Angels in the library in ‘Wings of Desire’

“Tell me, muse, of the storyteller… Those who listened to me became my readers…”

I am following up on another reader question from my call earlier this year for reader questions and ideas, a question posed by Kvennarad, who left a comment that contained several very intriguing post ideas, including this one:

‘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.

Here was my initial response to Kvennarad’s comment, in my reader Q and A follow-up post:

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… 

And here it is, at least the first part of the idea to analyze Wings of Desire (1987), which is a truly haunting film.


Plot and atmosphere:


The original title of this primarily German-language film is Der Himmel über Berlin, which translates to “The Sky over Berlin.” I actually prefer that title, rather than the more generic-sounding Wings of Desire. We see humanity through the wanderings of angels throughout Berlin, including one particular angel, Damiel (played by Bruno Ganz), who begins to fall in love with a mortal woman. Peter Falk also stars in the film, playing a version of himself. I can’t say anymore about the plot, as I want to avoid any spoilers. This is a film to savor watching the first time, if you have not already seen it. (And let’s just say, it has almost nothing in common with its American remake, City of Angels, THANK GOODNESS, except for the barest of plot lines and the angels’ penchant for long coats. I analyzed the library scene in City of Angels in this post.)

Here is a trailer for the film, set only to music:

“Wings of Desire – Official Trailer (1987)” video uploaded by Patricia Gaia is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

There are so many beautiful moments in this beautiful film, including every time a child looks up and smiles in recognition of an angel. I tear up just thinking about it. None of the adults notice the angels’ presence; only the children notice them and share knowing smiles.

I had passively resisted watching this film until now, in part because of the *awful* American version of it. I suppose I thought the film would be too “arty” and depressing (the bulk of it is in black and white), but that’s what I get for assuming! The film is ultimately uplifting, and the director, Wim Wenders, sustains an atmosphere of bittersweet wonder with the lightest touch… like that from angels’ wings? 😉

In short, this film is special. See it now — for the first or 100th time.


Library scenes:


There are three short scenes set and filmed in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin State Library), where angels often go to hang out with humans. Another reason to love the angels, who obviously have such good taste — and not just in overcoats!

There is no reel librarian character that I could see, so this film does end up in the Class V category of films with no identifiable librarians (although Class V films might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries). But that does not take away the significance of the library in this classic film, as I demonstrate in detail below.


Library scene #1:


Sixteen minutes into the film, Damiel and his friend, Cassiel (Otto Sander), visit the Staatsbibliothek. The scene lasts 7 minutes in total as the angels and the camera wind their way around the shelves and different levels of this eye-catching library.

Angels visit the Berlin State Library
Angels visit the Berlin State Library
Angels like to read over people's shoulders in the library
Angels like to read over people’s shoulders in the library

Here’s how this online review at DVD Talk describes this scene:

“There are wonderful scenes on a plane or in the public library where the sound mixers scroll through the gathered people, moving from one inner monologue to another the way we flip through channels with our TV remote. In the library, there are almost as many angels as there are mortals, all looking for something interesting to commit to memory or maybe scribble down in one of their little notebooks.”

The sound throughout this scene is a hushed murmuring of voices/thoughts layered on top of choir-like singing. The effect is like that of visiting a church, and indeed, this library has soaring ceilings to match the soaring vocals. The director and the angels treat this space like a sacred space. In the book The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History, Laura Marcus argued that in Wings of the Desire, the angels’ affinity for libraries do indeed make the library a miraculous place.

This is very obviously a well-used library, filled with people — and angels! — in all corners. It also showcases that a library provides space and resources for many different kinds of needs and different kinds of users.

A well-used public library
A well-used public library

The scene comes to a close as Damiel takes notice of an old man slowly climbing the stairs, pausing every few steps to catch his breath and wipe his face. We see this man, the storyteller, throughout the rest of the film. His inner dialogue feels appropriate for such a setting:

“Tell me, muse, of the storyteller… Those who listened to me became my readers…”


Library scene #2:


This same older man is our link to the second library scene, when at 39 minutes into the film, we revisit the man sitting at a table in the library. This table is filled with a collection of globes of many sizes, and he is enthralled with a rotating solar system. The camera then cuts to the old man sitting at a different table in the library, this time thumbing slowly through a large book of photos. The angel Cassiel follows the old man through the library, just as the reader does.

An old man finds treasures to enjoy in the library
An old man finds treasures to enjoy in the library

This scene lasts only two minutes. But as Marcus points out in The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History, Wenders highlights the library as a tool of “memory and public space.” This is especially evident in this scene.


Library scene #3:


The final scene in the library lasts only a minute, but it is a memorable minute. Cassiel remains in the library, but this time, the tables and desks are empty.

One is the loneliest number
One is the loneliest number

The library is closed, the only mortals the cleaners, yet the angels still seek solace within the library walls.

The library after hours
The library after hours

Real-life library, trivia, and significance:


The movie was filmed on location at Staatsbibliothek in Berlin, Germany. This library is also featured in two other German-language films, Agnes and His Brothers (2004) and the TV movie Götterdämmerung – Morgen stirbt Berlin (1999).

Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, screenshot from the DVD featurette
Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, screenshot from the DVD featurette

The DVD features include an interactive map that also highlights the library, as you can see in the screenshot below.

Interactive map on DVD of Wings of Desire (1987)
Interactive map on DVD of Wings of Desire (1987)

The library clip on the interactive map lasts less than 30 seconds, but it reveals why the public library location was chosen for the film:

“The Staatsbibliothek was built between 1967 and 1978. It is one of the largest libraries in Europe, with a collection of over 8 million books and manuscripts. The quietness of the library, due to its acoustics, makes it an ideal place for the angels to tune into our thoughts.”

Here’s a look at that acoustic ceiling in the library:

Acoustic ceiling in the public library
Acoustic ceiling in the public library

Wings of Desire was both a critical and financial success, and as per its Wikipedia entry, “academics have interpreted it as a statement of the importance of cinema, libraries, the circus, or German unity, containing New Age, religious, secular or other themes.”

I will end with this thought, that Kvennard is certainly not alone is being haunted by the library imagery in the film. Indeed, the German news publication Der Tagesspiegel recently highlighted the film’s memorable imagery, in particular the library scenes:

“A film lives on such images that get stuck in the memory of the audience.”

Have you, too, seen the film and been haunted by its imagery? Have you seen the American remake? Please leave a comment and share!


Sources used:


Analyzing the library scene in the ‘Ghostbusters’ remake

There are some interesting library-related bits of trivia to explore in this remake. Buckle up!

Last year, I noted a library scene and ghost featured in the all-female Ghostbusters remake (or is it considered a reboot? Discuss). At the time, I compared the librarian ghosts from both the 1984 original and the 2016 trailer, and mused:

If that is indeed a library scene and librarian ghost, I am intrigued by the updates. Definitely a younger, sexier version of the ghost!

I wasn’t able to see the 2016 remake last summer, but I did recently check out the DVD from my local public library.

Long story short, no, that is not a librarian ghost sighting in the remake. {Insert sad trombone sound here.} This Ghostbusters remake lands in the Class V category, films that may have library scenes but no reel librarians.

However, there are some interesting library-related bits of trivia still to explore in this remake. Buckle up!


Opening scene in a library:


The opening scene in the remake begins at a mansion, the “Aldridge Mansion Museum.” (Definitely not as memorable as the original film’s opening scene in the New York Public Library, which I analyzed in-depth in this post.) A tour guide is leading a group of people through the first level of the mansion, which he describes as “the only 19th century home in New York City preserved both inside and out.”

Aldridge Mansion in Ghostbusters (2016)
Aldridge Mansion in Ghostbusters (2016)

He leads the group into a center atrium, surrounded on all sides by bookcases and iron railings on the second level. He then relates the story of the resident ghost, Gertrude Aldridge, who allegedly stabbed all the house’s servants one night. (Her character was based on the real-life Lizzie Borden.)

It is an impressive private library, although the word “library” is not mentioned at all during the tour. However, there is an “Announcements” sign by the guest book that includes “library hours,” as well as a large sign beside the velvet ropes in the atrium, which reads, “Aldridge Family Library, circa 1830.”

Tour of the Aldridge Mansion library in Ghostbusters (2016)
Tour of the Aldridge Mansion library in Ghostbusters (2016)

Library locale:


The “Aldridge Mansion” filming location looks to be the Ames Mansion at Borderland State Park, especially when you compare the photo above to this interior photo of the Ames Mansion library. The idea of the “Aldridge Mansion” being the “only 19th century home in New York City preserved both inside and out” is loosely based on the Merchant’s House Museum in Manhattan, which is open to the public. The IMDB.com Trivia page for this film also suggests that “Aldridge Mansion” may be named for the original film’s costume designer, Theoni V. Aldredge.

The Aldridge Mansion’s historian, Ed Mulgrave (played by Ed Begley Jr.) seeks out help from Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig), because of a book she wrote years ago, Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal.

Ghosts from Our Past book in Ghostbusters (2016)
Ghosts from Our Past book in Ghostbusters (2016)

However, Erin is not pleased to see him and is astounded that he has a copy of her book. (She thought she burned “both copies” years ago!) She is trying to earn tenure as a physics professor at a serious academic institution and does not want to be discredited by her background in the paranormal. In an effort to get her book off of Amazon, she visits her former friend and book’s co-author, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who agrees to take the book down in exchange for an introduction to Mulgrave. This brings us back to the Aldridge Mansion… and back to the library ghost!


Library ghost:


As Erin, Abby, and Abby’s fellow scientist, Jillian Holtzmann (played with kooky relish by Kate McKinnon), walk into the center atrium and library, we get to see more of the space, which is filled with mannequins dressed in old costumes, antique furniture, red velvet ropes, old lamps, and more.

The library in the Aldridge Mansion
The library in the Aldridge Mansion
Costumes in the Aldridge Mansion library
Costumes in the Aldridge Mansion library

The three scientists realize they are about to witness a real-life apparition, er, ghost. And out of the basement floats a spooky figure, dressed in a striped Victorian dress. She looks just like the portrait hanging on the second-floor railing of the library, so this ghost is very clearly the spirit of the daughter Gertrude. She’s definitely NOT a librarian — although based on her hairstyle and clothing, she does look like a younger version of the librarian ghost from the original, doesn’t she? Gertrude the Ghost does make a return in the final battle showdown, and she is also featured in the credits.

Ghost sighting in the Aldridge Mansion library
Ghost sighting in the Aldridge Mansion library
Comparing library ghosts from the two Ghostbusters films
Comparing library ghosts from the two Ghostbusters films

As Erin tries to communicate with her, the ghost projects green goo all over Erin. The ghost then flies out of the house, with the three scientists rushing out to try and track her movements. Abby has been filming this entire scene, and the video clip of Erin screaming, “We saw a ghost!” makes it to YouTube and Reddit… ending with Erin getting fired from her teaching position.

That, of course, leads to the formation of the Ghostbusters, with Erin, Abby, and Jillian joining forces with public transportation worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones)!


Additional library sightings:


More “library” sightings in the film include:

  • One early call leads them to a hotel and rock concert. When they arrive, a man is being led out on a stretcher and mumbling in Spanish. Erin attempts to translate what the man is saying and ends up (mis)translating, “There’s a chicken frying itself in the library.” Patty has no problem correcting her, “That is NOT what he said.”
Library mistranslation in Ghostbusters (2016)
Library mistranslation in Ghostbusters (2016)
  • When the Ghostbusters are driving to the rock concert, they pass by  the New York Public Library, where the original film opens.
New York Public Library cameo in Ghostbusters (2016)
New York Public Library cameo in Ghostbusters (2016)
  • During the title sequence, there is a brief ghost of Columbia University Library. A few scenes of the original Ghostbusters (1984) were filmed at Columbia University — although Columbia made a deal back then to keep their name out of the film!
Columbia University Library cameo in Ghostbusters (2016)
Columbia University Library cameo in Ghostbusters (2016)

Additional book-related trivia:


There are also a couple more interesting trivia bits concerning books and research tied to the film:

  • A little over an hour into the film, Jillian brings out a research atlas with a map of ley lines in New York City. This is relevant to the film’s plot and the Ghostbusters trying to figure out where all the paranormal activity is originating from.
  • The book that Abby and Erin co-wrote, Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal, was published for real as a movie tie-in book!
Book tie-in from Ghostbusters (2016)
Book tie-in from Ghostbusters (2016)

What are your thoughts?


Have you seen the Ghostbusters original and remake? Were you also disappointed that there was no additional librarian ghost in the remake? Please leave a comment and share.


Sources used:


Revisiting ‘The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler’ for its 50th anniversary

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of E. L. Konigsburg’s classic YA novel

This year marks the 50th anniversary of E. L. Konigsburg’s classic YA novel, 1967’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which won the 1968 Newbery Medal. I also recently read a very informative article from the always excellent Smithsonian Magazine online, “The True Story Behind Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Her Mixed-Up Files.”

Smithsonian Magazine article
Smithsonian Magazine article

The article’s author, Patrick Sauer, aptly sums up how beloved this book remains:

“If visions of Claudia and Jamie bathing—and collecting lunch money—in the Met’s Fountain of Muses bring up fond childhood memories of your own, you’re among the legions of readers who grew up loving E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. The classic children’s book turns 50 in 2017, and the tale of the Kincaid siblings spending their days wandering about the paintings, sculptures and antiquities, and their nights sleeping in antique beds handcrafted for royalty, is as popular as ever. The 1968 Newbery Medal winner has never been out of print.”

The article then goes into the many inspirations behind the book and Konigsburg’s writing, including this sweet memory shared by her son Paul:

“When we were in grade school, Mom would write in the morning. When the three of us kids would come home for lunch, she would read what she wrote,” says Paul Konigsburg, 62. “If we laughed she kept it in. If not, she rewrote it.”

The article also mentions the 1973 film version of the book, also released under the title The Hideaways, which I wrote a post about almost two years ago on this blog. The film doesn’t feature a librarian, but it DOES shine a spotlight on the vital role of research, as well as libraries, both public and private.

Public library scene in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1973)
Public library scene in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1973)
Private library scene in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1973)
Private library scene in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1973)

As I wrote back in 2015 about the film’s version of the “mixed-up files” scene:

The scene in the film is different from the book, but it’s still fun to see a visual representation of all those “mixed-up files.” Although, of course, they’re not mixed-up at all. They files are quite logically organized, at least according to the logic of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

And I learned something new about the film from the Smithsonian article — that the 1973 film version was the first film ever shot inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art!

I also learned that last year, the Met produced and released a video tour called “Can We Talk About the Mixed-Up Files and the Met?”:

#MetKids—Can We Talk About the “Mixed-up Files” and The Met?” video by The Met is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

And finally, next week on July 13 and 15, in honor of the book’s 50th anniversary — and of course, the Met’s starring role in the book! — the Met will host special Art Trek family tours featuring several exhibits mentioned in the book that are still in the museum, including the mummy and the bronze cat in the Egyptian wing.

Have you ever been to the Met? Are you a fan of the book? Please leave a comment and share!


Sources used:


Books and book-burning in ‘Fahrenheit 451’

“Is there not freedom in the very choice of which book you want to be?”

I recently rewatched the 1966 film version of Fahrenheit 451, directed by French New Wave director Francois Truffaut and starring Julie Christie in a dual role and Oscar Werner as Montag, the fireman who falls in love with books, the very thing he’s charged with burning.

*MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS THROUGHOUT*

Here is one of the original trailers for the film:

Fahrenheit 451 1966” video uploaded by DIOTD2008 is licensed under a Standard YouTube License.

The origins of Fahrenheit 451:


One of the major themes of the book, and resulting film, is about authoritarian censorship, the kind that led to book-burning in World War II. The finished novel of Fahrenheit 451 was first published in 1953, so this was still fresh in people’s minds.

The origins of the book, however, actually go back to 1947-1948, right after the war ended, when Bradbury wrote a short story, “Bright Phoenix.” This story featured a librarian who confronted a book-burning “Chief Censor.” Bradbury turned that story, plus another story in 1951 called “The Pedestrian” set in a totalitarian future, into the novella called “The Fireman,” which was published in the February 1951 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. Bradbury relished retelling the story about how he wrote “The Fireman” (which essentially serves as the first draft of Fahrenheit 451) in 9 days on a typewriter he rented in the basement of UCLA’s Powell Library for ten cents per half hour. He then expanded that story into the novel we know today.

In a dystopian future — one again, like in The Handmaid’s Tale, is too eerily familiar to modern times — books are forbidden and burned when discovered. In this future, firemen are trained to burn books, rather than prevent fires. Neighbors are encouraged to spy on one another and report those they suspect have books. Information (or rather, propaganda) is spread through television, called “wall screens,” as well as through comics-like publications, as seen in the screenshot below.

Montag "reads" the comics while in bed with his wife, in an early scene from Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
Montag “reads” the comics while in bed with his wife, in an early scene from Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

The hidden library scene:


A turning point in the film comes almost exactly halfway through the film, when Montag is called to the house where he knows Clarisse lives. Clarisse is described as Montag’s “rebellious, book-collecting mistress” on the back of the DVD case, but her role in the film is much tamer than that description suggests. His supervisor, Captain Beatty (played by Cyril Cusack), discovers a “hidden library” in the attic and cannot hold back his glee at the prospect of burning all those books:

I knew it. Of course, all this — the existence of a secret library was known in high places, but there was no way of getting at it. Only once before have I seen so many books in one place. I was just an ordinary fireman at the time.

It’s all ours, Montag.

Once to each fireman, at least once in his career, he just itches to know what those books are all about. He just aches to know. Isn’t that so? Take my word for it, Montag, there’s nothing there. The books have nothing to say!

Captain Beatty and fireman Montag discover a hidden library
Captain Beatty and fireman Montag discover a hidden library

During this scene and monologue — only the captain is talking, Montag only reacts — Captain Beatty expounds on different types of books and genres, dismissing each in turn. At the end, he finally reveals the reasons behind this society’s book-burning:

We’ve all got to be alike. The only way to be happy is for everyone to be made equal. So, we must burn the books, Montag. All the books.

This scene reminded me of the forbidden magazines scene in The Handmaid’s Tale and the reasons the Commander gave for their totalitarian regime. The reasons in The Handmaid’s Tale were different, that they needed to “cleanse” all the dirt and filth and sex from the world. The reasons expressed in Fahrenheit 451 come off as a search for a mythical, Utopian, and elusive “pursuit of happiness.” A generic happiness, but happiness nonetheless.


Modern martyrs:


The captain’s assertion that “the books have nothing to say” is directly contradicted in the next scene, in which the older woman refuses to leave her books.

Fabian, another fireman, rushes in to say that the woman won’t leave. “She won’t leave her books, she says.

Woman:  I want to die as I’ve lived.

Captain Beatty:  Oh, you must have read that in there. I’m not going to ask you again. Are you going?

Woman:  These books were alive. They spoke to me.

And so the older woman lights the match herself, to die as she lived, with her beloved books.

Book burning by choice
Book burning by choice

Truffaut also lingers several minutes over the burning of the books, with several close-ups.

Book burning closeup
Book burning closeup

In the final act of the film, Montag and his firemen troop are called to his own house. He is forced to burn his own hidden collection of books.

Montag torches his own collection of books
Montag torches his own collection of books

He is chastised and criticized by his captain:

What did Montag hope to get out of all this? Happiness? What a poor idiot you must have been.

His captain tries to grab the last book from Montag’s hand — we find out later this is a collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, Tales of Mystery and Imagination — but Montag finally breaks, blasting Captain Beatty with the fire hose instead.

Montag torches his own captain
Montag torches his own captain

Now compare this photo, of his captain lying facedown in the pile of books, ablaze, with the previous screenshot of the older woman, standing upright, proud and defiant. Both are martyrs of their own kind, but the woman chose to go up in flames.


The book people:


Montag goes on the run then, hunted by the state, but he manages to escape to a hidden Utopia, deep in the forest, where others have escaped and banded together. These people are known as the “Book People,” as they have memorized a single work of literature and recite their tales for anyone who wishes to hear. The “book people” scenes were also filmed last.

Here’s how the leader of the camp describes how they came together, the 50 or so at their station. But he mentions there are more of the books:

In abandoned railway yards, wandering the roads. Tramps outwardly, but, inwardly, libraries.

It wasn’t planned. It just so happened that a man here and a man there loved some book. And rather than lose it, he learned it. And we came together. We’re a minority of undesirables crying out in the wilderness. But it won’t always be so. One day we shall be called on, one by one, to recite what we’ve learned. And then books will be printed again. And when the next age of darkness comes, those who come after us will do again as we have done.

And the book people also burn books themselves! But like the older woman in the house, they choose to do so, for their own specific reasons.

Yes, we burn the books. But we keep them up here [pointing to the brain] where nobody can find them.

The book people have literally “become” their chosen book and even introduce themselves as such:

“Are you interested in Plato’s Republic?”
“Well, I am Plato’s Republic. I’ll recite myself for you whenever you like.”

“I am The Prince by Machiavelli. As you see, you can’t judge a book by its cover.”

“That man over there hasn’t much longer to live.”
“He’s The Weir or Germiston by Robert Louis Stevenson. The boy is his nephew. He’s now reciting himself, so the boy can become the book.”

The film clip below is a combination of the final two scenes from the film.

The Book People of Fahrenheit 451” video uploaded by Andrew David is licensed under a Standard YouTube License.

In a special “making of” featurette in the DVD’s special features, film historian and professor Annette Ensdorf gave her own interpretation of the film’s final scenes among the “book people,” stating that the people reciting their books at the end are just as self-absorbed as the narcissists we saw at the beginning of the film. Ensdorf sums up the finale and the “book people” as:

…instruments of the text — not really existing as a completely integrated social community but rather as individual icons.

But there’s the feeling of a certain muted triumph, namely that the book people will maintain a portion of civilization, that someday these books will still be alive, even if they are recounted rather than as written text.


Classification and connections:


Although the people literally become books in the end and could therefore be argued to be the only thing left resembling a librarian in a futuristic sense, I have to categorize this film in the Class V category, films with no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries. There are definitely library and censorship themes in the film, but no actual, identifiable librarians.

This contrasts with the “Books” in another sci-fi classic, Soylent Green. In Soylent Green, “Books” are former librarians and professors who become personal researchers in a dystopian future, a world in which books have ceased to be written and published. Books become rare commodities, precious treasures to be hoarded — but not due to fear of burning. Rather, books — and the people who take care of them, who then are referred to as “Books” themselves — are almost revered, and they have a unique power of their own.

In Soylent Green, the “Books” guard the past, but there is little hope for the future.

In Fahrenheit 451, however, the “Book People” guard, or consume, the past because they are the only hope for the future.

The book people in Fahrenheit 451 vs. the Books in Soylent Green
The book people in Fahrenheit 451 vs. the Books in Soylent Green

Books in Fahrenheit 451:


Here’s a list I compiled of all the books mentioned in the final scenes, in the order they are mentioned. The leader mentions there are around 50 or so around their camp, but says there are many others out there. A southern camp is also mentioned in the last scene.

These are some of the books we know that will live on:

  • Plato’s Republic
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  • The Corsair by Byron
  • Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • Alice Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
  • Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
  • Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
  • Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Jewish Question
  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
  • David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  • The Prince by Machiavelli
  • Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, volumes one and two
  • Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Memoirs of Saint Simon
  • The Weir of Germiston by Robert Louis Stevenson

Book-burning in Fahrenheit 451:


On the “making of” feature on the DVD, producer Lewis M. Allen shared this tidbit about censorship he experienced during the making of the film:

An interesting thing about censorship is that when we were doing the book burning scene, the studio… wanted to eliminate all books that were by living authors that were not in public domain, and the fact that they may be sued or whatever. And we just ignored that. We said, the hell with it, because I think everybody, anyone who was around who had a book being burned in there would be very much flattered by it. … So we ignored that and went right ahead.

Reel Librarians | Books in 'Fahrenheit 451' (1966)
Books in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (1966)

Allen also shared an amusing anecdote about how they compiled and played with all those books for the book-burning scenes:

To me, the most interesting part of the film… was the burning of the books, which went went on and on. And we had those books in our offices, we had hundreds of books, from the beginning of the film. And he would play with them. We’d go round and pick ones out, play with them, and toss them, and put piles and so on. Every day this was done, as a kind of ritual, which was fun to do, ‘cause we’d come up with strange books.


Homme livre/libre:


The screenplay was originally written in French, as it was director François Truffaut’s vision, so there were several puns that got lost when translated into English.

One of the best puns focused on “homme livre” versus “homme libre.”

The original script had a moment between Clarisse and Montag, in which Clarisse explains about the “homme livre,” which translates to “book man.” But in French, “homme livre” sounds very close to “homme libre,” which translates to “free man.”

Screenplay puns
Screenplay puns

As producer Lewis M. Allen shared on the “making of” DVD feature:

That was a nice pun, about the book people and the free people, livre and libre, which could not be translated.

Definitely an attempt to preserve the nature of the original pun in French, but it’s a pale ghost of the original.


Homage to the written word


"fahrenheit 451" by CHRIS DRUMM is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“fahrenheit 451” by CHRIS DRUMM is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The ultimate message of Truffaut’s film version of Fahrenheit 451 gets discussed by several people in the DVD features.

From film historian and critic Annette Ensdorf:

What you’re going to get is Truffaut’s really passionate homage to literature, to the written word, to the notion of a text as a living, breathing entity and process that can still affect us.

Ensdorf’s thoughts on the ultimate significance of the book people’s actions:

You learn it [the book] by heart, through the process of love. […] Is there not freedom in the very choice of which book you want to be?

From producer Lewis M. Allen, who praised Truffaut playing down several of the more overt sci-fi elements in the book, like the “mechanical hound,” because:

It would be very distracting, in fact, from the simple story of the books, which was really what he was interested in most of all.

From Steven C. smith, biographer of composer Bernard Hermann, who composed the music for the film and who was personal friends with the book’s author Ray Bradbury:

The act of reading becomes… the most romantic thing in Fahrenheit 451.

And in the music feature on the DVD, Ray Bradbury summed up the themes of the film’s musical score and its connection with the story itself:

What we have is a romance with books.


Final words from the author himself:


The DVD that I checked out of this film also included in its special features an interview with Ray Bradbury, who talked about how he first wrote the book in a library basement and how the title came about.

"Ray Bradbury, Miami Book Fair International, 1990" by MDCarchives is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
“Ray Bradbury, Miami Book Fair International, 1990” by MDCarchives is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

On reflection in 2002 special feature on the DVD by Universal Studios, Bradbury remarked:

I am a library person. I never made it through college you see. I’m self-educated in the library so anything that touches the library touches me.

You can also read a bit more background info and personal quotes from the author in my obituary post for Ray Bradbury, who passed away in 2012 at the age of 91. He was a lifelong and vocal supporter of libraries, and as he stated in 2009:

Libraries raised me.

Here’s to the “book people” around the world who stand up to censorship and advocate for reading, books, libraries, and librarians. ♥


Have you read the book and seen the film version of Fahrenheit 451? Please share your thoughts and leave a comment below.


Sources used:


The school library in ‘Blackboard Jungle’

It is effective in underlining the point that no place is safe: not even a school, not even a classroom, not even a library.

This week, we explore another school library in MGM’s Blackboard Jungle from 1955. This dramatic film, starring Glenn Ford, is credited to have helped launch rock ‘n’ roll music in popular media, as it played the “Rock Around the Clock” song by Bill Haley and the Comets over the title credits.

Title card from Blackboard Jungle (1955)
Title card from Blackboard Jungle (1955)
Intro card from Blackboard Jungle (1955)
Intro card from Blackboard Jungle (1955)

Blackboard Jungle is a very earnest film about teaching. Glenn Ford plays Richard Dadier, a veteran who wants to teach and make a difference in an inner-city school. The beginning scenes of the film go to extreme lengths to illustrate the juvenile delinquency mentioned in the title introduction.

One of the new teachers is Lois Hammond, played by Margaret Hayes. Almost a half-hour into the film, she offers to drive Dadier home and goes downstairs to wait for him. On the stairs, Ms. Hammond stops to adjust her stockings after a long day of teaching. She doesn’t notice a student watching her from below, but we, the audience, definitely get a sense of foreboding. (Plus, there were scenes earlier of other teachers — all male, of course — warning her about the way she dressed and “joking” that she was not safe among all the tough boys in school.)

Screenshot from Blackboard Jungle (1955)
That’s not the school librarian
Screenshot from Blackboard Jungle (1955)
A new female teacher stops on the stairs to adjust her stockings

As Dadier — pronounced “Dah-dee-eh” but, of course, gets switched to “Daddio” by the students — walks down the stairs a few minutes later, he notices a lone high-heeled shoe outside the door to the library.

Outside the school library in Blackboard Jungle (1955)
Outside the school library in Blackboard Jungle (1955)
Outside the school library in Blackboard Jungle (1955)
Outside the school library in Blackboard Jungle (1955)

Dadier hears a muffled scream from inside the library, and his combat training kicks in. He breaks the window with his briefcase and runs in, and he and the student chase and fight each other in the library. Destruction quickly ensues:  books overturned, a window broken, a free-standing globe knocked over, Ms. Hammond’s jacket torn, and more.

Library assault scene in Blackboard Jungle (1955)
Library assault scene in Blackboard Jungle (1955)

The student tries to escape by leaping head-first into a window, but Dadier pulls him back in. The student is led away with blood running down his face, and we later hear that he has been expelled.

Aftermath of the library scene from Blackboard Jungle (1955)
Aftermath of the library scene from Blackboard Jungle (1955)

Ms. Hammond is also led away, in tears, and another new teacher is shocked at this event.

What’s happened?

The bland reaction from one of the long-suffering (and jaded) teachers, played by Louis Calhern?

Why, it’s the first day of school, teacher.

There is a recurring subplot of blaming the victim for the sexual assault inflicted upon her. (Didier’s own wife — !!! — remarks that “Maybe she provoked the boy. Teachers aren’t allowed to dress sexy.” !!!) Didier defends Miss Hammond on that account, but I will not get into that (unfortunately still timely) social issue here on this blog.

The library scene, featuring Miss Hammond’s terrified reaction during the assault, also gets highlighted on one of the film’s posters (!), as seen here on the IMDb.com site.

Library assault scene from Blackboard Jungle (1955)
Library assault scene from Blackboard Jungle (1955)

What I will get into, however, is why was the library chosen as the setting for this scene of attempted rape? Why not a regular classroom? I think it was a study of contrasts, one that is admittedly very effective. Libraries are usually viewed — in reel AND real life — as safe, secure places. The contrast is therefore heightened between the common view of libraries as being safe places, juxtaposed with the actions of the violent sexual assault and ensuing fight. It is effective in underlining the point that no place is safe:  not even a school, not even a classroom, not even a library.

Miss Hammond is seen again, the very next day, but no more scenes take place in the library, nor is there any glimpse or mention of a school librarian. Therefore, Blackboard Jungle (1955) falls into the Class V category, films with no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries.


Sources used:


  • Blackboard Jungle. Dir. Richard Brooks. Perf. Glenn Ford, Anne Francis, Louis Calhern, Sidney Poitier. MGM, 1955.
  • Photo Gallery.” Blackboard Jungle (1955)IMDb.com.