First impressions: ‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum’ (2019) and its memorable fight scene in the NYPL

This man had no time to waste, and neither did the librarian.

I was NOT planning to write about the new film John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum when I went to see it a couple of weeks ago during its opening weekend. I’d seen the two previous John Wick installments in theaters, so this outing to its third chapter was planned as a fun date night out. But when John Wick hails a cab within the first 5-10 minutes of the movie and directs the taxi driver to the New York Public Library, I knew my next post HAD to be about this movie.

And yes, a little bit of me felt like saying, “Dammit! There’s going to be a library scene, so now I have to really pay attention to this movie!” This happens to me ALL the time, y’all. Librarians and libraries pop up everywhere in movies, just when you least expect it.

What’s a “first impressions” post?

First things first, “first impressions” posts focus on current films that I have watched in theaters that include reel librarians and/or library or archives scenes. The resulting posts are necessarily less detailed — hence the “first impressions” moniker — as I don’t have the luxury of rewatching scenes and taking notes in the movie theater. I do, however, take notes as soon as I can after watching the film. I also was able to rewatch most of this library scene and grab some (grainy) screenshots, thanks to a few YouTube videos.

***MILD SPOILERS AHEAD***

John Wick’s reference interview

Now, back to the movie… when John Wick’s cab gets stuck in traffic, he runs to the NYPL’s central branch and then up the center aisle to the front circulation counter. A white, female librarian with a no-nonsense attitude asks if she can help him. She is older, has short brown hair, and is wearing glasses and a cardigan; her character displays all of the (stereo)typical visual cues of a reel librarian, except for the bun. Susan Blommaert is credited as the Librarian, and she mirrors John Wick’s impassive facial expression.

John Wick’s taciturn reference request?

Russian Folk Tale, Aleksandr Afanasyev, 1864.

The librarian doesn’t ask any follow-up questions in this brief reference interview. Instead, we hear her typing (I’m assuming in a library catalog search screen) and then writes something on a slip of paper (I’m assuming a call number). John Wick stares down at the slip of paper, then back at the librarian, who then points her finger to the right.

Her equally taciturn response?

Level 2.

This is the barest-bones reference interview I think I have ever seen onscreen. And one of the most successful, as we next see John Wick walk down a row of books, straight to the book he needs. This man had no time to waste, and neither did the librarian. To my mind, she is a highly efficient Information Provider in a Class III film.

Side note: Is real life like that? Not quite… Slate’s Natalia Winkelman wanted to see if she could replicate this reference request at the NYPL, and you can read her real-life reference interview experience here. Winkelman also answers the question of whether this book really exists. Bless. ♥

Shhhh! This library book has a secret

When John Wick slides out the exact book he needs and opens it up, we find out that he has hollowed out the inside! He has stashed valuables in this book’s hidey-hole, including a large token, a rosary with a large cross, a few coins, and a photograph of his dead wife.

Library book prop in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)
Library book prop!

At this point, five thoughts flashed through my head, in this order (it took me longer to suss them out completely on the page):

  1. A book published in 1864 would be out in the main circulating stacks? I don’t think so! That kind of book would probably be super valuable and in an archives or rare books room somewhere. (And this is one of the things that Winkelman found out in the article I referenced above, hah!)
  2. The idea of carving out a hidey-hole in an actual library book — and a rare one at that! — made my librarian heart gasp in dismay. And it is likely to be an actual library book he mutilated, rather than a book he brought from the outside and just placed on the shelves, because otherwise the book wouldn’t have come up in a library catalog search. Unless he swapped a copy of the library book for the real book, which is possible, but he would had to have made a replica call number. It’s also possible I’m overthinking this point… next!
  3. It’s condescending to think that NO ONE would be interested enough in Russian folk tales to check this book out and discover its secret. Every subject out there has its dedicated researchers, and in my experience, folk tales are perennially popular. And if the book were not popular and had no check-outs whatsoever, then it would have been a prime candidate for librarians to (eventually) weed from the collection.
  4. I did mentally pause to appreciate the fact that this scene was filmed in a library — or at least uses or mimics real library book props — because all of the books on the shelves have… say it with me, now… CALL NUMBERS! 😉
  5. Alas, I could not make out the actual call number on the book John Wick slides out or the call numbers in the books around it. If the propmaster wanted to be accurate, the call number would most likely be in the 398.2 call number range, as that’s the Dewey Decimal call number for folk tales and folklore. (And yes, afterward I searched for “Russian folk tales” in the NYPL online library catalog, and that’s the general call number used. I am thorough, y’all. Goes with the librarian territory. 😉 )

Side note: This scene was actually filmed at NYPL’s main branch, as they are thanked in the film’s credits and acknowledgments.

Fight scene in the library!

As John Wick prepares to reshelve the book, a fellow hitman walks around the corner, quoting Dante. This hitman, named Ernest, is played by 7-foot-3 Boban Marjanovic, an NBA player. He towers over Keanu Reeves by more than a foot.

Ernest towers over John Wick, as seen in the library fight scene in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Ernest towers over John Wick

Ernest has come to kill John Wick and claim the reward money. (Context: Wick broke the rules at the end of Chapter 2, so he was given an hour of freedom before the contract to kill him went live. Chapter 3 starts off, time-wise, immediately after the events of Chapter 2.) No rest for the ‘Wick’-ed! 😉

John Wick: I still have time.

Ernest: It’s almost up. Who’s gonna know the difference?

Ernest then pulls out a knife, and the fight begins in earnest. (Pun intended. I couldn’t help myself! Again. 😉 )

At one point during the fight, Ernest shushes Wick. THE NERVE.

Shushing John Wick during the library fight scene in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Shushing John Wick

The entire fight scene lasts about a minute, and John Wick eventually defeats his foe with the SAME book he came to the library for.

I admit, I was thinking about this scene’s similarity to a fight scene in 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy, in which Jason Bourne fights off a fellow assassin with a rolled-up magazine.

Fight in the library stacks in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Fight in the library stacks!

Don’t try this at home the library

And then the kicker. John Wick stands up, walks back into the stacks, and then REPLACES THE LIBRARY BOOK on the shelf, bloodstains and all.

John Wick goes back to replace the library book in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
John Wick goes back to replace the library book

This detail is lauded in several reviews and articles:

Wick’s respect for library protocol is made plain, however — after using a book (Russian Folk Tale, Aleksandr Afanasyev, 1864) as a deadly weapon, his first instinct is to replace that book where he found it. Great work.

Shannon Connellan, Mashable.com

Eventually John kills him by utilizing the book he’s holding as a weapon. That part is great, but the moment of true inspiration comes next when he goes back and replaces the book on the shelf where he found it. This detail works not because it is funny, but because it fits the character so perfectly that it would almost be weird if he didn’t do it. In a genre where impersonality is the name of the game more than ever, it’s a delight.

Peter Sobczynski, RogerEbert.com

This detail is admittedly clever when it comes to reinforcing Wick’s character. OF COURSE he would replace the library book! He is a disciplined man. And he might need the book again. I get all that, and I chuckled myself in the movie theater during this scene.

HOWEVER. I could not be a self-respecting librarian without pointing out that in real life, please DO NOT re-shelve books on your own. You are not doing librarians a favor when you do this. In fact, you’re doing the opposite. Why? Because we like to scan the barcodes of books that are used in the library but not checked out, so we can get a sense of how books are used in the library, even when they’re not checked out or not able to be checked out, like reference books. (This is referred to as “in-house usage.”) So you replacing that book on your own means that you’re depriving that book of its potential in-house usage stats. Also, library staff workers like pages and clerks are trained to re-shelve books, as it’s a major part of their jobs. So those library carts you usually find beside the stacks? Those carts are there for you to put books that need to be re-shelved. Use them, please.

Soap box time over. Thanks for sticking with me!

What about library patrons?

After John Wick replaces the book on the shelf, we next see him rushing down the library steps and into the street. So there seems to have been no consequences — or even acknowledgment! — of there being a very loud fight in the library stacks, which resulted in a dead body.

I can hear you asking, “But if he’s on level two, and there’s no one around, then this is theoretically possible.” Books do, indeed, insulate noise very well. That’s why quiet zones in libraries are often located beyond stacks of books, since they serve as natural sound barriers.

However, the two end their fight outside the stacks, where the tables are, which means the sound would carry. And there are angles in the fight scene that clearly show that there ARE library patrons on level two. Below is an example of what I’m referring to (you can also click the photo to open it in a larger size):

Library patrons in the background of the fight scene in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Library patrons in the background of the fight scene

And these patrons, who are listed in the IMDb.com credits but are uncredited in the movie, do not move or react at all to the carnage happening behind them.

Odd, right? Why include patrons at all in this scene? It would have made a lot more sense in this scene for the level to have been deserted.

Why the library?

One of John Wick’s earliest and most imaginative kills in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum occurs at, of all places, the New York Public Library.

Natalia Winkelman, Slate.com

Why did the director, Chad Stahelski, choose to stage one of the fight scenes in a public library? I figured the main reason is the juxtaposition, that we expect libraries to be quiet, so a noisy fight scene in such a quiet space would feel jarring and unexpected and fresh.

Stahelski confirmed this in a Los Angeles Times interview, that he spent a lot of time thinking about how “to be non-repetitive” in the fight scenes that the John Wick films are famous for. It’s important to note that Stahelski has directed all of the John Wick films, and he is a former stunt performer.

Library bookcases, when there are rows and rows of them, are often visually compelling onscreen. This is also the case in this film, as you can see in the screenshot below:

Rows of bookcases during the library fight scene in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Rows of bookcases are always visually compelling onscreen

What I found really interesting is that Stahelski was inspired to do this fight scene in the New York Public Library WHILE actually being in the New York Public Library. So meta! And the fact that Stahelski is a library user? ♥

“I spent a lot of time in the New York Public Library trying to do some work because it’s quiet,” Stahelski says. “One day, I was down in the stacks and I thought, ‘This would be a great place for a fight scene.'”

In an interview with Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times

Stahelski was also inspired by the constraints of filming a fight scene in the library:

“A lot of people would avoid using the stacks because it’s difficult to shoot in and it would limit their choreography — you can’t do big flying kicks and stuff like that,” Stahelski says. “We’re kind of the opposite: We think, ‘What’s the hardest situation you can put someone in? And are we smart enough to figure it out?'”

In an interview with Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times

And they did indeed figure it out. Well done!

Continuing the conversation

And they did this scene so well that it took me more than FOUR HOURS (!!!!) to draft this initial post. For a scene that lasts less than two minutes. My initial notes, the ones I jotted down on the notepad app on my phone, were pretty brief. But once I started to unpack, er, unshelve the scene, there was a lot more there to analyze and think through than I had originally thought! And of course, I spent time looking up reviews and articles and cross-checking details and citing sources. All part of the service, y’all. 😉

Are you a fan of the John Wick trilogy? Have you seen Chapter 3? You would alert a librarian or call 911 if you witnessed a fight scene in a library, right? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used

Advertisements

‘Regarding’ a public library

Books and silence — libraries in a nutshell. (Sigh.)

In the 1991 film Regarding Henry, directed by Mike Nichols and written by J. J. Abrams (!), a library scene takes place almost exactly halfway through the movie.


Movie plot:


But first, let’s set the context. Harrison Ford plays the title role, a hot-shot and ruthless New York lawyer who is out of sync with his 12-year-old daughter, Rachel, or his wife, Sarah (played by Annette Bening). One fateful night, Henry gets shot by a kid holding up a corner store, a shot that causes brain damage. When Henry wakes up, he has to figure out how to start all over again — including the basics of movement and speech — including getting to know his family again.

Here’s a trailer for the film:

“Regarding Henry – Trailer,” uploaded by YouTube Movies, 2012, Standard YouTube license.

The library scene — over 10 seconds of it! — makes the trailer, at 1:45 seconds into the clip above.


Library rules:


Rachel takes her father to the library, and she explains the basic rules of the library on the walk there.

Rachel: Some of them [books] you can borrow and take home, but some of them you have to read here.

HenryAnd you can’t talk loud.

RachelRight.

Books and silence — libraries in a nutshell. (Sigh.)


Library scene:


The camera then pans quickly through the library, following the polished floors and atmosphere so quiet you can hear every step of every shoe and squeak of every chair. Every table is occupied, showcasing a variety of people.

Henry's daughter hard at work in the library
Henry’s daughter hard at work in the library

Henry’s daughter is working and studying, writing in a notebooks. A stack of National Geographic magazines are on the table in-between father and daughter. (It isn’t clear if the magazines are for Henry or for his daughter.) There is also a large photography book open in front of Henry.

Henry then starts throwing wads of paper from a box of call number slips, crumpling them up, and then flicking them at his daughter. (This is the part of the scene that makes the trailer.) The sly expressions on Harrison Ford’s face make this scene a(n initially) comic one.

What? I'm not up to anything...
What? I’m not up to anything…
Nothing to see here...
Nothing to see here…

His daughter is not so amused. She keeps saying, “Stop it!” and “Dad, I’m serious.

Henry’s mocking response? “I know. VERY.

The library is VERY serious.
The library is VERY serious.

But the third time he flicks a paper wad at her, Rachel cracks a smile. But then this short scene turns serious.

Rachel: Read your book.

HenryI can’t.

Rachel:  [Realization dawning on her face] I’m sorry.

Rachel’s mother no doubt hid a lot of the details about Henry’s recovery from her daughter, including details about how he had to painstakingly learn how to speak and walk again. It never occurred to Rachel — or the audience?! — until that moment in the library that her father no longer remembered how to read.

The moment Henry's daughter realizes her father can't read
The moment Henry’s daughter realizes her father can’t read

This realization then leads to Henry’s daughter teaching him how to read again. This is significant because he had always put pressure on his daughter to be smart and self-reliant and grown-up; this friction had caused emotional distance between them. Henry being able to admit weakness to his daughter helps them bond again.

It’s a poignant scene. And that this discovery — that Henry can’t remember how to read — is made IN A LIBRARY makes this scene even more poignant and memorable.

Although memorable, this scene lasts less than two minutes. No librarian is visibly present in the scene. Theoretically, one of the several people in the background could be a librarian, but there is nothing obvious — like, say a prop like a book cart — to make this connect visibly clear for the audience. And no librarian is needed in this scene; rather, the focus is on the relationship between father and daughter.

Therefore, Regarding Henry lands in the Class V category, films with no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries.


Library filming location:


The filming locations mentioned in its IMDb page are very general — it was filmed in New York City — but luckily, an internet search turned up the “On the Set of New York” site. This site’s page for Regarding Henry reveals that the library scene was filmed at the 5th avenue branch of the New York Public Library. This turns out to the iconic central, or main, branch of the library. Kudos to director Mike Nichols for finding a way to make the library space in this scene look more cozy and warm than the usual cinematic shots of the NYPL central branch.

Interior shot for the library scene
Interior shot for the library scene

Sources used:


A closer look at the reel librarians in the original ‘Ghostbusters’

The film features not one, but three, librarian characters in the opening scenes filmed at the iconic central branch of the New York Public Library.

I have written about 1984’s Ghostbusters in bits and pieces before on the blog, including a “Who you gonna call?” post delving into the Librarian Ghost, as well as a “Repeat offenders” post highlighting John Rothman and his penchant for playing insensitive librarians in the early ’80s, including Ghostbusters. The comedy classic was also on the original list of reel librarians films I watched for my original undergraduate thesis, as well as on my list of best librarian films by decade.

However, when I recently rewatched Ghostbusters, I realized there was an opportunity for a closer, more comprehensive look at the librarians and library scene that opens the film. After all, the film features not one, but three, librarian characters in the opening scenes filmed at the iconic central branch of the New York Public Library.

Opening scenes in the library:

The film opens on the steps of the New York Public Library, with a close-up gaze upon one of the iconic “Library Lion” statues guarding the central branch.

One of the Library Lion statues at the New York Public Library, opening shot of Ghostbusters (1984)
One of the Library Lion statues at the New York Public Library, opening shot of Ghostbusters (1984)

The film then immediately cuts to a close-up of a reel librarian, who is also as stone-faced as the statue outside. Character actress Alice Drummond, 56 years old at the time of filming, plays a public librarian named Alice, and her librarian props are out in full force, with a cart and books. Her clothing, consisting of a ruffled tie blouse and a cardigan sweater, is also conservative and buttoned-up. The only thing missing to complete the picture of a stereotypical librarian is a pair of glasses on a chain!

Opening shot of Alice the librarian in Ghostbusters (1984)
Opening shot of Alice the librarian in Ghostbusters (1984)

We follow Alice as she goes downstairs to shelve a few books.  The DVD commentary revealed that while the upstairs scenes were filmed in the actual New York Public Library — the library allowed the film crew to film until 10 a.m., so they had to work quickly! — the downstairs scenes were filmed at the Los Angeles Public Library.

As Alice walks deeper into the stacks, spooky things happen behind her back (literally), as books float past shelves, and card catalog drawer fly open and start spewing cards into the air. (I learned through the commentary that this was a practical effects shot of pushing drawers from behind a fake wall and blowing air through tubes to make the cards fly up.)

Paranormal activity in the library card catalog, in the opening scene from Ghostbusters (1984)
Paranormal activity in the library card catalog, in the opening scene from Ghostbusters (1984)

It’s interesting to note that Alice is almost completely silent through this opening scene. The first time we hear her voice is when she screams. It’s also very clever that we don’t see the ghost ourselves in this opening scene. In fact, with the screaming and up-lit visage of the scared librarian, she looks kind of like a ghost herself!

Reel librarian screams
Reel librarian screams

You can see a clip from the opening scene here:

Ghostbusters Library Index Card and Entrance Theme” video uploaded by Dan Baierl is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

A quick scene in-between the two library scenes takes place at a local university, at the Paranormal Studies department, and helps establish the characters of the scientists and soon-to-be-Ghostbusters.

Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) is conducting an experiment when Ray Stantz (Dan Ackroyd) bursts in, excitedly shouting, “This is it. This is definitely it!” He goes on to explain:

At 1:40 p.m. at the main branch of the New York Public Library on 5th avenue, 10 people witnessed a free-floating, full-torso vaporous apparition. It blew books off shelves from 20 feet away and scared the socks off some poor librarian.

This bit of dialogue bridges to the library scenes, as Venkman and Stantz meet up with Egon Spengler in the library itself. Venkman makes noise slamming a book on the table, which alerts the library administrator. This is our first glance at Roger Delacourt (John Rothman), who is dressed conservatively in a dark blazer and tie:

First glance at the library administrator in Ghostbusters (1984)
First glance at the library administrator in Ghostbusters (1984)

Delacourt — notice that he gets a last name, plus a pair of glasses! — approaches the three scientists. After brief introductions, he immediately gets down to business and reveals his real concern:

Thank you for coming. Hopefully we can clear this up quickly, and quietly.

Meet cute between the library administrator and the Ghostbusters
Meet cute between the library administrator and the Ghostbusters

Next, everyone is clustered around a table, with “some poor librarian” on her back and murmuring. This scene is also when we first hear her character’s name, Alice (but we only get her first name). Delacourt, the library manager, hovers around as if he’s fighting the urge to all shush them for causing a scene in the library.

Not a meet-cute between the scared librarian and the Ghostbusters
Not a meet-cute between the scared librarian and the Ghostbusters

Remember, up to this point, all we’ve heard from Alice is her screaming. This next scene, we get to hear her actual speaking voice as Venkman asks her a series of questions, in order to gauge her competency.

Alice:  I don’t remember seeing any legs but it definitely had arms, because it reached out for me.

Peter Venkman:  Alice, I’m gonna ask you a couple of standard questions, okay? Have you or any member of your family ever been diagnosed schizophrenic, mentally incompetent…?

Alice:  My uncle thought he was St. Jerome.

Peter Venkman:  I’d call that a big yes. [Pause] Are you habitually using drugs, stimulants, alcohol?

Alice: No. [horrified]

By this point in the interview, Roger begins to look even more nervy and agitated.

Peter Venkman:  No, no, just asking. Are you, Alice, menstruating right now?

Roger can no longer stand it and butts in.

Roger Delacourt:  What has THAT got to do with it?

Peter Venkman:  Back off, man. I’m a scientist.

The library administrator gets the jitters in Ghostbusters (1984)
The library administrator gets the jitters in Ghostbusters (1984)

The three paranormal scientists then go down to the library basement themselves. The first spooky thing is… symmetrical book-stacking! The horror! As Venkman assesses, “You’re right, no human being would stack books like this.

We learn on the DVD commentary that it was Ivan Reitman’s idea on the day to do the symmetrical book-stacking!

Paranormal book-stacking
Paranormal book-stacking

They then come across the card catalog drawers and ectoplasmic residue — “Look at this mess!” — and as they round a corner, a bookcase topples. Turns out, this bit was not planned!

The part where the bookcase falls over and Venkman asks Ray “Has this ever happened to you before?” was not part of the original script. The bookcase actually fell over of its own accord (possibly from being disturbed by various crew members) and the subsequent lines were ad-libbed. It was decided to leave this material in as it added an extra element of mystery to the atmosphere as to whether it was a natural occurrence, or a malicious act on the part of the ghost for which the soon-to-be Ghostbusters were looking. (from IMDB.com Trivia page)

A library bookcase falls -- by accident! -- in a library scene from Ghostbusters (1984)
A library bookcase falls — by accident! — in a library scene from Ghostbusters (1984)

The scientists then come across the Librarian Ghost — excuse me, the “full torso vaporous apparition” — who is reading a book and floating in her Victorian-style dress.

When Venkman tries to speak to her, the ghost shushes him. (That’s how we know it’s a librarian!)

The library ghost in Ghostbusters (1984)
The library ghost in Ghostbusters (1984)

When they try to corner the Librarian Ghost, she morphs into a monstrous form and scares the socks off them, “some poor scientists.”

The DVD commentary revealed that this scene was one of the first ones they finished the special effects for. This first moment of seeing the librarian ghost was one the producers screened about 3 weeks after editing the film, and the audience freaked out, screaming and laughing at the same time. That’s when they knew the film was going to work!

As the soon-to-be Ghostbusters run screaming from the library, the hapless library director runs out after them.

Did you see it? What was it?

We’ll get back to you.

WHAT?!

The library administrator freaks out, at the end of the library scene in Ghostbusters (1984)
The library administrator freaks out, at the end of the library scene in Ghostbusters (1984)

The role of the librarians:

Now that we’ve gotten a look at all three reel librarian in Ghostbusters, let’s delve into the roles and purposes they provide in this Class III film:

I previously identified Alice as fulfilling the dual roles of the Spinster Librarian character type, as well as the Comic Relief character type.

Her Spinster Librarian role is reflected in:

  • Her conservative, buttoned-up clothing
  • Uptight demeanor, as shown in the first shot, turning into timid/meek personality, after being scared by the librarian ghost
  • Rule-monger who is horrified first by the mess made by the spilling of library cards in the card catalog
  • Her sexual undesirability, or at least de-emphasis on her femininity, as revealed through the menstruation question and her horrified (and speechless) reaction to it

In my post about Comic Relief librarians, I wrote:

“The films that provide glimpses of librarians for comedic purposes only also are the films that depict the crudest portrayals overall of librarian stereotypes. The Comic Relief librarians mostly wind up in comedies — shocker, I know — or at least in films that include comedic undertones or situations. Their purpose is the most obvious of all reel librarian roles, but the librarians of this type do not necessarily entertain themselves or other characters in the film — rather, they entertain the audience. Exclusively minor characters, the Comic Relief librarians serve as the target of jokes, and the audience is encouraged to laugh at them.”

This description perfectly sums up how Alice fulfills the Comic Relief role in this film. We most definitely laugh at her distress, or at least remove ourselves, like the Ghostbusters, from her personal distress in order to focus on the cause (the ghost) rather than the effect (“some poor librarian”).

I also enjoyed putting together the different facial expressions of Alice the librarian. Her facial range is impressive!

The many facial expressions from Alice the librarian in Ghostbusters (1984)
The many facial expressions from Alice the librarian in Ghostbusters (1984)

Interestingly, the Librarian Ghost (Ruth Oliver) also fulfills the Spinster Librarian role:

  • Conservative, buttoned-up clothing? Check.
  • Hair in a bun? Check.
  • Rule-monger? CHECK. (Evidenced by her shushing.)
  • Unfriendly/stern demeanor? DOUBLE CHECK. (She suffers no fools, y’all.)
The varied facial expressions of the library ghost in Ghostbusters (1984)
The varied facial expressions of the library ghost in Ghostbusters (1984)

The library administrator, Roger Delacourt, is in his early 30s, a white male. He is an insensitive, nervy library bureaucrat, one who is more concerned about his precious reputation than about his librarian employee who got the shock of her life in the New York Public Library basement. His role fulfills the Anti-Social Librarian character type:

  • Conservative clothing
  • Poor social skills
  • Elitist—rates the library and its rules above the public
Little boy lost
Little boy lost

His job centers on protecting the library’s reputation. He seems totally oblivious that a poor librarian (Alice Drummond) was scared out of her wits by a ghost. He is concerned only with how people will regard the library, and by association, himself.

Hmmm… I think I should add him to either my Hall of Shame or Dishonorable Mention lists…

The role of research:

The combined scenes in the library wrap up by 12 minutes into the 105-minute film. We never go back to the New York Public Library — what happened to the Librarian Ghost?! — but the role of research still played a vital role in the film.

Even though the Ghostbusters lose their university funding because their “methods are sloppy” and their “conclusions are highly questionable” — thus providing the incentive to start the Ghostbusters business — the three scientists do highlight their scientific chops in a brief scene after Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) comes to report a demon named Zuul in her refrigerator.

Venkman:  There are some things we do, standard procedures in a case like this, which often brings us results.

Stantz:  I could go to the Hall of Records and check out the structural details in the building. Maybe the building itself has a history of psychic turbulence.

Spengler:  I could look for the name “Zuul” in the usual literature.

Stantz:  Spates Catalog.

Spengler:  Tobin’s Spirit Guide.

Dr. Spangler also references the book, The Roylance Guide to Secret Societies and Sects (also known as simply the Roylance Guide), in the film.

Side note:  Y’all know I looked up those titles, right? Although they were invented for the film, making Wikipedia’s List of Fictional Guidebooks, each title does play a role in subsequent Ghostbusters-related series and games. Each title — as well as the book Dr. Spengler wrote later on, Spengler’s Spirit Guide — is detailed in the Ghostbusters Wikia site. See here for the entry on Tobin’s Spirit Guide, here for the entry on Spates Catalog, and here for the entry on the Roylance Guide. Also, Ghostbusters: Tobin’s Spirit Guide was published last year, as a guide for the original movies, as well as the “expanded Ghostbusters universe, delving into supernatural phenomena from the comics, animated shows, video games, and other aspects of the franchise.”

An hour and 10 minutes into the film, Stantz pulls out the building plans — in a jail cell, as you do — and reveals that “the whole building… was designed and built expressly for the purpose of pulling in and concentrating spiritual turbulence…. Spook Central.

Their research pays off! 😀

Need more Ghostbusters?

Alice, the one who got her “socks scared off” in the film, is also featured in the music video for the Oscar-nominated title song by Ray Parker, Jr.

Ray Parker Jr. – Ghostbusters” video uploaded by RayParkerJuniorVEVO is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

For those who would like to read more of those bits and pieces I’ve written previously about Ghostbusters:

Do you vividly recall the film’s opening scenes in the library? I have to admit that I had forgotten that the two scenes in the library were on either side of the scene in the Paranormal Studies office. I had melded the two library scenes together in my mind.

Have you revisited the original Ghostbusters lately? Or seen the recent remake? Please leave a comment and share! 🙂

Sources used:

‘Finding’ a reel librarian

This might just be the only time a film director has also played a reel librarian!

If you’re a regular reader of this blog — thank you! — you know that the idea for this blog all started with my undergraduate thesis years ago. And in this post, “It all started with a big list,” I list the films included in that thesis. Finding Forrester (2000) was one of those films, and although I’ve mentioned it here in the “Is reading a spectator sport? Librarians in sports movies” post, I have not analyzed the film yet on the blog. Correcting that oversight now…

Here’s what I wrote about the film in my thesis:

In Finding Forrester (2000), Sophia Wu only remains on screen only long enough to inform the main character that all William Forrester’s books are checked out, but her part is notable for the fact that she is Asian.

But let’s go a little bit deeper, shall we?

This was director Gus Van Sant’s second film released after 1997’s Good Will Hunting, and Finding Forrester (2000) enjoyed solid, if not spectacular, reviews and box office at the time of its release. It’s a film I’ve rewatched a few times, and it holds up well. Rob Brown co-stars as Jamal Wallace, a young African-American teenager who has skill in both academics and athletics. He strikes up a mentoring friendship with the neighborhood recluse, played by Sean Connery, who turns out to be the title character, William Forrester. Forrester is an author (and recluse) famous for having written only one book, Avalon Landing, which won the Pulitzer Prize and became an instant American classic. The fictitious character of Forrester is based on J.D. Salinger and his classic book, Catcher in the Rye.

I personally like the film for its message — I’m married to a writer, and it’s one of his favorite movies about writing! — and for how Rob Brown’s style matches up well with the director’s style. There is a stillness in his delivery — his eyes are always watching, always observing — but you can tell there is so much happening beneath the surface. Even more impressive given that this was Rob Brown’s acting debut!

Almost exactly an hour into the film, Jamal jokes with Forrester about the neighborhood changing.

Jamal:  Go ahead. I want to hear about the neighborhood, back when people were still reading your book.

Forrester [choking on his drink]:  What did you say?

Jamal:  Nothing.

Forrester:  No. you said, ‘back when people were still reading my book.’ Didn’t you?

Next stop:  The library! More specifically, the New York Public Library and a close-up of its online card catalog and its copies of Avalon Landing.

Card catalog closeup in Finding Forrester
Card catalog closeup in Finding Forrester

Side note:  This looks like a pretty typical card catalog screen, especially for that time period. But what is UP with those janky call numbers? D-107424, D-109478, D-783719, etc. Those do not look like any call numbers I’ve ever come across — especially not for a fiction book. They look more like accession numbers to me, which are automatically assigned numbers to items as they are entered into a system. (Archives collections are the only collections I’m aware of that sometimes shelve items by accession numbers. A public library would have a more generic call number for a work of fiction, something like FIC FOR, for “Fiction – Forrester”)

And YES, I looked up the current New York Public Library online card catalog. Y’all knew I was going to do that, right? 😉 I did a title search for Catcher in the Rye, which came up with 63 items, 49 of which are currently available. And the call number is the logical “CLASSICS FIC S.”

NYPL Library catalog search for Catcher in the Rye
NYPL Library catalog search for Catcher in the Rye

Back to the scene… we hear the voice of the reel librarian (Sophia Wu, as Librarian) narrating her title search for Avalon Landing:

Librarian:  We have 24 copies. But I’m sorry, they’re all checked out.

Jamal:  Ok. Well, thank you anyway.

Reel librarians in Finding Forrester
Reel librarians in Finding Forrester

Jamal then walks away, and when he returns to Forrester’s apartment, Forrester is reading a tabloid and sarcastically calls out behind him, “Any luck? Did you get on the waiting list?” 😉

By the way, the librarian did not offer to put Jamal on the waiting list, or offer Interlibrary Loan (ILL), a common library service to request items from other libraries. Tsk, tsk.

In my original notes after watching the film for my thesis, I noted the following:

Initial notes on Finding Forrester
Initial notes on Finding Forrester

(In case you can’t read my terrible handwriting, that reads:  “younger white male sitting beside her, typing on a computer, blue shirt, dark sweater vest”)

The trivia section on IMDb.com reveals that the film’s director, Gus Van Sant, is that “younger white male sitting beside her,” — he made a cameo as the library assistant in this scene! This might just be the only time a film director has also played a reel librarian! 😀

Gus Van San's reel librarian cameo in Finding Forrester
Gus Van San’s reel librarian cameo in Finding Forrester

The library scene lasts only a few seconds, so this definitely lands in the Class IV category. Sophia Wu fulfills the Information Provider role, as she not only helps reinforce the library setting, but also provides the information that the book is still popular and relevant and credible — and by extension, William Forrester. He then becomes more relevant and credible to Jamal, thus solidifying and deepening their friendship.

This part is also notable for bringing a little diversity to the world of reel librarians, as she is Asian (or Asian-American). This makes sense, as Finding Forrester (2000) is a film filled with racial — as well as socioeconomic — diversity. This role is one of only three Asian/Asian-American reel librarians I have come across so far.

If you’d like to see more examples of reel librarian diversity, see my “Reader Q and A” post which answers the reader question, “How many movies are there with librarians of color?

Toward the end of the film, Jamal pens a private letter to William Forrester. His choice of sanctuary? The New York Public Library, of course. 😉

Screenshot from Finding Forrester
New York Public Library as sanctuary

And who do we spy in the background with a book cart? Another (anonymous) reel librarian!

Screenshot from Finding Forrester
Book cart? It must be a reel librarian!
Screenshot from Finding Forrester
NYPL stationary

Until next week…


Sources used:


  • Finding Forrester. Dir. Gus Van Sant. Perf. Sean Connery, Rob Brown, F. Murray Abraham. Columbia, 2000.
  • Trivia.” Finding Forrester (2010), IMDb.com

‘South Street’ librarian

Earliest film I have come across so far to feature an African-American reel librarian

The 1953 film noir minor classic, Pickup on South Street, stars Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, and Thelma Ritter. It includes a brief library scene that combines microfilm, a pickpocket, and the first African-American librarian portrayal on film — all in less than a minute!

A well-known pickpocket, Skip McCoy (Widmark), picks the wrong purse one day on the subway, accidentally stealing a roll of microfilm a lady (Peters) was on her way to deliver. As you do. This leads to a clash between the police and a Communist gang — OF COURSE — while Skip schemes amongst all the chaos.

Skip discovers the microfilm in his stash and has the idea to visit the public library in order to get a close look at the microfilm. Very clever! About 25 minutes in, he skips (har har) up the stairs to the New York Public Library, where we get a shot of a sign that reads, “Newspapers on Microfilm — Apply Here.”

Screenshot from Pickup on South Street
Microfilm sign

The camera then pans over two white gentlemen behind a library counter, both in white shirts and ties. The older gentleman is flipping through a book with a male patron, as seen above. Skip moves down the counter to a African-American male, also outfitted in the standard white shirt and tie.

Screenshot from Pickup on South Street
First African-American librarian sighting in film — 1953!

Microfilm Library Clerk:  May I help you?

Skip:  Yes. I’d like to see a copy of the New York Times, January 5, 1947.

Microfilm Library Clerk [hands him a card and pencil]:  Fill this out, please.

The microfilm library clerk, played by Jaye Loft-Lyn, is portrayed as friendly and competent, a classic Information Provider. No fuss, no muss. The scene lasts only seconds, ending up in the Class IV category. Although the length of the scene is short, it is significant, as I mentioned before, in that it is the earliest film I have come across so far to feature an African-American reel librarian. Too bad the role is uncredited.

The next scene cuts to Skip rolling the stolen microfilm onto the library microfilm reader, looking TOTALLY nonchalant and unsuspicious while doing so.

Screenshot from Pickup on South Street
Looking oh-so-innocent

Although the public machine is used for illicit reasons, Skip did end up a satisfied library patron! 😉

I also watched the remake of Pickup on South Street (1953) — I am NOTHING if not thorough, and it’s all for you, dear readers!  —  a tedious 1967 affair called The Cape Town Affair, which changed the locale from New York to Cape Town, South Africa, and starred James Brolin as pickpocket Skip McCoy. Instead of going to a local library, Skip goes to a fellow thief (one who has ripped off a camera store) to view the microfilm. A decidedly inferior remake in every way, including in its decision to nix the opportunity of showcasing a library onscreen.


Sources used:


  • Pickup on South Street. Dir. Samuel Fuller. Perf. Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Richard Kiley, Thelma Ritter. 20th Century Fox, 1953.