Librarian by ‘chance’

“You beat the system.”

The movie Chances Are (1989) is a romantic comedy about reincarnation. A woman’s (Cybill Shepherd) husband is killed in the 1960s, and in a brief heaven scene — complete with fluffy clouds and angels with clear tablets shaped like the Ten Commandments — we see the husband head off to get reincarnated. The only problem is, he doesn’t get the all-important forgetfulness inoculation. Through the rest of the film, Corinne (Shepherd) believes her husband’s soul has come back in the body of her daughter’s boyfriend, Alex (Robert Downey, Jr.).

As you can imagine, the creep factor is quite high in this film. If Alex is Corinne’s reincarnated husband, then he’s dating his own daughter. If he’s not her reincarnated husband, then Corinne is stealing her daughter’s boyfriend. Oh, and she’s been cooking her dead husband dinners for over 20 years. And her husband’s best friend (Ryan O’Neal) has been in love with Corinne all this time, and has basically helped raised Corinne’s daughter. Like I said, the creep factor is high.

It’s a strange premise for a romantic comedy, and it requires a good half-hour or so of set-up and character introductions. The first time we meet Alex is about fifteen minutes into the film, as he coasts along on a book cart in the Yale University Library. This introduces his personality as boyish and fun-loving — traits at odds in a serious setting like the library.

Screenshot from Chances Are
Coming through!

He then coasts into a scene in which Miranda (Masterson) — whom is later revealed to be Corinne’s daughter — is getting schooled by a librarian called Mrs. Handy (Kathleen Freeman). The librarian is middle-aged, dressed in conservative layers and has short hair — but no glasses!

Let’s listen in as Alex does:

Mrs. Handy:  So you just assumed that nobody at Yale University or Yale Law School had any interest in checking out these 6 books in the last 3 months? You are going to make some lawyer. You owe $87.25.

Miranda:  Can I put that on a credit card?

Mrs. Handy:  This isn’t a boutique. Cash only, or we’re have to hold up your grades.

Screenshot from Chances Are
Look at that old computer!

Alex then swoops into action, coming to the rescue of the damsel in distress.

Alex:  Mrs. Handy. The rare books room. The Shakespeare folios.

Mrs. Handy:  Fooling with the folios?

Alex:  Yes and they’re fiddling, too. Go!

Screenshot collage from Chances Are
Fiddling with the folios? Horrors!

Miranda’s reaction as the librarian rushes off?

God. Is she always that awful?

Screenshot from Chances Are
Judging the librarian

Interesting to realize that the librarian replaces Miranda as the “damsel in distress.” And she is so worried about people “fiddling” with the folios — and her character name is Mrs. Handy. Such clever screenwriters. 😉

This “meet cute” scene continues as Alex jokes that the librarian is his mother — we are rewarded with a priceless reaction on Miranda’s face! — and then he magically wipes away the fines in the computer:

Uh-oh. This is bad. Worse than I thought. According to this, these books were never legally checked out. So that means I can’t charge you for them. You beat the system.

Alex then introduces himself, and we learn that he’s about to graduate. Miranda rushes off — she’s got a ride waiting, because she just had NO IDEA that it would take very long to return books that were 3 months overdue — but doublechecks that the “awful” librarian isn’t his mother.

This is definitely a scene played for laughs, and the university librarian fulfills the Comic Librarian character type. We laugh at her distress over the folios, which OF COURSE is what she gets for being mean to the pretty young girl with a credit card in one hand and overdue library books in the other. Oh, wait … am I showing my real librarian bias at this reel librarian portrayal? 😉

Another side note:  After rewinding this scene to make sure I had gotten the quotes right, my husband piped up with the information that the library fines turned out to be 15 cents a day. Doesn’t it sound like one of those word problems you had in school:

Your library fines total $87.25. You checked out 6 books, which are 3 months overdue. What then is the daily rate for library fines?

This “meet cute” introductory scene also recalls the “meet cute” scene in the 1970 film Love Story, co-starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal, one of the four leads in Chances Are. In Love Story, Ali MacGraw plays a library assistant and is the one who schools Ryan O’Neal.

Library scenes in Chances Are and Love Story
Comparing Meet Cute moments in the library

And in yet another coincidence, Robert Downey, Jr. starred in another reincarnation comedy a few years later, in the 1993 comedy Heart and Souls. That film also included a reel librarian character, a supporting character named Harrison Winslow, played by Charles Grodin. Harrison in  Heart and Souls turns out to be a Liberated Librarian — as does Alex in Chances Are. The librarian, Mrs. Handy, definitely fulfills the Comic Relief role in this Class II film.

For more examples of Comic Relief portrayals, click here.

And for more about Liberated Librarians, click here and here.


Sources used:


  • Chances Are. Dir. Emile Ardolino. Perf. Cybill Shepherd, Robert Downey, Jr., Ryan O’Neal, Mary Stuart Masterson, Christopher McDonald. TriStar, 1989.
  • Heart and Souls. Dir. Ron Underwood. Perf. Robert Downey, Jr., Charles Grodin, Alfre Woodard, Kyra Sedgwick, Tom Sizemore, Elisabeth Shue. Universal, 1993.
  • Love Story. Dir. Arthur Hiller. Perf. Ali MacGraw, Ryan O’Neal, John Marley, Ray Milland. Paramount, 1970.

Striking out in ‘Urban Legend’

Three strikes, you’re (checked) out.

Kicking off the first of four horror film posts this month, I caught the late ’90s teen horror flick Urban Legend (1998) recently on TV. I had never watched the film when it came out, because it felt like it was cashing in on the post-Scream spat of teen horror films. I wasn’t mistaken about that. 😉 The plot, such as it is, is about college students getting killed off in scenarios based on urban legends. Does that mean these urban legends are, gulp, real?!

No suspense in that rhetorical question, is there? Plus, there’s also no reel librarian in it. Strike one.

But there is a library scene in the film, so it ends up in the Class V category. It’s a short scene, a little over a half-hour into the film, when the main star (Alicia Witt, as Natalie) has finally made a connection with two recent deaths of her college classmates and visits the college librarian to research urban legends. OF COURSE Natalie doesn’t bother asking a librarian for help; instead, she randomly wanders around the bookshelves and happens upon The Encyclopedia of Urban Legends. As you do.

Prop library books in Urban Legend
Prop library books in Urban Legend

I also found it HILARIOUS that the prop manager didn’t even bother stocking the shelves with real library books. How can I tell? There are no call numbers on the spines or edges of the books! Strike two.

Screenshot from Urban Legend
No call numbers!

Natalie runs into — literally — a classmate, Sasha, in the stacks. It seems suspicious that Sasha (Tara Reid) is in the library, as she is a character who has her own sex talk campus radio show — I’m not even making that up — and whose lacy bras keeps photobombing her scenes. Until, of course, she reveals that she’s there for an illustrated edition of the Kama Sutra.  OF COURSE.

Natalie and Sasha then look through The Encyclopedia of Urban Legends together, highlighting for the audience various urban legend-related deaths featured in the movie, including large black-and-white sketches illustrating the roommate’s death, the boyfriend’s death, and the gang high-beam initiation. After Sasha leaves — to do her Kama Sutra-related homework, natch — Natalie gains a clue by checking out the book’s check-out slip.

Check-out card closeup
Check-out card closeup

The closeup of the card lists an author — Breen, Charles S.? — and includes the main subject terms mythsfolklorelegends.

By the way, the more accurate Library of Congress subject heading would be urban folklore. And no, there doesn’t seem to be an actual book by this title/author combo. (Yes, I checked. But you already knew that. 😉 )

Although there is no reel librarian, this scene does fulfill a common goal for movie scenes featuring libraries:  to find background info that will propel the plot forward. It’s a oft-used cinematic trick to fill in those expositional details. And although Urban Legend is not that memorable, the director does employ some interesting camera angles in this short library scene. First, the camera takes a bird’s-eye view as Natalie climbs the library steps, an angle also employed above the library bookcases as she wanders the stacks.

Screenshot from Urban Legend
Overlooking the library stacks

There are also interesting wide-angle shots with strong horizontal lines, as Natalie and Sasha browse through the encyclopedia.

Reel library in Urban Legend
Reel library in Urban Legend
Researching in the reel library
Researching in the reel library

The library setting, with its candelabra and classical statues as seen above, seems to be in an older building, or at least one with a nod to classical architecture. I’m not sure exactly where the library scenes were shot, but the IMDB.com page includes Trent University and Trinity College School, both located in Ontario, Canada, as film locations.

And by the way, later on in the film, Natalie teams up with the campus newspaper editor (Jared Leto), who reveals copies of the campus yearbooks in an alcove upstairs from the newspaper office. She remarks, “This is where you research all your lurid articles?” And, gasp!, the 1973 yearbook is missing — the key to the university’s own urban legend, the Stanley Hall Massacre. Do they return to the library to search for the missing yearbook volume, or for other clues relating to this major incident in the university’s archives? OF COURSE NOT. Instead, they sneak into the private office of a professor — the professor who teaches the folklore class, played by horror film veteran Robert Englund, wink wink — and nearly get expelled when they are inevitably caught.

Strike three.


Sources used:


‘The next three’ seconds

Where do you go to visually shortcut this kind of research process? You guessed it: a library!

My husband and I were scouting around for a movie to watch last weekend, and took a gamble on the Russell Crowe pic The Next Three Days, available for free through our OnDemand subscription. Crowe plays a man who tries to get his wife out of prison for a murder she didn’t commit — or did she? Although this was released in 2010 and starred not only Crowe, but also Elizabeth Banks, Olivia Wilde, and Liam Neeson (in a cameo role that made the trailer!), and was written and directed by Oscar winner Paul Haggis, I had NO MEMORY of this film. And that’s rare. How did this film fly so low under the radar? I blame the totally blah title. And generic-looking posters.

All in all, this was quite an entertaining genre flick, although not quite as smart as it thought it was — a signature vibe from Paul Haggis, IMHO. You know Elizabeth Banks had to be so psyched to get the role of Russell Crowe’s wife in this film, a role that played with the is-she-or-isn’t-she-a-murderer-mind-game with the audience. And then nothing came of it. Too bad.

Anywho, Sam and I were just getting into the film when BAM! A reel librarian flashed by! Twenty-three minutes into the film, John Brennan (Crowe) gets busy researching his wife’s legal case and the prison where she’s currently being held. And where do you go to visually shortcut this kind of research process? You guessed it:  a library! ♥ Although we don’t get any shots of John actually asking a reel librarian for help, we do get a flash — and I do mean a flash — as an older librarian (uncredited) rolls by the screen, pushing her cart of books. Definitely an Information Provider in a Class IV film; her reel purpose is to help establish the library setting.

Now you see her…

Screenshot from The Next Three Days
Librarian — and props! — in The Next Three Days

Now you don’t…

Screenshot from The Next Three Days
Blink, you missed the librarian

We also get a couple more shots of John taking notes, gathering up books — the title Handbook on Prisons is highlighted, call number sticker on the spine and all — as well as performing an advanced catalog search for related titles. Judging from the list of results, it was a pretty decent library catalog search, a rarity onscreen.

Screenshot from The Next Three Days
It’s a real book! I looked up that title, which was published in 2007, and edited by Yvonne Jewkes.
Screenshot from The Next Three Days
Screenshot of search results in the online library catalog

The library catalog screen reads “AlleyCat,” and y’all KNOW I had to look that up. Turns out, it’s the library catalog system for the Community College of Allegheny County, located in the Pittsburgh area. Now that’s the kind of accurate detail a real librarian can appreciate. 😀

That list of results also led him to this (fictitious) title, Over the Walls, with an author’s picture, seen below. Soooooo not accurate, because:

  1. Library catalog records do not include authors’ pictures, at least none that I’ve seen
  2. They don’t include info about where an author lives (dude, privacy issues)
  3. There would definitely be info in the publisher, pub year, and pages fields, or a note indicating that no such info could be found (but that’s really only for rare old books).
  4. The ISBN listed, 029019745716, is 12 digits, and ISBNs are either 10- or 13-digit numbers. But I still plugged in that number into the ISBN Search database. And yes, there is such a thing as an ISBN Search database. Now you know. 😉

But hey, it gives Liam Neeson a bit more screen time (hah!), and propels the plot forward for John to meet up with Damon, an ex-convict who has broken out of several prisons. And I totally get why they used an invalid ISBN for the purposes of the film, like they do with fake 555 telephone numbers.

Screenshot from The Next Three Days
Library catalog record

Moving on…

This reel librarian cameo reminded me of a very similar opening shot in Junior (1994), which I’ve compared below with The Next Three Days (2010). Don’t these look like almost the same shots?! There’s something visually compelling about this kind of angle, how the rows of library shelves focus in like a triangle. And you get kind of a voyeuristic vibe, which helps ratchet up the tension, I’m sure.

Screenshot from The Next Three Days
The reel librarian in The Next Three Days
The reel librarian in Junior
The reel librarian in Junior

And together, these two blink-and-wait-was-that-a-librarian shots reminded me of a scene in the 2007 Judd Apatow comedy, Knocked Up, in which the main guy in the film, Ben (Seth Rogan), is building an online database of porn scenes. To each his own. I’m not judging. 😉 And he and Alison (Katherine Heigl) are starting to watch a film together, and all of a sudden:

Alison:  Boobs! Boobs and bush!

Ben:  All right, credit bush! That’s the best; we’re not even five minutes in.

Except in my case, it could be:

“Buns! Buns and books!”

That’s right, folks. Stay classy.


Sources used:


  • The Next Three Days. Dir. Paul Haggis. Perf. Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson. Columbia, 1989.

First impressions: ‘Monsters University’

“What are you afraid of? You just angered a 40-foot librarian!”

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned how two members of my family had tipped me off to a reel librarian featured in the recent release, Monsters University (2013). Since that post went live, I have had five additional friends recommend I watch the movie, which I did over the Independence Day long weekend.

And once again, here’s the film trailer that features the librarian:

Monsters University – Official Trailer #3 (HD) Pixar” video uploaded by JoBlo Movie Trailers is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

First impressions? I loved it! Yes, it is VERY over-the-top, but as my fellow reel librarian blogger Maria states over at her Pop! Goes the Librarian blog, “I just can’t bring myself to roll my eyes. Sometimes you just have to laugh.” 😀

Monsters University serves as a prequel to the 2001 hit Monsters, Inc., and has shades of the creation story in it, specifically about the wee monster, Mike (Billy Crystal). He’s thrown out of the School of Scaring because he’s… well, not scary. But to get back into the program, he assembles a team out of fellow rejects, including Sullivan (John Goodman) to enter the Scare Games, a series of trials to crown the top scarer at the university.

So where does the library come into the story? It’s the setting for the second challenge of the Scare Games, and the challenge is… wait for it… “Don’t Wake the Parent.” And standing in for the parents — at 40+ feet tall! — is the ugliest monster librarian EVER on screen. I think I can state that with confidence.

From the trailer, you only get the front view, but from the side, there’s the additional bonus of a grey bun perched on the back of her head.

Monsters Librarian screenshot
A ‘Monster’ librarian

And SPOILER ALERT, what is this university librarian’s monster power? The ability to hear noises at twenty paces or less — and the ability to make the offenders feel her wrath by scooping them up with her squid-like tentacles and throwing them out the roof into the nearby lake. Another point in the “scaring pros” column is her shushing power.

But an obvious weakness? Her poor eyesight. Ahhh, the bane of almost every librarian. 😉 But I kind of loved how she didn’t wear glasses on a lanyard, but instead carried the horn-rimmed spectacles around on a stick, like they were opera glasses, or like a masque at a fancy ball. YES.

Side note:  The end credits featured rookie cards for each monster, and I was so wishing there had been one for the librarian. Like when she retired, she became the resident scarer at the university library. She WAS scary, so she was fulfilling her monstrous destiny.

I also liked how she unfolded herself from the desk; at first glance, she may look meek and small, but when angered, she turns out to be almost as big as the library! Also, her tentacles make her the best shelver EVER. 😉

The only downer for me was that while the challenge seemed to be about who could be the quietest, it turned out to be a challenge for who was able to not get caught. SIGH. Mayyyyyyybe not such a great lesson in the end. The ends do not always justify the means.

Fun tidbits about the Monsters University library and librarian:

  • The library is on the main quad, perpendicular to the School of Scaring (click here for a map of MU)
  • There are 89,000 books in the MU Library (click here for “MU At a Glance“)
  • The Monsters, Inc. wiki lists one of the librarian’s enemies as “People making loud noises in the library”
  • The librarian is a cephalopod, with six tentacles (Pixar Wiki)
  • To me, the librarian looks like a cross between Roz from Monsters, Inc. and Ursula from The Little Mermaid.

And, parting quote, courtesy of Mike:

“What are you afraid of? You just angered a 40-foot librarian!”

😉


Sources used:


In the ‘Bloomington’ stacks

Checking out? No, returning actually.

I have a confession to make. I often watch films set on college campuses in hopes of spying a library and/or librarian. Academia = research = libraries, right? 😉 Sometimes it works out (2002’s Abandon), and sometimes it doesn’t (see 1952’s She’s Working Her Way Through College). And the gamble did indeed pay off while watching the award-winning indie film Bloomington (2010) recently through Hulu.

*SPOILER ALERT*

The film, ostensibly set at Indiana University in the city of Bloomington, is a coming-of-age drama about a young woman, a former child actress on a hit TV show, who attends college in order to have a normal life. In her first semester, Jackie (Sarah Stouffer) falls in love with a female psychology professor, Catherine (Allison McAtee) — but also gets a chance to return to Hollywood. What will she choose?

Bloomington Library Stacks
The two central characters, Jackie (left) and Catherine (right), having a quiet (!) moment in the library

There are two scenes set in the college library, the first clocking in a little over a half-hour into the movie. There are several examples on my Master List of films that include sexy scenes set in libraries (see 1994’s Threesome, for example) — the same juxtaposition of sexy and serious underlies the Naughty Librarian character type, as well. And this is definitely a sexy scene,  albeit a short one rooted in the psychological “reversal of self-denial” theory. When Jackie comes across Catherine working on a scholarly article in a quiet space in the library, Catherine tries out her theory. The library as a place known for keeping quiet is the key to this scene.

Catherine:  So I figure if you’re so darn quiet when you don’t have to be [while making love in the privacy of Catherine’s home], let’s see how quiet you can be when you absolutely have to. [leaning in to kiss Jackie]

Jackie:  Are you nuts? Stop.

Catherine:  Hold on to the desk. Trust me, you’re going to need it. Shhh, quiet.

They both stop short when they hear a sound (a pen dropping in surprise?), and Catherine flashes a mischievous grin.

Cured.

But things take a turn for the melodramatic when Hollywood beckons Jackie back, and Catherine’s and Jackie’s love affair is discovered. Turns out, professors aren’t supposed to sleep with their students, no matter their sexuality.

Side note:  Pay attention to those student and faculty manuals, y’all.

At this point, I was thinking this would end up a Class V film — a library, but no sight of a librarian — but almost at the end of the film, there’s another library scene! As Jackie is preparing to leave Bloomington at the end of the spring semester, she brings in a huge stack of books into the library and up to the front counter.

Library worker closeup in Bloomington
Library worker closeup in Bloomington

The library attendant — most likely a student library worker — is quite young, with long blonde hair and a stylish white jacket. She is played by Megan Martz, seen above.

Library Attendant:  Check out?

Jackie:  No, returning actually. I just want to make sure I’m not missing any.

And while this friendly library attendant is busy checking — and my heart sang at this small scene highlighting that yes, one must return one’s library books at the end of a semester! — Catherine enters the frame. She leans over the library counter to ask the clerk a question.

Catherine:  Hi, is the May edition of the journal in yet?

Library Attendant:  Give me one sec.

Catherine and Jackie catch up, as they are both leaving at the end of the term. The stack of books served as a framing device to separate the two ex-lovers, with the tall stack literally creating a barrier between the two. But as the clerk dismantles the stack, as seen below, the distance between them ceases.

Library book stack in Bloomington
What goes up must come down…
Library book stack in Bloomington
Down come the walls of Jericho…

Finally, the library attendant comes back with Catherine’s article. (By the way, don’t you love how this article links back to the earlier scene in the library, in which Catherine is writing said article?! 🙂 )

Library Attendant:  Stark? One May edition of the Journal of Applied Psychology.

[NOTE:  Yes, the Journal of Applied Psychology is a real journal. It’s published by the American Psychological Association. I didn’t even have to look that up! I work with psychology journals all the time.]

Front library counter in Bloomington
Front library counter in Bloomington

And with a big, bright smile, the library attendant walks away, out of the frame and out of the picture, leaving behind a Class IV portrayal of a young, helpful Information Provider.


Sources used:


  • Bloomington. Dir. Fernanda Cardoso. Perf. Allison McAtee, Sarah Stouffer. Frontier Studios, 2010.