Casanova, the lover and the librarian, in real life and in ‘Casanova’ (2005)

Becoming a librarian, therefore, helped Casanova in preserving his legacy — and by his own hand, cement his place in history.

This past week, I rewatched the 2005 film Casanova, starring the late Heath Ledger as “the world’s greatest lover.” It’s a slight film, to be sure, but an enjoyable one amidst stunning backdrops. Heath Ledger is well cast as the title role, and a large cast of well-known actors — including Oliver Platt and Jeremy Irons (!) — romp their way through the film.

It starts off with a closeup of Casanova writing his memoirs, and flashbacks reveal tales of love and adventure (along with heartbreak). “10,000 pages, my life and loves. That’s just about 1 woman for every page.”

Casanova writing his memoirs in Casanova (2005)
Casanova writing his memoirs in Casanova (2005)
Casanova writing his memoirs in Casanova (2005)
Nice handwriting

So what does this have to do with librarians?

In REAL life:

Casanova spent the last dozen or so years of his life as private librarian to Count Joseph Karl von Waldstein at the Castle du Dux in Bohemia. In 1783, Casanova was exiled from his birthplace, Venice, for the second time, and from 1785 to 1798, he spent the remainder of his life at the Castle du Dux. While the job — and locale — must have been quite a lonely one, Casanova used that time well by writing his memoirs, Histoire de ma vie (Story of my Life). All 12 volumes of it! And it is because of these memoirs that we know his name today. Becoming a librarian, therefore, helped Casanova in preserving his legacy — and by his own hand, cement his place in history.

(See, librarianship helps EVERYONE. 😉 )

In REEL life:

Libraries and librarians are never mentioned in the 2005 film. There is, however, a literary angle explored in the film. Casanova falls in love with a young lady, Francesca Bruni (played by Sienna Miller), who is a (fictional) swashbuckling intellectual who writes philosophical texts under a male nom de plume. She visits a libreria, which is Italian for “bookstore,” as seen below (Library would be “biblioteca,” FYI). There are a few scenes throughout the film set in this bookstore.

Screenshot from Casanova (2005)
Libreria means bookstore, not library, in Italian
Screenshot from Casanova (2005)
Inside the bookstore

Additional fun reads about Casanova and other surprising former librarians:

There’s an interesting history to how his memoirs made it to the public, here in this article about Casanova on the Smithsonian site. The memoirs were published in bowdlerized versions all through the 19th century through the mid-20th century, and the complete text was not published until 1960. You can read the (bowdlerized) English translation of his memoirs here on the Project Gutenberg site.

You might also enjoy this round-up of 10 surprising former librarians. As well as my review of the book Casanova Was a Librarian: A Light-Hearted Look at the Profession, written by librarian Kathleen Low.

Sources used:

An FBI librarian in ‘The House on Carroll Street’

“Library. Wentworth speaking.”

I had watched The House on Carroll Street (1988) many years ago, and I recently had the opportunity to rewatch it in order to revisit my notes about its minor reel librarian character. Everything about the film is minor, even though it features some major stars (Jessica Tandy, Jeff Daniels, Mandy Patinkin, etc.) and tackles the heavy-hitting subject of McCarthyism. Kelly McGillis, fresh off her role in Top Gun, stars as Emily, who gets involved in an FBI investigation after refusing to give names to a 1951 House Un-American Activities Committee hearing. Emily also gets intimately involved with FBI agent Cochran (Jeff Daniels).

There isn’t much to tell about the plot, except it involves a lot of running, dark alleys, red lipstick, retro waves, fedoras, and dark grey suits.

One of those dark grey suits is filled by an FBI librarian (played by William Duff-Griffin), who runs some stills and footage for FBI agent Cochran about three-quarters of the way through the film. The middle-aged, portly, white male — complete with glasses and receding hairline — shows off his technical skills by handling the projector as well as answering the telephone. [Tongue firmly in cheek.]

Screenshot from The House on Carroll Street (1988)
The FBI librarian
Screenshot from The House on Carroll Street (1988)

He also shows himself to be a man of few words as he answers the telephone: “Library. Wentworth speaking.”

He then turns to Cochran to tell him that the boss wants to speak to him, which leads to the next plot plot; we learn that Cochran has meddled too much and has been taken off the case.

The FBI librarian is only onscreen for a few seconds and therefore ends up in the Class IV category of reel librarians. He serves as a typical Information Provider.

The film also includes a earlier scene set in a bookstore. Emily suggests the bookstore as a place to meet up with a suspected spy, thinking that it would be a safe place that no one else would think of. Wrong! They get caught immediately, and a chase scene ensues in the bookstore, complete with toppling bookcases and turned-over book carts.

Screenshot from The House on Carroll Street (1988)
Bookstore, not a library

And what is the main clue for how to distinguish between a bookstore and a library onscreen, as mentioned in last week’s post? That’s right, there are no call numbers on the books in the bookstore! 🙂

Screenshot from The House on Carroll Street (1988)
No call numbers! That’s how you know it’s a bookstore.

So long, dear readers, and I’ll see y’all next week!

Sources used:

How to spot the difference between a bookstore and a library onscreen | Book scene in ‘Night at the Museum’

Hint: Look at the spines of the books on the shelves.

For some reason, I had never gotten around to watching the 2006 family film hit Night at the Museum, starring Ben Stiller as a night guard at a museum where history comes alive at night… literally. But it has been on my Master List of films to watch, so I finally got around to watching it recently through my cable’s On Demand program.

Night at the Museum (2006) isn’t that great a film — there are some serious pacing issues, and too many random characters and meandering subplots — and there wasn’t a library or librarian in the film, after all. Wah wahhhhhhh. [Enter sad trombone sound.] Therefore, it ends up a Class VI film, with no reel librarians and no mentions of libraries or librarians.

But not all is lost. Ben Stiller, as Larry Daley, does do some research to figure out how to cope with all the exhibits and historical figures coming to life at night. About a third of the way through the film, he starts his research quest by first asking museum worker and historical researcher Rebecca (Carla Gugino) about Attila the Hun. The director then cuts to Larry sitting cross-legged, surrounded by books, and his own nose buried in a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Attila the Hun.

Reading in a bookstore, not a library in Night at the Museum
Reading in a bookstore, not a library in Night at the Museum

Larry then switches from old-school investigations to searching online, and we are treated to websites about the Easter Island statues, stagecoaches, monkeys, and Roman war strategies. And all of this research DOES pay off in the end, as he saves the day as the main culprit is getting away. How did he know what to do?

“I read up on my history. Thanks for the tip.”

Of course, methinks he would have had an easier time researching if he had asked a librarian for help! 😉

And how do I know that he is reading that book in a bookstore and not in a library? I can see where there might be some confusion, as the camera pans at the end of this brief scene to reveal some kids in the corner and the back of a person who looks to be shelving books, as seen below.

Screenshot from Night at the Museum
Yep, still a bookstore, not a library

There is one major clue in how to distinguish between a bookstore and a library onscreen.

Hint:  Look at the spines of the books on the shelves.

Screenshot from Night at the Museum
No call numbers!

That’s right, there are no call numbers on those books! A real library will ALWAYS have call numbers and/ or other kinds of labels on whatever materials stock their shelves. It’s how we organize collections, and how users locate the materials. Trust me. I’m a librarian. 😉

Of course, it doesn’t help when propmasters mix up this simple rule of library books needing call numbers and stock non-library books to fill out a library set, like in the movie Urban Legend. [Insert eye roll here.]

Also, the book that Larry is reading, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Attila the Hun? It’s not a real book, either. I suspected as much when I saw that whoever designed that fake book cover capitalized the word “the” between “Attila” and “Hun” in the title — which you can spot, just barely, in the screenshot above. You’re not supposed to capitalize filler words like “the” unless it’s at the beginning of a title, subtitle, or sentence, so it immediately looked strange to me. But I looked it up just to make sure. (FYI, I checked WorldCat,, as well as the Idiot’s Guides listings.)

Y’all knew I would be thorough, right? 😉

Sources used:

  • Night at the Museum. Dir. Shawn Levy. Perf. Ben Stiller, Carla Gugino, Dick Van Dyke. 20th Century Fox, 2006.

‘Sitting pretty’ in the book shoppe

The Book Shoppe Proprietress does exhibit some librarian-like behavior

In Sitting Pretty (1948), eccentric Lynn Belvedere (Best Actor nominee Clifton Webb) answers a family’s ad for a live-in babysitter and shakes up the family, as well as the neighborhood, with his particular manner and methods. This film spawned a couple of sequels, Mr. Belvedere Goes to College (1949) and Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell (1951), as well as the 1980s (and personally much-beloved!) TV series Mr. Belvedere, starring Christopher Hewett in the title role.

About an hour into the film, nosy neighbor Mr. Appleton (Richard Haydn) visits the “Hummingbird Hill Book Shoppe” — there’s a closeup shot of this sign as he walks by — in order to engage in a local gossip session with Della (Mary Field, in an uncredited role), the Book Shoppe Proprietress. Although she’s listed on some other film sites as a librarian, it’s quite clear she is the owner of the local bookstore. Therefore, this film belongs in the Class VI category of films with no reel librarians.

However, this Book Shoppe Proprietress does exhibit some librarian-like behavior, as showcased in her introductory scene.

Della:  Here you are, Mrs. Gibbs. I know you’ll enjoy it. [handing over a book]

Mrs. Gibbs:  Thank you, Della. I certainly liked the last book you recommended.

Della:  Good. Do come in again.

Mrs. Gibbs:  Oh, I will.

Mrs. Gibbs, Della the Book Shoppe Proprietress, and gossipy Mr. Appleton in a scene from Sitting Pretty
Mrs. Gibbs, Della the Book Shoppe Proprietress, and gossipy Mr. Appleton in a scene from Sitting Pretty

But after this pleasant exchange of reader’s advisory, Della engages in some decidedly UN-librarian-like behavior (I would hope) in gossiping with Mr. Appleton and helping to cause a local scandal. As seen below, even in profile, it’s obvious how much she she delights in this conversation, clasping her hands in anticipation.

Gossip, delicious gossip in Sitting Pretty
Gossip, delicious gossip

A couple of following scenes also feature the bookseller, including a quick montage of Della handing out copies of Belvedere’s “sensational new novel” to a cluster of customers. Also, as secrets of the community come out through Belvedere’s book, later we see a Mr. McPherson walking into the bookshop, seen below, and asking for a copy of the book as he’s heard a rumor that he’s been mentioned in it.

Book Shoppe Proprietress at work in Sitting Pretty
Book Shoppe Proprietress at work

Again, exhibiting librarian-like skills of organizational practicality, she quickly runs her finger down a “who’s who” list of those mentioned in the book, complete with corresponding page numbers. Essentially, she’s made her own index!

Index closeup in Sitting Pretty
Index closeup

Alas, this index ultimately belies her non-librarian status, as this list is in neither alphabetical nor numerical order. Tsk, tsk. So close. 😉

Sources used:

  • Sitting Pretty. Dir. Walter Lang. Perf. Robert Young, Maureen O’Hara, Clifton Webb, Ed Begley. 20th Century Fox, 1948.

Identity crisis in ‘Red Dragon’

She’s working in a bookstore — remember those? — not a library.

The 2002 film Red Dragon has been on my Master List for awhile, but I just hadn’t gotten around to watching it. Maybe it was my high regard for Manhunter (1986), which I found a far superior film to this version. Red Dragon seems to stuff in too many big-name actors, and the pace drags.

If you’re not familiar with either film, the story serves as a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs (1991). FBI Agent Will Graham goes into early retirement because of an encounter with “Hannibal the Cannibal” — sending Hannibal Lecter to prison — but then gets called back in to catch a brutal serial killer. Of course, Graham ends up consulting Hannibal on the case.

About 50 minutes in, Graham (Edward Norton) needs to look up a quotation. He’s shown looking up at a thin white female in her early 20s (Azura Skye), who’s standing behind a wooden counter and holding a thick book of quotations.

Bookseller looking up a quotation in Red Dragon
Bookseller looking up a quotation

“Ta da! Red breast in a cage!” she says, looking through the book’s index. She then finds the full quotation, “A robin red breast in a cage puts all heaven in a rage,” by poet William Blake. She confirms they have the book the quote’s from, and offers additional resources: “We have some books of Blake’s paintings, too. Wanna see ’em?”

She seems quite friendly — very smiley and slightly flirty — and quite knowledgeable about resources. The film seems to be set the 1980s (I think), which explains her early-Maddona look:  crimped, dyed blond hair, plastic hair clip, skinny tie over a denim vest and black dress, piled-on makeup, and lots of silver and black jewelry.

We also spot her — or rather, her crimped hair — in the background a couple of minutes later, as Graham looks through the book of paintings by William Blake. He comes across a biblical watercolor, “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun” (below), which provides a clue to the killer’s identity crisis.

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun (Rev. 12: 1-4), ca. 1803-1805, is in the public domain
William Blake (British, 1757-1827) The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun (Rev. 12: 1-4), ca. 1803-1805, is in the public domain

Martin Raish described the helpful young lady as “a gum cracking young blonde” on his Librarians in the Movies web site, and she seems to serve the same basic function as an Information Provider. Only problem is, she’s not technically a librarian. She’s working in a bookstore — remember those? — not a library.

What are the clues?

  • First, she seems to be standing above him, like she would if she were behind a shop counter.
  • We see lots of wood shelving, but the books are crammed in everywhere, with little breathing space. Quite unlike a library (hopefully).
  • In the couple of shots, you can glimpse a book display in the lower left-hand corner (see below). Multiple copies of several titles are facing outward, like in displays at a bookstore’s front counter.
  • And finally… the actress is listed as “Bookseller” in the credits.
Bookseller, not librarian in Red Dragon
Bookseller, not librarian

So why the choice of a bookseller, rather than a librarian? It might have simply been a visual opportunity to solidify the time period, and a librarian at that time might not be as believable if dressed as a Madonna wannabe. Most of the film seems to be set at nighttime (because it’s spookier?), so maybe the public library would have been closed already. But I’m probably overthinking it.

A few minutes after the quotations scene, my ears perked up when a fellow detective (Ken Leung) runs off for another clue and shouts for the others to meet him “at the library.” The resulting short scene shows him at the Library of Congress, but alas, no librarian in sight. There is yet another teaser, with a Museum Secretary (Hillary Straney) and an uncredited Museum Curator (Mary Beth Hurt), who both appear for a few seconds late in the film.

The bookseller in this film serves the same function as an Information Provider librarian, but, technically, this films joins others in the Class VI category — films with no identifiable librarians and are a result of a listing error.

Sources used:

  • Raish, Martin. “The A Group.” Librarians in the Movies: An Annotated Filmography, 5 August 2011.
  • Red Dragon. Dir. Brett Ratner. Perf. Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson. Universal, 2002.
%d bloggers like this: