Angels in the library in ‘Wings of Desire’

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&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:

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.

Reel Librarian | Library scene in 'Wings of Desire' (1987)

Angels visit the Berlin State Library

Reel Librarian | Library scene in 'Wings of Desire' (1987)

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.

Reel Librarian | Library scene in 'Wings of Desire' (1987)

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.

Reel Librarian | Library scenes from 'Wings of Desire' (1987)

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.

Reel Librarian | Library scene in 'Wings of Desire' (1987)

One is the loneliest number

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

Reel Librarian | Library scene in 'Wings of Desire' (1987)

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).

Reel Librarian | Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, the Berlin State Library

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.

Reel Librarians | 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:

Reel Librarian | Library scene in 'Wings of Desire' (1987)

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:

Lippold, Von Markus. “Engel, die auf Menschen starren (Angel Staring at People).” Der Tagesspiegel. 4 February 2016.

Marcus, Laura. “The Library in Film: Order and Mystery.” The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History. Princeton University Press, 2015.

Rich, Jamie S. “Wings of Desire – Criterion Collection.” DVD Talk, 3 Nov 2009.

Wings of Desire,” Wikimedia Foundation, is licensed under a CC BY SA 3.0 license.

Wings of Desire [dvd]. Dir. Wim Wenders. Perf. Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Peter Falk. Road Movies Filmproduktion, 1987.

Wings of Desire – Official Trailer (1987),” uploaded by 2AM Ltd, Standard YouTube license.

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7 faces of a liberated librarian

Thank you to everyone who voted in the second reader poll to choose the next film for me to analyze! And here you have it, a post about your chosen winner, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964).

“Here is the mysterious beauty of the far East and the roaring action of the far West!” [from trailer]

This film, based very loosely on the award-winning 1935 novel The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney, is a showcase for Tony Randall’s skill at comedic timing and accents — as the title suggests, he plays 7 roles in this film, including the title character. Legendary makeup artist William Tuttle also gets to display his mastery at special effects makeup — after all, he created the “7 faces” of the title — and earned an Honorary Oscar for his makeup work on this film.

Reel Librarians  |  DVD case and title card for '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

It’s a strange, uneven film that combines elements of the fantasy and Western genres; mysterious Dr. Lao (Tony Randall) brings a circus to a Western frontier town in Arizona while local newspaperman Ed Cunningham (John Ericson) woos the local teacher/librarian (Barbara Eden), a widow with a young son. The film plot reads like a mash-up of 1962’s The Music Man (a mysterious, shady character comes to a small town and woos the local librarian) and 1983’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (a mysterious circus comes to town, and the town librarian reconnects with his young son). Interesting that ALL THREE films — 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, The Music Man, and Something Wicked This Way Comes — feature reel librarians in prominent roles. Hmmmmmm…

In 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, Barbara Eden — one year from her iconic title role in I Dream of Jeannie — plays the town librarian and widow Angela Benedict. She receives third billing in the film’s trailer (but second billing in the film’s credits), but her profession is not mentioned in the trailer. Rather, the trailer highlights the different roles Tony Randall plays; everyone and everything else comes second — or rather, eighth. 😉

The first library scene begins 10 minutes into the film, as Ed putt-putts up to the library in his motorized bicycle — obviously a clue to his inner rebel! This also helps date the film as early 1900s, as motorized bicycles came to the U.S. at the turn of the century.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

The prop master wasted no time in featuring the main feature of the library set:  a big SILENCE sign front and center on the reel librarian’s desk. (Sigh.)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

Ever the rebel, Ed asks loudly if there’s anything to read, earning an immediate “Shhhhhh!!!” from the reel librarian and dirty looks from the patrons reading at a nearby table. Angela Benedict then directs him to the section on “courtesy and good manners” since he is displaying such bad manners by talking loudly in a library. Then he displays further bad manners by sneaking in a kiss on her neck!!! The librarian shouts in alarm, drawing even more attention. Ed laughs at her reaction, because sexual harassment is soooo funny. 😦

Bias alert:  As a librarian who has had to personally deal with sexual harassment while at work — it’s an all-too-common issue for many, many librarians — I found this entire “romance” between Ed and Angela more than a little creepy and disturbing. So fair warning that I’m bound to get all-capsy in this post!

They then settle down to a legitimate reference question, as he wants a book on China (to look up the village Dr. Lao says he’s from), and Angela directs him not only to a particular shelf — “Section on Asia, third shelf from the top” — but also recites a specific book title, The History of China by D. Boulger.

NOTE:  Y’all know I had to look that book up, right? And it turns out, it’s a real book! D. Boulger is Demetrius Charles Boulger, who wrote several volumes about China in the late 1800s, including Volume I of The History of China available to read online here, published in 1881.

Ed then follows up this legitimate reference query by asking Angela on a date, something he has apparently tried several times before:

Angela:  I should think it would be clear by now that I do not wish to go out with you, Mr. Cunningham. Ever.

Ed:  It’s because you’re afraid.

Angela:  Of you?

Ed:  Of falling in love. Of being a woman. That’s what you are, Angela, underneath all those widow’s weeds.

Gross. Especially as Ed pauses to leer and eyeball her up and down before saying the last half of that sentence above, “underneath all those widow’s weeds.”

Angela is properly shocked at this.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

Unfortunately, Angela is saddled with a screenplay determined to make her an example of a “Liberated Librarian” character type — with her “liberation” coming at the hands of a man who cannot take NO for an answer. Because Ed obviously knows that secretly, deep down underneath all those widow’s weeds, she desires him. After all, he is apparently the only eligible man in town.

And in the VERY NEXT SCENE, we all get to see what is actually underneath all those widow’s weeds. Right after she kisses her son goodnight, Angela changes clothes in front of an open door as she continues a conversation with her mother-in-law. As you do. The framing device of looking through the door as Angela changes in her bedroom also increases the Peeping Tom creep factor.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

The next scene is a town meeting that takes place in the library, which seems to function also as the City Hall. (Note the two extra SILENCE placards in the library set below.) The scene involves a subplot about a businessman, Mr. Stark, who wants to “save the town” and buy everyone’s land before the water runs out.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

So there are THREE parallel plots going on here about male saviors:

  • Ed, who is trying to save the local librarian;
  • Mr. Stark, who says he’s trying to save the town from going under (but is really a charlatan under his waistcoat of respectability and 10-gallon hat);
  • and the mysterious Dr. Lao, who ends up saving the town from itself (even though everyone suspects he’s a charlatan and a so-called “dirty foreigner”).

During the town meeting, Angela stands up and asks a direct question:  If Abalone is as worthless as Mr. Stark says, why is he so anxious to buy it?

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

In Mr. Stark’s response, he also reveals more about Angela’s role in the town: Fair question. I’m glad you asked. Mrs. Benedict, you’re a teacher. A librarian. And as such, you can take a dull boy and make him into a smart boy.

Angela starts to reply and then gets SHUSHED by another lady, who says she ought to be ashamed of herself for doubting Mr. Stark’s integrity! That earns some librarian side eye.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

A majority of the film then focuses on the various sideshow acts — and characters — in Dr. Lao’s circus. One of these characters is Pan, who catches Angela under his musical spell. And OF COURSE, Angela immediately reveals her innermost desires — Ed was right all along! — as she imagines Pan’s face as Ed’s. This results in an unbuttoned blouse, messy hair, and heavy breathing. As you do.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

Just as Angela is about to kiss Ed/Pan, a noise distracts her, and she runs away, ashamed of her actions. But her lust lurking “underneath all those widow’s weeds” soon rises again to the top, as we later see Angela in her nightclothes, sweating and unable to sleep.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

The next night, Angela’s liberation is complete, as she has now cast off her dark, severe widow’s weeds and is bedecked in a feminine, frilly light blue dress and hat with blue flowers. She seems more at ease and flirts openly with Ed.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

There are conflicting opinions expressed throughout the film about Angela, the reel librarian. On the one hand, she’s praised — however condescendingly — as a teacher and librarian by Mr. Stark at the town meeting, and Dr. Lao later calls her an “estimable educator.”

On the other hand, we witness her own mother-in-law’s disapproval at Angela’s prim parenting style as well as her loyalty to her dead husband. And we also get this conversation between Angela and Ed, in which Angela criticizes herself — or rather, who she used to be:

Ed:  You remind me of someone. A woman I know. Name’s Angela Benedict… Ever meet her?

Angela:  No. But I’ve heard of her. She’s supposed to be a most unpleasant person.

Ed:  Oh no. Whoever told you, it’s is a lie. Angela’s, well, you see, Angela’s got a problem.

Angela:  What kind of a problem?

Ed:  The worst kind. Same as mine. Loneliness. It’s just about the worst thing that can happen to a person. See, people think Angela’s hard. People think she’s cold. Let me tell you she isn’t hard and she isn’t cold. She’s soft and warm. Only she’s afraid to let anyone know.

[Librarian side eye.]

There is one more scene set in the library, after Dr. Lao exposes Mr. Stark’s scheme. The public votes against selling their land to Mr. Stark, and Angela leads the clapping for Dr. Lao.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

Angela Benedict as the small-town librarian is a classic Liberated Librarian role:  a young, trapped woman who “discovers herself” with the help of a man or in face of an adventure (or both, in this case). Angela herself explains the transformation:

I woke up, and I found out something. Just that there’s music in the air and that I’m a liar and worse. I’m in love.

So there you have it. Life lessons for us all. Single lady librarians who seem content in their independence and sensible clothing are all liars and need to acknowledge how liberating the love of a good man is. And then change right away into feminine, frilly dresses in pastel shades to demonstrate externally how love has transformed them into real women.

(Sigh.)

After all, we had learned this lesson not 2 years before in 1962’s The Music Man. One of the first things I noted after watching the film was how many similarities there are between the characters of “Marian the Librarian” in The Music Man and Angela Benedict in 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. Both Class II portrayals. Both Liberated Librarians who started off as uptight prudes with spectacles (or pince nez). Both small-town librarians transformed by love (and a frilly dress and hat).

Reel Librarians  |  The Music Man vs. 7 Faces of Dr. Lao

The Music Man is admittedly a superior film, and Marian Paroo has quite a bit more spunk than the character of Angela Benedict, who comes across as a watered-down, pale imitation of Marian the Librarian. It’s also telling that the character of Angela Benedict — indeed, the entire subplots of Angela and Ed, as well as Mr. Stark’s business proposition — was NOT in the book.

7 Faces of Dr. Lao was not a hit when it was first released, but it has become a kind of cult fantasy classic over the decades, most likely because of its special effects and nostalgic stop-animation sequences. The story, however, does not age well, nor do the numerous jokes at the expense of racism and sexism. The film is equal-opportunity offensive, however, making fun of the Chinese, rednecks, nagging housewives, Native Americans, “dirty foreigners,” and of course, librarians. In a film that features — no, celebrates! — a white man playing a gapped-toothed Chinaman, is it any wonder that is also includes a stereotypical librarian?

And last but not least, the 7 faces (or rather, facial expressions) of a Liberated Librarian:

Reel Librarians  |  7 faces of a Liberated Librarian

Until next time… 🙂

Glasses on, glasses off

Summer of the Monkeys is one of those youth classics that I never got around to reading, mainly because Wilson Rawls’s other classic, Where the Red Fern Grows, devastated me. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but I remember lots and lots of crying over that book at a young age. Also, both books kind of remind me of the classic book and movie Old Yeller, which I can only think about through a haze of tears. Um, spoiler alert.

Anyways…. this Class III movie is set in the late 1800s/early 1900s and about a teenage boy, Jay (Corey Sevier), trying to earn money to buy a pony. And then his world gets turned upside down by a batch of circus monkeys who escaped during a train crash. The early part of this film focuses on the boy’s home life on the farm, and about 20 minutes in, Jay makes fun of his sister reading a book: “Talk to ME about tall tales. You and your stupid books. Everything I know, I learned by goin’ out and doin’ it.”

Yeah, we’ll see about that.

Turns out, Jay doesn’t know how to connect with those circus monkeys by just “going’ out and doin’ it.” Cue grandpa’s advice to check out the town library. Bless you, Wilford Brimley, you’re the best. ♥

So almost an hour in, we take a trip along with Quaker Oats grandpa and Jay to the Ridgewell town library (see right). This scenario reminded me a bit of the library scene in The Magic of Ordinary Days. The purpose of the scene is the same, as this small-town public library serves a vital function as a source of info for both its local and rural users.

And we get a lot of nice shots of the one-room library interior, which looks quite bright and cheery and welcoming. There’s a stove in the middle, a few chairs and tables, bookshelves along the back, oil paintings, all against a backdrop of off-white and green.

We also get nice close-ups of the reel librarian (Beverly Cooper). She’s blonde (again, kind of visually similar to the reel librarian in The Magic of Ordinary Days), middle-aged, and dressed in a period costume of puffed sleeves, high collar, long skirt, and cameo brooch. Her hair is pulled back in a bun, and of course, a pair of glasses complete her reel librarian uniform. I love the details of the quill pen and the large lamp on the Circulation desk. What I don’t love so much? The QUIET sign just inside the front door (see below).

Let’s listen in as Jay walks into the library for the first time.

Jay:  Howdy, ma’am.

Librarian:  Shh.

[Everybody looks up]

Jay (in a whisper):  I’d like to see all the books you have on monkeys.

Librarian:  Could you be more specific?

Jay:  Well, I’m trying to trap a bunch of ’em. They’re from the train wreck a few weeks back. My grandpa thought that if I read up on ’em, it’d help me out.

Librarian (taking off her glasses): Why don’t you have a seat? I’ll bring some material over to you.

Jay:  Thanks.

It’s interesting to note the librarian’s different facial expressions, which seem to change depending on whether or not she’s wearing glasses. Maybe she feels she has more authority when wearing spectacles? That she can’t smile unless the glasses are off?

Exhibit A, glasses on (click each image to view a larger version):

Exhibit B, glasses off:

So Jay sits down at a table beside a young girl (see below) and looks more than a little bit overwhelmed and out of his comfort zone. In the next shot, the librarian brings over a large stack of books, “This should get you started.” The boy looks up with big eyes and picks one up with a bewildered expression. There’s no explanation from the librarian about what’s in the books or how to use them. Sorry to say, this is an example of what NOT to do during a reference interview.

Glasses are off. That means I get to smile.

In the next shot, after some time has passed, we see a closeup of the materials all scattered on the desk, including a book entitled Young People’s Natural History (a real book! click here to view more info through WorldCat), plus a copy of a Ridgewell Chronicle news article about the train wreck. Obviously still overwhelmed, Jay turns to the young lady at his table — because she’s more approachable? — about how to pronounce some French words in the article. After they talk some more (the young lady is extremely helpful), the library bell dings, cutting to a disgruntled look from the librarian. The glasses are back on!

After the young lady leaves, the librarian steps back into frame, taking off her glasses.

Librarian: The library is closing, young man. You can leave the books where they are. (She starts clearing up, stacking books, putting lids on ink bottles, etc.)

Jay turns back and asks:  Ma’am? That young lady who was sitting across from me? She come here much?

Librarian:  I see her from time to time.

Jay:  Thank you very much.

Librarian:  Come back again.

Jay:  I believe I will.

The scene ends with a shot of the librarian hugging some books to her chest, smiling (see above, in Exhibit B). She looks pleased, and the scene ends on a positive note. Jay uses the info to locate the monkeys and return them to the circus. Sure, the librarian’s an Information Provider, but she really wasn’t all that helpful. It was the young lady who really helped the boy out. And it’s because of her, NOT the librarian, that Jay wants to return to the library.

After he climbs back in the buggy with his grandpa, Wilford Brimley, bless him, sums it all up for us.

Grandpa:  You say it was the young lady who helped you?

Jay:  Yeah.

Grandpa:  Oh.

Oh, indeed.


Calling all the beautiful girls

I caught Beautiful Girls (1996) on Hulu recently. For a movie that explores different versions of masculine ambivalence on the eve of a high school reunion (a reunion in winter? huh?), it comes as no surprise that it’s hard to feel anything but ambivalence toward the movie itself. I had seen it once before, years ago, and it was memorable only in my memory for featuring a young Natalie Portman (albeit in a slightly creepy subplot). It’s the kind of movie that substitutes songs for character development.

So about a half hour into the film, hapless girlfriend Sharon (Mira Sorvino) commiserates with her girlfriends about her cheating boyfriend Tommy (Matt Dillon).

Her friend Gina (Rosie O’Donnell) cheers her up by painting this scenario:

You’re going to have to break up with him, and you’re going to have to break up with him now. Now getting over him, that’s going to be the hard part. I know. Believe me, I know. It’s true. At first, after the breakup, you’ll have these visions. Of you alone, 57, 58, walking around wearing a nightgown, your hair in a bun. Maybe you’re a librarian, heating up a can of soup for one and worrying about the cobwebs that are growing in your womb.

Again, the specter of the Spinster Librarian nightmare. Gee, thanks.

At this point, I thought, ok, it’s going to be a Class V film, one that mentions a librarian but doesn’t include an actual librarian. But I was wrong.

An hour and ten minutes in, right after another inspiring soliloquy, this one by actor Michael Rappaport about the allure of supermodels (“A beautiful girl can make you dizzy, like you’ve been drinking Jack and Coke all morning”) we cut to a scene in the public library, where Tommy is trying to end his affair with Darian (Lauren Hutton). Is it merely coincidence that a librarian — this time an actual one — provides the backdrop for yet another breakup scene? Methinks perhaps not.

The librarian in Beautiful Girls

The older female librarian (uncredited) is standing up behind the circulation desk, checking out books to a couple of young boys. Her grey bobbed hair and bangs match her grey blazer, and her glasses sit low on her nose. No lanyard or bun in sight, thank goodness. She sits down as the camera pans to the back of the library toward Tommy and Darian. The bit of the desk visible reveals the standard movie props for libraries:  stacks of books, a globe, a carousel of book stamps, a small card file, a bookstand, and in a nod to modern technology, a computer and scanner. Your average Information Provider, elevating the film into the Class IV category.

This scene was filmed at Franklin Library, a branch library of the Minneapolis Public Library system. This site provides a very thorough exploration of the filming location, plus more recent photos of this beautiful Carnegie library.

Woof! Beware of librarian

Woof! (1989) details the comic adventures of an English boy, Eric (played by Edward Fidoe), who turns into a dog — a Norfolk terrior, to be exact — whenever his nose starts twitching. The movie, although a bit dull and hokey to me, is connected to a long-running (!) British TV series.

Stereotypes abound in this movie. There is the stuffy, child-hating teacher who yells at students to keep off the grass; the absent-minded and slightly buffoonish father; and, of course, the glasses-wearing, sour-faced librarian. This movie seems harmless enough, but I got an overwhelming sense of rules, rules, RULES. There are rules about not walking on the school lawn, no toys in the pool, no dogs allowed, no talking, and so on. Perhaps the boy (subconsciously) simply wants to escape!

The boy becomes determined to figure out why he keeps turning into a dog and tells his parents he’ll be going to the library later. His mother’s reaction? To feel his forehead and ask if he’s all right. It seems in this household, going to the library is odd behavior and cause for concern. Brushing away his mom’s concern, he tells his not-so-bright friend, Roy, at school that they must start by collecting data. Roy sees a light bulb, “Oh, that’s why you asked about the library tickets!”

Their first stop is the school library, a small room with few books available. There doesn’t appear to be any school librarian. The room is filled with older wood-and-metal tables and chairs, a chalkboard, a bulletin board covered with pictures, and a few low bookcases. From one angle, we see a large window along the back wall with a view of trees. There are a few books haphazardly stacked up on one bookcase, and a small 6-drawer card catalog on top of another. Overall, the look is very cluttered and disorganized.

The school library from the Woof! movie – no school librarian to be seen

The school library in the TV series seems to be better stocked – did they finally get a librarian?

Although the scene is only two minutes long, the message of RULES gets hammered again. Two girls come in and immediately ask, “Have you got permission to be in here?” Then a teacher — the same one who had yelled at them about walking on the grass — bursts in and yells again. “What are you up to?!” The fact that he’s holding a gun in his hand is commented on but never explained. Decidedly odd.

“It’s not easy is it, research?” Eric muses, on their way to the public library. This five-minute scene takes place toward the end of the first hour of the movie. The public library looks cheerful from the outside, with its traditional red brick and gold lettering; it seems quite busy and popular with lots of people going in and out. No “beware of librarian” signs to be seen.

The next shot showcases the main librarian (Sheila Steafel), checking out books with a scanner at the Circulation desk. She appears to be middle-aged, with short blondish hair, glasses perched low on her nose. She wears a tan cardigan and a light blue/grey blouse with an undone bow at the neckline. She wags her finger at two girls, who promptly move to the other side of the librarian’s right side (again, RULES alert!). After the girls have moved to the proper place, the librarian then motions for their library card. There is another librarian, uncredited, with her back to the camera. We see glimpses of her later on; she is of African descent, and she also wears rather conservative clothing (a black cardigan, white button-up shirt, long black-and-white polka-dotted skirt).

We get to see more of the public library, which has many bookcases, light-colored walls, and several informational signs. A character even mentions a second floor. There are several dark wood tables and comfy chairs visible.

Actions speak louder than words

The boys apparently find more books, judging by the stack on their table, but their research is cut short. Next, we see the librarian standing in the middle of the floor, in a light tan, calf-length skirt and brown flats, but without her glasses. She’s waving a large bell, a not-so-subtle way to signify closing time. Seeing no reaction from two kids right beside her, she waves the bell right in their faces (see right). Still no words, just crude gestures. After putting the bell back on the desk, she turns to a book cart, then taps impatiently to the man standing on the other side of the cart. He moves quickly (fearing worse her bite or her bark?), and she hurriedly pushes the cart in front of him.

Disaster strikes! Eric turns into a dog at the library. Roy leaves his duffel bag of the library table, where it catches the ire of the librarian, who is busy pushing the cart and clearing up books. When she spies the offensive bag, she rolls her eyes, gives it a glare, huffs, and throws the bag on the cart. While Eric’s friend is trying to figure out a way to get them out of the library without the librarian seeing, the director cuts to the librarian back at the Circulation desk. (Side note: we see the electronic scanner, but no computer. Hmmmm…..)  Up to this point, the librarian has been more of the “Actions speak louder than words” type, but she finally speaks up — albeit in a whispering tone — in the presence of an adult (her perceived equal?), a schoolteacher. The teacher, who is also the cricket coach, invites the librarian — and even calls her by her first name, Marjorie, although she is listed only as “Librarian” in the credits — out to the cricket match. The librarian seems horrified at this idea. The teacher, giving no notice to the librarian’s obvious social discomfort, leaves by trilling, “Till this evening.” This prompts the librarian to finally raise her voice, shouting out, “NO! I — ” before breaking off. She seems quite embarrassed at her outburst — breaking her own rules, tsk tsk — and looks around guiltily while biting her nails (see below).

Shush!

When Roy braves his life to ask the librarian about the missing duffel bag, we see the librarian glare at the boy with pursed lips. She shows no concern, airily telling him that the teacher took the bag. She shows much more concern about getting out of there, as she is in the process of putting her glasses up in a case. The boy, not getting the message from the librarian’s first dismissive smile, earns a scathing warning, “We are CLOSED now, actually” and another dismissive nod. Roy then walks slowly away, carrying out Eric-turned-dog in his other bag. Eric lets out a bark — what a mischief-maker! — which causes a look of confusion on the librarian’s face (in yet another close-up). She purses her lips again, raises her eyebrows, and looks around in confusion, as if she’s hearing things. She puts on her wide-brimmed black hat (which is NOT shaped like a witch’s hat), and that is that.

So what’s the point of the library scenes? Eric thinks of the library first when it comes to research — yay! — and seems to find more info at the public library than at the woefully understocked school library. But the kids are definitely on their own, either way. No help from this librarian. She appears quite dowdy, with a dismissive attitude when it comes to children or library users in general. She is not social — the idea of going out in public to a cricket match scares her into a shout! — and her mannerisms betray this social awkwardness. The only library tasks depicted are checking out books, pushing a cart, picking up books, and telling people to go home.

The public librarian serves as yet another authority figure who presents obstacles for the kids and delivers more rules. She is another guard dog — mirroring the big, scary black dog the boys have to confront every morning on their paper route. But her bark — or glare, in this case — is decidedly worse than her bite. Not a flattering portrait. She serves as both a Spinster Librarian (an uptight rule-monger) and Comic Relief (the target of derision and laughter in socially awkward situations).

Eric succinctly sums up his experience with the public librarian. At the end of the movie, he says, “Anyway, I’m glad it’s over. Remember the swimming baths, the telephone box, getting trapped in that library? Tell you, Roy, I still have nightmares about that!”

Relive the nightmare for yourself, below [library scene starts at 2:40].