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.

 

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6th blog anniversary giveaway winner announced

Thank you for helping celebrate the 6th anniversary of this Reel Librarians blog and website! To help mark the occasion, I announced last week a personal, non-sponsored giveaway for a $25 Out of Print Clothing e-gift card, as a small token of thanks for my Reel Librarians readers.

I used Random.org to select the random winning entry, and entry #1, “popegrutch” turned up the winner!

Reel Librarians | Winning reader comment

Congratulations, Michael! Thank you for entering my 6th blog anniversary giveaway — and thank you for being a longtime reader! I’ll be in touch soon via email to send the $25 Out of Print e-gift card your way.


Next week is Banned Books Week, and I have a special post planned that ties into the censorship theme. Stay tuned!

Literary librarians, reader question follow-up

A few weeks ago, I posted a follow-up to my call for reader questions and ideas, and I am following up with this question posed by my spouse, Sam:

As a writer, I’m interested in portrayals of writers in film (and since writers write the films, we get a lot of those). But there seems an obvious relationship between writers and librarians, and I’m curious how many Reel Librarians are themselves writers. I know you’ve touched briefly on literary librarians in posts about Before Night Falls, for example, but I wonder how common or rare this is.

My initial response was that I thought it was a very interesting idea, and one I hadn’t thought about before holistically, the relationship between writers and librarians or “literary librarians” and how often that is portrayed onscreen. It also made me smile that my husband wrote that “there seems to be an obvious relationship between writers and librarians” — and we ourselves are evidence of that, as a writer and librarian who are a couple! The obvious connection, of course, is research — and yes, I basically serve as my husband’s private librarian whenever he has research needs for his writing! 🙂

And of course librarians promote literacy — but what about librarians who are also themselves literary? Let’s investigate!


Reel librarians as writers, scribes, and translators


Before Night Falls (2000)

The Oscar-nominated biopic Before Night Falls (2000) explores the life of Cuban writer and poet Reinaldo Arenas (Javier Bardem), who struggles against the Cuban revolution and government censorship of his writings. As a young man, he enters a young writers and storytelling contest sponsored by the National Library — and the prize is a job at the Library! Although there are only a couple of brief glimpses of the library in the film, this job at the library came at a critical point in his literary career.

In an interview in The New Yorker, Arenas revealed that this job in the National Library was “a job that allowed him time to write.” In a Publishers Weekly review of the source memoir, the reviewer writes that “The young Arenas, in the early days of Fidel Castro’s revolution, gained his literary education working at the National Library; he then joined a fervent literary circle.”

Blade (1998)

In this action film, the title character Blade (Wesley Snipes) is a half-vampire on a mission to destroy vampires, while vampire Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) is on a mission to destroy the human race. In a brief-but-pivotal scene, Blade tortures Pearl, the Record Keeper (Eric Edwards), who confesses he helped Deacon by translating the Vampire Bible’s prophecy.

Ever After (1998)

In this Cinderella-inspired story, which I analyzed here in this post, Prince Henry (Dougray Scott) is trying to impress Danielle/Nicole (Drew Barrymore). Knowing the lady’s fondness for reading, he invites her to the Franciscan monastery library.

Reel Librarians: Ever After monastery library

Screenshot of the monastery library in ‘Ever After’ (1998)

They walk down the stairs of the monastery library and look over a railing at the monks in the library. It is clear, even in these few seconds, that these monks are not only reading their books and scrolls, they are also creating them (you can spot two of the monks seated at tables, complete with book and quill). They were the scribes and writers of their day.

UPDATES (8/14/17):

The Name of the Rose (1986)

Speaking of monks and scribes… here is an addition to this original post, as I had forgotten to add the monk librarians in this historical mystery thriller! In this medieval mystery set in a Benedictine Abbey, William of Baskerville (Sean Connery) investigates a series of deaths. Several scenes involve a restricted book, the abbey’s “forbidden library,” and its strange librarians hold the key to the mystery.

This Beautiful Fantastic (2016)

The weekend after I wrote and posted this round-up of literary librarians, we happened to watch this 2016 quirky comedy starring Jessica Brown Findlay as an obsessive-compulsive young woman who eventually discovers the joy of a garden. She also turns out to be a literary librarian! When asked what she does for a living, she states:

I work in the library. Filing, mostly, but really, I’m a writer.


Introducing others to literature


Borstal Boy (2000)

This biopic film, which I analyzed more in-depth here, is based on the autobiography of (in)famous Irish writer and activist Brendan Behan. The film focuses on his time in a borstal (a kind of youth prison/labor camp in the UK) during World War II. A prison librarian, played by Arthur Riordan, has scenes throughout the film, and it is he who introduces the future writer Behan to the works of Oscar Wilde, a “fellow Irishman, a fellow jailbird and rebel.”

The librarian in 'Borstal Boy' (2000) introduces future writer Brendan Behan to literature

The librarian in ‘Borstal Boy’ (2000) introduces future writer Brendan Behan to literature


Interacting with writers


In several films I’ve watched and analyzed, reel librarians — while not being writers themselves — frequently interact with writers. Sometimes in admiration, sometimes in aid, and sometimes in abetting. 😉

Wonder Man (1945)

In this musical comedy, Danny Kaye plays a dual role as nightclub singer Buster Dingle, who gets killed by a mob boss, and whose spirit then enters the body of his identical twin brother, Edwin. A a bookworm writing a history book, Edwin then gets involved with a young and attractive librarian (Virginia Mayo).

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

In this classic romantic drama, free spirit Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) finds love with writer Paul Varjak (George Peppard). There are a couple of scenes set in the New York Public Library; in one of those scenes, Varjak autographs the copy of his book that’s in the library collection. Instead of being appreciative of this “personal touch,” the librarian freaks out and exclaims that he is “defacing public property!”

Ma and Pa Kettle at Home (1954)

In this comedy, the 7th in a series of 10 “Ma and Pa Kettle” films, the eldest Kettle son writes an essay about the family farm for a college scholarship, and the whole family then scrambles to get the farm ready for the big city contest judges. We first see the “maiden lady librarian,” played by veteran character actress Mary Wickes, when she drops off a book about successful fruit growing. She then gets to be a total fan-girl when she meets one of the judges, Alphonsus Mannering (Alan Mowbray). It is through the librarian that we learn of the judge’s literary credentials:

I’m just simply thrilled to meet a literary figure of your stature. I’m a devoted fan of yours. I read your beautiful column every month.

I analyzed the film more in-depth here in this post.

Reel Librarians: Ma and Pa Kettle and the Maiden Lady Librarian

The librarian and the literary judge “meet cute” in ‘Ma and Pa Kettle at Home’ (1954)

Possession (2002)

In this literary drama, two literary researchers and writers (Gwyneth Paltrow & Aaron Eckhart) track down the correspondence and relationship between two Victorian poets (Jeremy Northam & Jennifer Ehle). In an early scene, Eckhart checks out a book at the British Museum library and answers questions from a nosy male librarian (Hugh Simon).


Related occupations or education


Fast and Loose (1939)

This comedic mystery revolves around a stolen manuscript and the rare books business. Joel Sloane (Robert Montgomery), a rare books dealer, takes a commission to buy a Shakespeare manuscript from a personal collection and private library. Joel meets up with his protégé, Phil Seargent (Anthony Allan), who is currently working as private librarian and secretary. The plot quickly spirals into murder. As Joel says early on, “something funny is going on at that library.”

The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (TV, 2004)

Does “perpetual student” Flynn Carsen (Noah Wyle) have an English literature degree among his 22 advanced degrees? This TV movie doesn’t specify, but Flynn does consider books as real friends, revealing early on that “they speak to me.” I’m also assuming that Flynn has written more than his fair share of graduate theses and dissertations, so I’m going ahead and including him in this round-up. You can read my analysis post of the TV movie here in this post.

Rome Adventure (1962)

In this romantic drama, librarian Prudence Bell (Suzanne Pleshette) quits her job at Briarcroft College for Women after the board reprimands her for recommending a “too adult” book to a student. She goes to Italy in search of adventure and love — and ends up working in a bookshop! You can read my analysis post of the film here in this post.

The film trailer below includes scenes from both the college and the bookshop:


Booksellers misidentified as reel librarians


Speaking of bookshops… there have been several instances of booksellers misidentified as reel librarians. These films end up in my Class V category of films with no identifiable librarians, including films that have been mistakenly listed on other sites or lists of reel librarians.

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)

In this highly stylized film, a crime boss’s wife (Helen Mirren) carries on an affair with another man (Alan Howard) at her husband’s restaurant. Howard plays a bookseller — not a librarian — and in one scene, he takes Mirren to his book warehouse.

The Final Cut (2004)

In this science-fiction thriller, Robin Williams plays Alan Hakman, a Cutter who edits together footage of a person’s memories for “Rememory” services after they die. One resource lists his on-and-off lady friend, Delila (Mira Sorvino) as a “rare-book librarian.” However, in the film, she appears to be a bookstore owner — or possibly, a restorer of rare books as part of the book shop business.

Night at the Museum (2006)

There is no librarian in this adventure comedy, but the bookstore in this film has been mistaken for a library. In this post, I go into how you can spot the differences between a bookstore and a library onscreen.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Night at the Museum' (2006)

The bookstore, not the library, in a brief scene in ‘Night at the Museum’ (2006)

Red Dragon (2002)

In this thriller, ex-FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) needs to look up a quotation he gets from Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). He gets help from a bookseller — not a librarian — who looks like a 1980s Madonna wannabe. I go into more detail here in this post.

Sitting Pretty (1948)

In this Oscar-nominated comedy, eccentric Lynn Belvedere (Clifton Webb) answers a family’s ad for a live-in babysitter and shakes up the family and the neighborhood with his manner and methods. A few scenes showcase the Book Shoppe Proprietress (Mary Field); she is not a librarian as listed on some other sites.


Summing up


So after going through the films I’ve watched and added to my Reel Substance section of the site, there aren’t that many actual “literary librarians” onscreen — at least that I’ve come across so far. The gold standard remains Before Night Falls (2000), a film about Reinaldo Arenas, a writer and poet who started out working at Cuba’s National Library. But if you expand that “literary librarian” definition to include reel librarians in related occupations — like librarian-turned-bookseller Prudence Bell in Rome Adventure (1962), or reel librarians who help writers, like the librarians in Wonder Man (1945) and Possession (2002) — then the pool deepens.

And if you’re interested more in real-life writers who were also librarians, you’re in luck! I explored that in a previous post, “Unreflected glory: Librarian authors and their mediocre movie adaptations” as well as this post, “The Quotable Librarian | Inspirational quotes from famous librarians,” in which I seek out inspirational quotes about libraries and librarians from real-life librarians themselves, including writers who were librarians.


More questions? No problem!


Thank you, Sam, for your question about “literary librarians” and for inspiring this follow-up post!

And if you have any reel librarian-related questions or specific films you’d particularly like me to analyze, please send them my way! You can email me through the “Ask the Real Librarian” link and form above.

Call for reader questions follow-up

Last week, I put out an open call out for reader questions and ideas, including:

  • Do you have a reel librarians question you’ve been wanting to ask, but you just haven’t gotten around to asking yet?
  • Do you have an idea for a post that I just haven’t gotten around to writing about yet?
“Question mark” by qimono is in the Public Domain, CC0

“Question mark” by qimono is in the Public Domain, CC0

Thank you to everyone who left comments on the post and/or emailed me directly. I really appreciate it! I wanted to honor the time y’all took to ask questions of me, so I’m pulling together the initial questions/ideas sent my way, as well as my first thoughts or ideas about each.


Writers and reel librarians


This comment came from Sam (full disclosure: he’s also my husband, so he’s super-invested in this blog by default!):

As a writer, I’m interested in portrayals of writers in film (and since writers write the films, we get a lot of those). But there seems an obvious relationship between writers and librarians, and I’m curious how many Reel Librarians are themselves writers. I know you’ve touched briefly on literary librarians in posts about Before Night Falls, for example, but I wonder how common or rare this is.

Very interesting idea, and one I hadn’t thought about before holistically, the relationship between writers and librarians or “literary librarians” and how often that is portrayed onscreen. This is a blog post idea I’m putting on my list!


Random musings


Kvennarad left a series of great ideas or musings via the comments section on last week’s post, so I’m going to break down each section:

Writers/libraries/marketing – I notice, for example, that a boxed collection of the Harry Potter novels plus all the spin-off books is being marketed as ‘The Hogwarts Library’. Interesting use of the word ‘library’ here, to mean “All the books you already have but need to buy again to make someone richer who is already very rich” (and, I might add, who has an honorary Doctorate at the University of Edinburgh AND the Légion d’ f-ing Honneur!).

This idea sort of relates to Sam’s suggestion, about exploring links between writers and libraries, but has a different flavor, into the use of “library” to give credence (?) to a marketing strategy. My first thought is to correlate this to the common usage of using librarians in films, period, to give credence to a plot line or a character. The underlying notion here:  libraries, and by extension, librarians, enjoy a large degree of trust by the general public. And writers, directors, and marketing strategy specialists definitely use this to their advantage! So I’m putting this on my list of blog ideas to explore… 🙂

Mr Norrell’s library of magical books in ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’ by Susanna Clarke -> adapted for TV.

I just added this to my Master List of reel librarian titles, for further exploration!

Christopher Lilly’s library in ‘Fingersmith’ by Sarah Waters, a library of pornography that grew by the addition of more material as it was written -> adapted for TV. This was possibly based on the real-life collection/bibliography of Henry Spencer Ashbee.

That sounds fascinating! Definitely just added this to my Master List of reel librarian titles.

The library of the Unseen University in the ‘Discworld’ corpus -> various adaptations. Ook!

This is one I’ve gotten to, yay! 😀 I have written about the Unseen University library, and its ook-y librarian in this post analysis of the TV movie The Color of Magic (2008), adapted from two of Terry Pratchett’s books, the 1983 work of the same name (although it is spelled in the English way, The Colour of Magic, the first in his famous Discworld series) and the second book in the series, The Light Fantastic.

Every novel and every adaptation of a novel set in a big house in England will, at some point, feature a library. This is a rule. Every novel and every adaptation of a novel where any of the characters are at university will feature a scene where a character is studying in the university library. These are the rules! 

This is so true! I primarily focus on the portrayals of librarians, rather than just libraries, but I have also often written about onscreen libraries, especially in film analysis posts of Class V films. I have thought about writing a post about private libraries, like the ones seen in films or series set in a big house in England (have you found your Gutenberg Bible, yet, Lord Grantham of Downtown Abbey?!) or in films set in academia. It is for that reason that I have added, and continue to add, mannnnnnny college- or university-focused films onto my Master List of films — sooner or later, as you’ve noted, there’s a scene in the library! 😀 For example, that’s totally why I watched The Rewrite, because it was set at a university, and I thought it might have a library scene, and perhaps a reel librarian. It didn’t end up having a librarian, but it did have a library scene — and the resulting post was actually quite interesting to put together and write!

‘Wings of Desire’ is an amazing film, with lots of footage set in a library… No reel/real reason why I include this, it just haunts me.

Yes, this film was already on my Foreign Films reel librarians list. I have also written an analysis post on City of Angels, the (inferior) U.S. remake starring Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage. It would be interesting to do a post about Wings of Desire, and then perhaps a follow-up comparing the two films and their two reel libraries/librarians. Adding this to my ideas list… 🙂


Exploring more firsts


Longtime reader popegrutch, who has his own awesome film site, Century Film Project, left a short comment with several very intriguing post ideas:

I would ask about some of the earliest things you’ve found: first reel librarian you’ve found so far, oldest library in a movie, first “liberated” librarian, first instance of each character type, maybe first of each class of reel librarian as well!

I have done a post about “Reel Librarian Firsts,” but that early post focused on librarian firsts in cinema history — not about exploring my own firsts of discovery with reel librarians. Hmmm… this has got me thinking… thanks, Michael!


Revisiting past reader questions


I also received an email from a reader, who preferred to remain anonymous, asking me to please revisit the previous questions readers asked me from the 2013 Reader Q&A post:

How many movies have librarians in them?
How many movies are there with librarians of color?

My Master List has definitely grown since that post I wrote four years ago, when I added up a running total of 1,041 reel librarian films thus far (pulling together the titles on my Master List, Foreign Films, and Short Films & Documentaries lists). I have also personally watched more reel librarian films in the last four years, as well. Back in 2013, from the films I have personally watched and added to my Reel Substance section, I had also counted at least 24 portrayals of reel librarians of color.

It would definitely be worth going back over those lists again and seeing how those numbers have changed!


Thanks again to everyone who rose to my challenge and call for reader questions! I count at least a dozen, if not more, additional blog post ideas stemming from these four reader comments/questions.

I’ll be back next week with a film analysis post, and then I’m hoping to dig into some of these great ideas. Stay tuned! 🙂

Ask the real librarian: Call for reader questions

I did a Reader Q&A post a few years ago, and I do a reader poll post twice a year, but I thought it would be fun today to put an open call out for reader questions and ideas. I’m a librarian, so it feels natural for me to answer questions!

Do you have a reel librarians question you’ve been wanting to ask, but you just haven’t gotten around to asking yet? Do you have an idea for a post that I just haven’t gotten around to writing about yet?

"Question mark" by qimono is in the Public Domain, CC0

“Question mark” by qimono is in the Public Domain, CC0

Or perhaps you’d like me to revisit some of the previous questions readers have asked me from that 2013 Reader Q&A post, including:

  • How many movies have librarians in them?
  • How many movies are there with librarians of color?

So, I am officially asking for you to ask me, the “real librarian” behind this Reel Librarians site, about your question(s) or your post idea(s).

How? There are various ways to contact me:

  • leave a comment on this post below
  • use the inquiry form on the “Ask a Real Librarian” link that’s also on the navigation bar above
  • email me directly at reel.librarians@gmail.com

Thanks in advance, and I look forward to your questions and ideas!