In Dewey’s country

In Dewey we trust, right? 😉

I was able to catch the 2007 TV movie, In God’s Country, recently on my cable subscription. It’s a film I saw ages ago, so I already had notes — but I hadn’t taken screenshots at the time. It’s interesting to go over notes I wrote years ago, to see what I focused on then and if the notes differ to how I view the film now.

Initial notes for In God's Country (2007)
Initial notes for In God’s Country (2007)

This Lifetime TV movie — which has been renamed The Ultimate Sin — is an earnest but ultimately mediocre effort taking aim at a big issue, the issue of young women who feel trapped in polygamous religious communities. Kelly Rowan stars as Judith Leavitt — her last name foreshadows the plot! — who “leaves it,” leaving her community, her house, and her life as she has known it. She takes her five children with her and tries to start fresh. Of course, they struggle to adjust living “on the outside.”

The children particularly struggle at public school (Judith reveals that she wasn’t allowed to go to school past grade 7). In one short scene a little over an hour into the TV movie, Judith’s 12-year-old daughter, Alice, visits the school library. Alice wants a book on astronomy in order to teach the names of the stars to her mom. She goes up to the library counter, where the librarian (Agi Gallus) is checking out books to another student.

Reference interview from In God's Country
Reference interview from In God’s Country

Librarian:  Can I help you?

Alice:  I’m looking for a book on astronomy.

Librarian:  Astronomy is in the 520’s.

Alice:  [shakes her head, clueless]

Screenshot from In God's Country (TV, 2007)
Uh, what?

Librarian:  520’s. Dewey Decimal system.

Librarian: [Hands stack of books to the other girl.] Millie, can you show her for me?

Millie: All the books are numbered. You just have to look at the spines. I know where the astronomy ones are because I like astronomy, too. Actually, I have a telescope.

Alice:  You have a telescope at home?

Millie:  You should come and see it.

The librarian here is friendly — and it’s nice to see a reel librarian in a bright color! — but as clueless about service as much as Alice is clueless about the Dewey Decimal system. She essentially passes off her reference duties to a young student, who has to explain the classification system to Alice. Peer learning can be great, but there was no good reason that the librarian couldn’t step out from behind her desk and do her job. Of course, the plot required that Alice make a friend, so I understand in terms of plot why the reference duty got passed on to Millie. But in terms of real life, this is NOT a great example of a reference interview!

Screenshot from In God's Country (TV, 2007)
Reel librarian from In Gods Country (TV, 2007)

Ultimately, this reel librarian ends up in the Class IV category, in which librarians appear only briefly with little or no dialogue. The librarian in this film is onscreen less than a minute, and fulfills the basic Information Provider role. She doesn’t provide that much useful information to Alice, of course, but the librarian also provides information to the audience. She is yet another example of how the “real world” doesn’t really understand what goes on in these kinds of communities and the impact of different social and educational structures.

At least the script writers got the Dewey Decimal system right, as this system of classification is the most common for school and public libraries. They also got the 520’s section right, as this is the general call number area for astronomy.

There is also a scene involving the 520’s — one with a decidedly less favorable ending — in UHF (1989) and starring Conan the Librarian. Read all about that scene here in this post. When I relayed this tidbit to my husband, he laughed, and said that I might be the only person to have made a connection between this TV movie and Conan the Librarian.

In Dewey we trust, right? 😉


Sources used:


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.

He’s… Conan the Librarian!

“Never before in the history of motion pictures has there been a screen presence so commanding, so powerful, so deadly. He’s… Conan the Librarian!”

I haven’t featured that many male reel librarians so far, so let’s bring out the big guns (or swords, rather) with Conan! The! Librarian! from the 1989 cult comedy, UHF. In this film, George Newman (Weird Al Yankovic) takes over an almost-bankrupt public TV station, and it becomes an unexpected hit. And one of those hits is showcased in a brief sketch — only 40 seconds long! — in the form of a television ad for the show “Conan the Librarian,” a parody of the famous “Conan the Barbarian” character created by R. E. Howard. I think it’s a bit fun, too, that the name serves as a subtle (and unintentional?) riff off the “Marian the Librarian” character and song from The Music Man (1962).

Conan’s first scene shows a balding, middle-aged man with thick glasses, cable-knit sweater, and tweedy jacket (really, doesn’t HE look more like a stereotypical male librarian?) who asks Conan the Librarian, “Can you tell me where I can find a book on astronomy?”

Conan’s classic response?  To heave the poor man up by his lapels, of course, and shout, “Don’t you know the Dewey Decimal System?”

FYI, the astronomy books would be in the 520’s. And as a librarian, I have repeated this line — and Schwarzenegger-type intonation —  many times. It is ALWAYS funny!

Conan then goes on to showcase more what-NOT-to-do examples for providing reference services, including slicing a young man in two because his books were overdue.

UHF Conan The Librarian” video uploaded by sirstrongbad is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

UHF successfully parodies the “Guardian of the Library” image and the librarian character types who display anal-retentive qualities — the Spinster Librarian and her male equivalent, the Anti-Social Librarian immediately spring to mind — who are prone to shushing anyone who dares to be loud in a library, or reel librarians who express over-the-top anxiety about late or damaged books. Conan the Librarian is a classic Comic Relief character type, with its crude portrayal of librarianship and extreme physical characteristics.

The scene’s over-the-top humor is more potent because it plays against type: a reel librarian, especially a male librarian, is often portrayed as weak or effeminate. Conan the Librarian shows off his physical superiority at every opportunity. (Fun fact! We first see Conan hanging out in the 613’s, which is the Dewey Decimal number for Aerobics.) Librarians are also usually portrayed as intelligent — even if a condescending type of “book smart” — and this Conan characterization riffs off of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dim-yet-tough brand of acting in his classic 1982 Conan the Barbarian. Although Conan the Librarian is a VERY bad librarian, he is a hero in one sense: he helps save the UHF television station. He’s so bad that he’s funny.

So although only 40 seconds long — again, a short scene provides an immortal reel librarian! — this scene packs a punch (literally) while laying waste to several reel librarian stereotypical traits. Just as Conan the Librarian helped save the fictional TV station, I think this funny scene and unforgettable librarian helped save the film itself. UHF was a notorious flop at the time it was released, but has since solidified fame with its cult status.


Sources used:


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