‘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.
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