was.” It is an expression that is simultaneously wistful, proud, and defiant.

Reel Librarians | A screenshot from 'The Handmaid's Tale' (1990)

A closeup of the narrator’s face in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (1990)

Ten minutes after this scene, the Commander gives Offred a surprise gift for winning another game. This time, he brings out old copies of Vogue and Cosmopolitan, magazines he usually keeps locked up in a cabinet. The only books in the house are also in his private study.

Commander:  Now, what do you like? There’s Vogue, Cosmopolitan.

Offred:  I thought all this stuff was supposed to have been burned.

Commander:  It was. It was bad for people’s minds. It confused them. It was ok for me because I’m mature.

Reel Librarians | A screenshot from 'The Handmaid's Tale' (1990)

The Commander shows Offred his secret stash of women’s fashion magazines, in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (1990)

The significance of knowing how to read

The importance of these two scenes between Offred and the Commander is not really explored in the movie, but in the book this is significant because one of the ways the women are kept submissive is that they are no longer allowed to read. This comes out in the movie by the signs and grocery tokens that are in the forms of pictures, not words. The fact that they play Scrabble — in secret, of course — means she has to know words and letters, that she knows how to read. This adds an extra layer of subversiveness to these scenes.

Ten minutes after the scene with the magazines — another scene in the Commander’s private study — he tries tries to explain why “they” had to cleanse the nation, after Offred asks about what he does and why he works with “them.”

Commander:  Why? Country was in a mess, that’s why. A total mess. All the garbage had risen to the top… So we had to clean it up. We took a big hose and washed the place clean.

Offred:  I had a family and a job I was good at. I didn’t need cleaning up.

Commander:  I don’t mean you.

Below is Natasha Richardson’s facial expression after she says the line about having “a job [she] was good at.” She still clearly identifies with her former life, as a mother and as a librarian. Her facial expression, while still wistful, now seems to have a shade of hardened anger in it. This will prove important later in the film.

Reel Librarians | A screenshot from 'The Handmaid's Tale' (1990)

Another closeup of the narrator in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (1990)

Naughty Librarian fantasy?

At one hour and 18 minutes into the film, the Commander takes Offred on a secret outing to a building full of party-goers, businessmen, and prostitutes. He has forced her to dress up — for his fantasy of a “Naughty Librarian,” perhaps?

As they enter the illicit party scene, the Commander seems to take pride in knowing several of the women and referring to them by their former occupations, saying one was a sociologist while another was a lawyer. It’s almost as if he were collecting them, that in the future, he looks forward to boasting, “I knew a librarian.”

Below is a look at how Offred dresses up for the Commander — old Hollywood movie-star style, with a long black dress, gloves, and a feather boa — and reconnecting with her friend Moira, who tried to escape but has ended up instead a “Jezebel,” a prostitute.

Reel Librarians | A screenshot from 'The Handmaid's Tale' (1990)

Offred dresses up for a night in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (1990)

I won’t go into details of the film’s ending, only to say that it feels rushed and vague and doesn’t include the epilogue from the book.

What reel librarian role does Kate/Offred play in the movie?

This is a more difficult question to answer. Her character, as written for the film, is kind of the opposite of the Liberated Librarian character. She is forced to become LESS feminine in the film — except for the party scene — and it’s unclear by the end if she truly becomes liberated. On the other hand, her story arc (and her escape from the horrific reality of living as a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead) drives the film forward.

When I wrote my thesis years ago, I added Kate/Offred in the chapter on Atypical Portrayals. Atypical Portrayals of reel librarians, as I’ve defined them, include major characters whose portrayals go beyond stereotypical constraints. They are intelligent, well-rounded characters with lives outside the library.

Here’s what I wrote then:

She is independent, quietly rebellious when she needs to be but also openly rebellious when the time comes. Desirable to men, Kate also demonstrates a maternal instinct toward her lost child and to the men around her. Her job as a librarian is revealed only once, when Robert Duvall mentions it—the audience doesn’t need to hear that she was a librarian, but it does not detract from her strength as a character, either.

What do I think now? I would still put the narrator’s character, as written in this film, in the Atypical Portrayal category — mainly because she defies categorization. It’s clear that Kate did have a full life outside the library in her former life, but she is forced into a stereotypical box as Offred. But she continues to quietly rebel, in her own way and in her own mind, against these stereotypical constraints.

Why a librarian?

Like I mentioned before, there are many differences regarding the narrator’s character between the book and the 1990 film, one of which is that her former occupation as a librarian is clearly stated in this film adaptation. So why did screenwriter Harold Pinter give her both a real name and a defined former occupation in the movie adaptation? To give her more of an identity, as a shortcut to gain audience’s sympathy/empathy with the main character? Perhaps it was simply a way to provide a shortcut to the narrator’s intelligence that is referred to by several characters throughout the film. That as a former librarian, she’s not just intelligent but also that she knows how to read. That fact then makes her internally dangerous, however docile she appears on the outside.

As (real-life) librarians often say, “Once a librarian, always a librarian.” 😉

Ultimately, this detail of being a librarian in her former life lands The Handmaid’s Tale in the Class II category, in which “the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, but the librarian’s occupation does not directly affect the plot.” Like I wrote in my thesis, it isn’t necessary to the story to hear that she was a librarian — just as it wasn’t necessary to know details about her occupation in the book — but it does not detract from her strength as a character in the film, either.

I don’t now when I will be able to watch the upcoming mini-series, as I don’t currently subscribe to Hulu, but I will definitely put it on my list to keep an eye out for. If the new mini-series is going to be more faithful to its book source material, then I suspect the narrator’s character and former occupation will no longer be a librarian. But I will watch it, just in case!

And if you’ve seen the 1990 film and/or are looking forward to watching the new series, please leave a comment and share.

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. 🙂

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! 😉

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, “My part isn’t 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.”

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, “Registrar 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’s role as “The Librarian,” 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! 😉

A little over a half-hour into the 90-odd-minute film, Sgt. Howie goes to an office with a sign on the door, “Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Authorized Registrar for Civil Marriages,” 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, “Do you have authority?” 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 — but no more — 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! 😉

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, “I’m 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 “the right kind of adult” 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.