Kicking off our now twice-monthly posting schedule (new posts go live now on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of each month — sign up for email updates!) is a new “first impressions” post. If you’re unfamiliar with this series, let me remedy that: these posts focus on more current films that I have watched in theaters that include reel librarians and/or library or archives scenes. The resulting “first impressions” posts are necessarily less detailed, as I don’t have the luxury of rewatching scenes and taking notes.
*MILD SPOILERS AHEAD*
I recently enjoyed watching Captain Marvel, the next movie in Marvel’s Avengers movie series, starring Brie Larson in the title role. I straight-up and unapologetically LOVED this movie. LOVED LOVED LOVED. How much? Let me count the ways:
Larson’s easy camaraderie with Samuel L. Jackson as a younger, pre-eyepatch-wearing Nick Fury (the digital erasure of Jackson’s naturally age-lined face was seamless, and I honestly didn’t even think about it while watching the film)
The ’90s setting with its cheeky pop culture references and soundtrack
Larson’s warm friendship with fellow pilot Maria Rambeau (played by Lashana Lynch) and her daughter, Monica (played by Akira Akbar) — I’m realllllllly hoping for Monica’s character returns as a character in the next Avengers movie!
Ben Mendelsohn’s rogue-ish charm evident even under several pounds of makeup in the character of Talos
The sight of Annette Bening looking bad-ass AF in a leather jacket
That last scene between Jude Law and Brie Larson
The film’s unapologetically feminist focus
That the film was co-directed and co-written by women
And last but not least, I felt SO SEEN whenever Nick Fury fell all over himself cooing and petting Goose the cat. This is the correct behavior around cats, and I am here for it. #FlerkensForever
I also was surprised — and appreciative! — of an archives scene that popped up about halfway (?) through the film, and you can spy glimpses of the archives scenes starting at 1:26 into the trailer embedded below:
This scene is vital to the plot, as it provides clues to the essential question of the film: Who is Carol Danvers? This question is the center of the film’s second-released trailer, seen above, when you hear Ben Mendelsohn’s voice asking:
“Would you like to know what you really are?”
And over the flashes of the archives scene, you can hear Brie Larson’s voice say:
“I think I had a life here.”
Using bits of fractured memories, Vers/Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel and Fury go to a U.S. Air Force base to look up “Project Pegasus.” In the archives — which feature rows and rows and rows of neatly organized archival boxes — Vers easily finds the file she’s looking for. (I think she pulled down a box labeled “P” for “Pegasus,” but it might have been “L” for Bening’s character Wendy Lawson, but regardless, it was super easy to find — and further evidence for why an organizational system MATTERS, y’all!)
In that archival box — props to the propmaster for highlighting proper storage of archives, as this type of archival box would look familiar to any archivist or librarian — Fury and Vers discover evidence that she was a pilot presumed to have died in 1989 while testing an experimental jet engine designed by Lawson. This helps trigger more memories, as she starts putting together the pieces of her long-lost identity.
After this pivotal fact-finding scene in the U.S. Air Force Archives base, a S.H.I.E.L.D. team led by Talos (in disguise) tries to capture them. Cue the chase-and-fight scene in the archives! I also appreciated the automatic lighting used in the archives setting, as this detail is not only realistic to large archival collections (automatic lighting saves money), it also provides cinematic DRAMA during the entire scene, as Fury can’t move without triggering the lights and revealing his hiding spot. Long rows of bookshelves are always cinematic in scope, but adding automatic lighting is the cherry on top of this archival sundae. And they used this lighting effect in the trailer, too, set to beats of music.
Alas, there is no archivist in this scene — I guess they didn’t need one since the archives were so well organized?! 😉 Therefore, this film lands in the Class V category, films with no identifiable librarians and/or archivists, although they mention them and/or have scenes set in libraries/archives.
To sum up, a library/archives scene — once again — provides pivotal clues to propel the plot forward. Just one more reason to love this action movie!
Have you seen Captain Marvel yet? What are your thoughts? Did you perk up during the archives scene? Are you #TeamFlerken? Please leave a comment and share!
Captain Marvel. Dir. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. Perf. Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Annette Bening, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Lashana Lynch. Disney, 2019.
There are no actual reel librarians in this film, landing it in the Class V category. However, there are a few research scenes that I found interesting, so let’s dig in, shall we?
Research scene in the library:
After Libby (Ashley Judd) has served her time in prison for the crime of murdering Nick, her husband (Bruce Greenwood), she visits a public library to look up her former friend, the one who adopted Libby’s son, Matty. This library scene occurs 35 minutes into the film, and it was filmed at the main Vancouver Public Library in British Columbia. (I’ve been there!)
Since Libby’s been in prison the last 6 years, she’s not used to computers or concepts such as email. (Remember, this film was released in 1999.) She even says to a young man who stops to help her out on the computer that “Someone said I should try the internet.” I also really hope that “someone” was NOT a librarian!
This young man asks her a few questions — essentially doing a “reference interview” although it is clear that he is NOT a reel librarian. How do I know that?
He never identifies himself as a librarian
He is casually dressed, with a backpack or messenger bag (most likely marking him as a student)
He only agrees to help her after she reveals that she’s not looking for a guy friend (gross)
His role in the credits is listed as “Handsome Internet Expert,” hah!
After learning that her friend was a school teacher, he recommends that they start at the Washington State Department of Education directory site. Bingo!
While helping her, the young man continually attempts to flirt with her. This is Libby’s priceless reaction:
After getting what she needs, Libby expertly sends the guy on his way by revealing that she had been convicted of murdering her husband. Buh-bye!
This library scene, with nary a reel librarian, lasts a total of 2 minutes. It is effective in helping Libby locate her friend, which gives her the next clue in tracking down her husband.
The best thing about this scene? The old-school web site designs, full of tables and frames. Ahhhhhhh, good times. 😉
You can view the entire library research scene below.
Research scene in the newspaper archives:
Fifty-eight minutes into the film, we next see Libby researching the death of her friend — she suspects at the hand of her husband! — by using microfilm in a local newspaper’s archives. It’s funny, Libby seems much more comfortable using microfilm than she did using a computer. That subtle body language is a nice touch. You can tell it’s a newspaper archives room because in the foreground, you can see newspapers being printed.
This scene lasts less than 30 seconds, but it provides a clue that leads Libby to the next step. In the photo used in the newspaper story about her friend’s death, Libby recognized a painting in the background.
Research scene in an art gallery:
And this next clue leads Abby to a particular painter, Wassily Kandinsky, her husband used to collect. So she heads to a local art gallery and asks the gallery owner to try and track down any purchasers of recent paintings by that artist. The gallery owner looks up the Art Net website for this info, while Libby looks on over his shoulder. (Nice reversal of the first research scene, where a guy looked over her shoulder at the computer!)
Fun fact: The Art Net site still exists! It is a major art site used to “find artworks for sale, online auctions, top galleries, leading artists, and breaking art market news from around the globe.”
Below is a “then and now” collage from how the site (supposedly) looked in 1999, and how it looks now.
This art research scene lasts only a couple of minutes.
Adding up the value of research:
In total, all three scenes add up to less than 5 minutes total of screen time in Double Jeopardy, but they managed to pack in:
three different types of research;
different kinds of research tools, including websites and microfilm; as well as
different research locations, including a public library, newspaper archives, and an art gallery.
And each time, the research leads to vital clues that lead Libby to locating her husband and child.
All in all, Libby comes across as quite resourceful. My final thought is how much more quickly she might have tracked her husband down if she had utilized the resources of a reel librarian… 😉
Double Jeopardy. Dir. Bruce Beresford. Perf. Ashley Judd, Tommy Lee Jones, Bruce Greenwood, Annabeth Gish. Paramount, 1999.
First up, a trailer to set the context for this most recent film in the series:
Once again, as in the previous film in the series, we get a scene of Indiana Jones teaching. Twenty years later, he’s still wearing the same three-piece suit, polka-dotted bow-tie, and round glasses:
The library scene:
A little over a half-hour into the film, Indiana Jones meets with “Mutt” Williams (Shia LaBeouf), a guy with a chip on his shoulder the size of his motorcycle. Indy jumps onto the back of Mutt’s motorcycle to escape from Russian agents who are after him. To finally shake off the agents, they motor into… what else? The library!
Although this scene lasts just under a minute total, Spielberg makes the most of it.
Everyone is stunned to hear a noise in the library, let alone a motorcycle!
The two nearly run over a male student with a huge stack of books in his arms:
The guy’s books go flying, as does the motorcycle swerving to miss him. Indy, Mutt, and the motorcycle skid under a batch of tables, finally coming to a stop in front of one of Indy’s students. (That is a sentence I never thought I’d write.)
Fun fact: This student in the library is played by Chet Hanks, the son of Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson.
And of course that student, unfazed by loud noises or sliding motorcycles and undeterred in his quest for knowledge (can you tell I think he’s the real hero of this scene?!), has a question for Dr. Jones:
Student in Library: Excuse me, Dr. Jones? I just had a question on Dr. Hargrove’s normative culture model.
Indiana Jones: Forget Hargrove. Read Vere Gordon Childe on diffusionism. He spent most of his life in the field. If you want to be a good archeologist, you got to get out of the library!
BOO. Boo, I say. BOO.
And I am not the only one incensed by this scene and total about-face for Indy’s view of the library and its vital role in research and archeology.
The trivia on the Amazon Prime version of the film also pointed out this contradiction:
Do you like Crystal Skull? I don’t, at all. One of the reasons I feel it must be non-canonical is Indy’s dissing of libraries after his motorbike ride through Yale’s Sterling. The real/reel Indiana Jones would never say ‘If you want to be a good archaeologist, you’ve got to get out of the library’!
I love Colin’s wording here, that (1) this film in the series is non-canonical because of its treatment of libraries, and (2) “dissing of libraries” is totally not in Indy’s character. Agreed on both counts!
I also enjoyed this extra bit of trivia/goofs from Prime, delving into the mention of Vere Gordon Childe in Indiana Jones’s advice to the student:
Hah! So Vere Gordon Childe, an Australian archeologist (1892-1957), did spend almost his entire career in the library! And OF COURSE I double-checked this. While he did oversee excavation of archaeological sites in Scotland and Northern Ireland, Childe is indeed most well-known for being a “great synthesizer” of archeological research, publishing over 240 articles and 26 books in his lifetime. And Childe was HIMSELF librarian of the Royal Anthropological Institute at one time (!), so I don’t think he would have EVER advised a student to “get out of the library.”
So. Indiana Jones not only contradicts himself — and one of the primary messages and themes from the previous film — he GETS IT WRONG.
I think it’s clear that Indiana needs to get back to the library, stat! (Without the motorcycle this time.) 😉
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ends up in the Class V category, as there are no reel librarians identified or distinguishable from all the other people in the library scene.
Continue with conversation:
What are your thoughts about this film in the Indiana Jones series and this library scene? Please leave a comment and share!
“Somebody didn’t want a record of ever having checked out these books.”
It often happens in my life that when I settle down to watch a movie at home, a library or librarian gets mentioned onscreen… and then date night turns into “film analysis” night. Like I have said before, once you are aware of reel librarians, you start seeing (or hearing about them) EVERYWHERE. 🙂
The movie in question this past week was David Fincher’s 2007 film Zodiac, based on the true events of the Zodiac serial killer, as detailed in the 1986 non-fiction book of the same name by Robert Graysmith. The Zodiac’s killing spree was in and around the San Francisco Bay Area during the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the killer sent several letters and ciphers to the police and newspapers. The film’s star-studded cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal as newspaper cartoonist Graysmith, Robert Downey, Jr. as reporter Paul Avery, and Mark Ruffalo as Inspector David Toschi.
Here’s a trailer for Zodiac:
*POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD*
Although no librarian is featured in this movie, and no scenes are set in a library onscreen, this film DOES include several scenes that highlight libraries and library books. Reel librarians are often used as shortcuts for plot progression; in this case, just the library books themselves are used as plot shortcuts. Therefore, it’s a Class V film (no librarians featured), but I found it an interesting film to analyze, nonetheless.
Cracking the library code:
At 52 minutes into this 157-minute film (it’s a really long, slow-paced film, y’all), Graysmith is talking with Avery in a bar about a cipher the Zodiac killer used to write a note to the police, challenging the public to crack his message. Graysmith explains the starting point to figuring out the coded message. (Underlining throughout signifies my own emphasis.)
Avery: But how do you go from “A” is one, “B” is two to figuring out this whole code?
Graysmith: Same way I did. You go to the library.
At this point, Graysmith takes out a book from his briefcase, a book entitled The Code Breakers by David Kahn.
NOTE: This is a real book, by the way, first published in 1967. I looked it up. ‘Cause librarian. 😉 And for sake of the timeline, the first official Zodiac killing occurred in 1969.
Graysmith: In this book, the author presents a very simple substitution code in the preface. Eight of the 26 symbols that he suggests are in this cipher.
He then takes out another book from his briefcase, this one entitled Codes and Ciphers by John Laffin. This book describes another Middle Ages code called the “Zodiac Alphabet.”
NOTE: Yep, another real book, this one published in 1964. Gotta hand it to the David Fincher team for its research skills. HOWEVER, that team overlooked the detail of including call numbers, because neither one of these books has a call number — and Graysmith clearly states that he got them from a library. A real library book would have a call number on the spine. Back in the 1960s, it was commonplace to strip the paper covers from hardback books, and then either paint on call numbers or otherwise affix typed call numbers onto the spine. But dully colored hardback books would not have cinematic impact, so I suspect the product team just bought first edition copies and didn’t think about call numbers. But librarians do! 😉
Any film involving reporters has to include a scene in the newspaper archives, right? This almost obligatory scene, lasting only a minute, occurs a little over an hour into the film. Avery takes Graysmith to the newspaper archives, looking for copies of the Modesto Bee. (Yep, a real newspaper, founded in 1884. Of course I had to look that up, too!) They gather clues from newspaper clippings to suggest that some killings the Zodiac killer confessed to are in doubt, because he only provides clues in letters written after articles in the newspaper came out.
I also wanted to include a couple of screenshots from this scene because of how visually they remind me of ANOTHER archives scene in a library directed by David Fincher, 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (Read my analysis of that film here.)
Real library filming location:
I mentioned earlier that no scenes are set in a library onscreen. However, the production team did use a real-life library location… as a police station.
At one hour and 12 minutes into the film, several regional police officers travel to the Riverside Police Department to discuss a potential early victim of the Zodiac killer.
Here’s the narration of the victim’s last night — which also includes a library!
Cheri Jo Bates attended Riverside Community College. She studies in the library the night of Oct. 30, 1966. She leaves with an unidentified male at closing, 9 p.m. Her body’s found the next morning in a parking lot, stabbed to death.
NOTE: There is technically not a current “Riverside Community College.” There is now a Riverside City College, which had been known as “Riverside Community College” during the 1960s. The college is part of the Riverside Community College District. So the film got this detail correct, as the school was known as “Riverside Community College” during this time period.
The interior and exteriors of this scene at the Riverside Police Station were filmed at the Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum in Culver City, California. The library’s website includes a “Facility Rentals” page with “competitive film location pricing.” The photos on that page definitely correspond to the screenshots above and below.
“You went to the library”:
Graysmith continues to track down clues about the Zodiac killer, even when others have given up. At 1 hour and 44 minutes into the film, Graysmith visits Avery, who has left (been fired? or otherwise forced out?) from his job as a reporter and is living in a trailer. Avery challenges why Graysmith is even continuing down the Zodiac path.
Graysmith: It was important.
Avery: Then what did you ever do about it? If it was so fucking important, then what did you ever do? You hovered over my desk, you stole from wastebaskets… you went to the library.
Graysmith: I’m sorry I bothered you. [leaves]
I just want to point out that the man who basically says that Graysmith was doing nothing — that going to the library meant doing nothing — is living amidst trash and alcohol bottles and (un)dressed in boxers and a robe. Yeahhhhhh…. it’s Graysmith who has been doing nothing with his life. 😦
Library as alibi?
In the scene immediately following his confrontation with Avery, Graysmith arrives home late. His wife asks him where he has been.
Graysmith’s response? “The library.”
He puts down books on the chair, the same code-breaking books we saw in the earlier scene with Avery. It’s not clear whether he’s using the library as an alibi, or if it’s where he really went after seeing Avery. Either explanation is plausible, although I’m erring toward the alibi angle.
Tracing library book records:
This next scene, between Graysmith and Inspector Toschi, feels like a companion piece to the first scene I mentioned between Graysmith and Avery; this scene takes place in a diner while the earlier scene occurred in a bar. Both involve library books.
This scene occurs at one hour, 47 minutes into the film, and lasts about a minute and a half.
Graysmith: I wanted to ask you about the Zodiac. [Timeline note: At this point, the Zodiac killer hadn’t written a letter in three years]
Toschi nods assent.
Graysmith: Can I show you something? [Takes out books from his briefcase — sound familiar?] I’ve been doing research on the first cipher. Everything an amateur would need to create it can be found in these books. Now, I started thinking that if you can track these books, then maybe you can track the man. So I remember that you thought the Zodiac was military, so I went to every base library and I got a list of every person who’s ever checked out these books, and that’s when I found this.
He then takes out a sheaf of papers and hands them to Toschi. (Side note: I did notice that at least one of the books below, a thinner tan-colored one, *does* have a call number label on its spine. Hurrah!)
Graysmith: It means they were stolen.
Toschi: So, almost every book on ciphers was stolen from the Presidio Library?
Graysmith: And the Oakland Army Terminal Library. Somebody didn’t want a record of ever having checked out these books.
Toschi: Who are you again?
Graysmith: I just wanna help.
I have to note that this scene reminded me very much of another David Fincher film, 1995’s Seven, in which they track down the killer through library checkouts. (Note to self: I need to rewatch and analyze Seven soon for this blog!)
I also have to interject as a librarian about how UNETHICAL this is, what Graysmith just described. Librarians giving up library checkout information and records to a civilian??! Nope. No way. Nuh-uh. That requires a court order or a search warrant. If this detail is true — and in this scene, Graysmith clearly states, “I got a list of every person who’s ever checked out these books” — then he got those lists from unethical (or clueless) librarians or library workers. It reminds me of another, similar scene of an librarian doing this SAME THING, in 1943’s The Seventh Victim, in a post I entitled, “The horror of an unethical librarian.” Reel librarians may be shortcuts in movies, but we are NOT shortcuts to proper police procedures in real life.
Okay, soap box moment over. Now onto the final scene mentioning a library, or rather…
“The fuckin’ library”:
At two hours into the film, in a scene lasting fewer than 30 seconds, we see Avery drinking again, this time in a bar. (Progress?) The TV is on, and he looks up as a news reporter mentions the Zodiac killer. The reporter is interviewing Graysmith.
Reporter: In the decade since the Zodiac’s last cipher was received, every federal agency has taken a crack at decoding it. But today, where those agencies had failed, a cartoonist has succeeded.
Reporter, asking Graysmith: How did you do it?
Graysmith: Oh, uh, just a lot of books from the library.
Avery then quips, “Yeah, the fuckin’ library.“
That’s right, Avery, the fuckin’ library. 😉
And it’s amusing to me that the first scene that mentions library books happens with Avery, who was consistently condescending throughout the film about the library to Graysmith. But then Avery himself is the one who comes full circle, back to the library.
Here’s a screenshot of Avery’s facial expression from that first scene with Avery and the code-breaking library books. I feel his smug facial expression says it all.
There are 7 scenes total in this Class V film that mention libraries or library books or otherwise take place in an archives or library setting. The duration of those scenes last for a combined 12-15 minutes (only 10% out of a 157-minute running time!), but the combined scenes and library books leave a lasting impression.
Have you seen Zodiac? If so, do you remember the through-line and theme of library books and real-life research? Please leave a comment and share!
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.
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:
The library scene — over 10 seconds of it! — makes the trailer, at 1:45 seconds into the clip above.
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.
Henry: And you can’t talk loud.
Books and silence — libraries in a nutshell. (Sigh.)
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 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.
His daughter is not so amused. She keeps saying, “Stop it!” and “Dad, I’m serious.“
Henry’s mocking response? “I know. VERY.“
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.
Henry: I 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.
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.