Graduate library school discussion in ‘Party Girl’

It’s the time of year for graduations, and that got me thinking about my own graduation when I earned my Master’s degree in Library Science over 15 years ago. And that got me thinking about a particular scene in 1995’s Party Girl

*POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD*

If you’re unfamiliar with Party Girl, then welcome to Reel Librarians! It’s one of my favorite reel librarian movies, even making my Hall of Fame list. Here’s what I wrote about the film on that Hall of Fame list:

A comedy about Mary, a “party girl” who finds her true calling as a librarian, that flips librarian stereotypes upside down—and my sentimental favorite librarian film! Includes a rare scene that features library education, in which a group of librarians discuss the best school for Mary to obtain a library science degree.

Let’s explore the last bit that I highlighted in the above synopsis, the scene in which a group of librarians discuss graduate library science programs. The scene occurs late in the film, at 1 hour and 18 minutes, and lasts 50 seconds.

A bit of background: Mary has realized she wants to become a librarian as well as prove her intentions to her godmother, Judy, who’s head librarian at a public library branch. Judy got Mary a job as a clerk at the library, in order to pay back bail money, but she doesn’t take Mary seriously.

Okay, now let’s break down the scene, shall we?

Graduate library school discussion:

The beginning of the library science discussion scene in Party Girl (1995)
The beginning of the library science degree scene in Party Girl (1995)

Seated at the table, from left to right, are Howard, Mary (taking notes), Ann, and Wanda.

Howard: You don’t need some high status degree. You want the best program for the least money in the shortest amount of time.

Wanda: Absolutely.

Ann [rolling her eyes]: Oh, please! You went to Columbia. You think you’d be working here if you went to some dinky small town program?

Wanda: I say Michigan. I did my undergraduate there. Ann Arbor is so much fun.

Mary: I don’t want to leave New York.

Howard: Well, don’t. You’re going public, right?

[Mary looks confused.]

Ann [interjecting]: Public libraries. As in non-academic. Howard doesn’t approve of academia. He thinks it’s for wimps.

Howard [to Ann]: It is.

Ann [to Howard]: I am sick of your reverse snobbery. Just because a person might want to live in a pleasant, non-urban setting, doesn’t mean they’re selling out.

Wanda: Ann worked in Ithaca, at Cornell.

Ann [to Mary]: How do you feel about the Senate?

Mary: I don’t know.

Ann: There’s a Washington-based program that my friend runs. I think it would be perfect for you, Mary. It’s a little competitive, but she’s an excellent connection…

What a wonderful scene! I love the diversity of ethnicities, genders, and ages of reel librarians represented onscreen. I love how the camera slowly tightens to just focus on Mary as she listens to everyone and takes notes, as seen below. I love how serious the conversation is about the pros and cons of different library science degree programs. And I love that the librarians themselves expose their own biases and differences of opinions about graduate library programs, as well as about different kinds of libraries.

This all feels VERY true to life.

The end of the library science degree scene in Party Girl (1995)
The end of the library science degree scene in Party Girl (1995)

Library school reference interview:

It’s also an interesting take on a reference interview — for AND by librarians! Mary is the one with the reference need, as she is looking for advice on graduate library science degree programs, and her library colleagues are all helping her out. But it seems to me that Howard is the only one actually listening to Mary during this reference interview. Wanda mentions Michigan, and Ann mentions Washington, D.C. (I’m assuming D.C. instead of Washington state, because she preceded that sentence by asking about the Senate), even though Mary said she wants to stay in New York.

And for a 50-second-long scene, we get a bevy of clues and references about different graduate library schools! As seen below, I noted the various places or school names the characters mentioned and then cross-checked them against the directory of current ALA-accredited master’s programs in library and information science as well as the historical list of accredited ALA programs. (Note: ALA stands for “American Library Association,” and most prospective librarians in the U.S. want to get library science degrees from an ALA-accredited program.)

  • Columbia: This could refer to a few different programs:
    • Columbia University in New York, which was discontinued in 1992 with its accreditation status continuing through 1993; as this film is set in 1995, it is possible (and in my mind, probable) that Howard would have gotten his degree there. It is also interesting to note that Melvil Dewey began the very *first* library science degree program at Columbia in the 1880s!
    • University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC.
    • University of Missouri in Columbia, MO.
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan: This refers to the program at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI.
  • Cornell in Ithaca: There is no library school program at Cornell, so Ann must have worked professionally as a librarian at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.
  • Washington-based program: This is most likely the program at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. It’s unlikely that Ann is referring to the program at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA.

And by the way, I’ll jump into the reference interview with Mary… the only ALA-accredited graduate library school in New York that would have been available to Mary in 1995? The Pratt Institute, located in New York City. And they’re still the only ALA-accredited graduate library school in New York. Although there are plenty of online library science degree pathways available now, that was NOT the case in 1995. Looks like Mary is going to Pratt… 🙂

Continuing the conversation about library science:

Want to know about more films that mention library science and educational qualifications for librarians? I’ve got ya covered! Explore these previous posts:

If you’re a librarian, what library school program did you go to? Do you enjoy this scene in Party Girl as much as I do? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used:

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Reel librarian in ‘Evil Under the Sun’

The short library scene is very efficient, and the reel librarian is a classic kind of Information Provider.

This week is finals week for summer quarter, and then I’m off for a few weeks! (In real life — I am scheduling posts for the blog during my summer break, no worries.)

And on the theme of vacation… I recently rewatched the adaptation of Evil Under the Sun from the long-running series (1989-2013) of Agatha Christie’s Poirot starring David Suchet. (And in my humble opinion, Suchet is THE Hercule Poirot for all time. Absolute perfection as the little Belgian detective.) The TV movie aired in July 2003, and it’s based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie.

Evil Under the Sun is set at a luxury island hotel off the coast of Devon, where Poirot is on holiday. During his stay, a beautiful young woman, Arlena Stuart Marshall — who has been flirting with another guest, a married man, and generally upsetting everyone in her vicinity, including her own husband and stepchild — winds up strangled on a secluded beach. Poirot is ALWAYS going on a busman’s holiday!

Here’s a video review of the book:

EVIL UNDER THE SUN by Agatha Christie | Project Poirot SPOILER FREE Review” by bookslikewhoa is licensed under a Standard YouTube License

Fun fact:  The setting for this story was inspired by the Burgh Island Hotel, where Christie actually stayed in real life! And this adaptation was actually filmed at the Burgh Island Hotel!


Librarian connection:


So what does this movie adaptation have to do with libraries or librarians? Just a little over one hour into the movie, Poirot visits the mainland and has lunch with Captain Hastings and Inspector Japp. During lunch, Poirot reels off a list of questions about the murder, including:

“Also I wonder what was in the book that he [Arlena’s stepson, Lionel] was reading.”

Lionel had stated that he went to the mainland the morning of the murder to get a book.

Next stop? The public library!

We hear the librarian stamping in the moment we are introduced to her. Harriet Eastcott plays the Librarian; her character has no name, just the name of her profession.

Meet the librarian in 'Evil Under the Sun' Poirot TV movie
Meet the librarian in ‘Evil Under the Sun’ Poirot TV movie

Poirot has asked about the book Lionel has checked out, and the librarian immediately recognizes the name.

LibrarianLionel Marshall, a young man staying on the island. Let me have a look.

She then goes to the card catalog and flips through cards.

The librarian flips through the patron files
The librarian flips through the patron files

LibrarianHe borrowed a book yesterday morning.

She then looks at the card more closely and has a puzzled, thoughtful look on her face.

LibrarianOh, yes, of course I remember now. I thought it was a rather strange choice, but he said it was for a homework project.

PoirotAnd the name of the book, if you please, madame?

LibrarianDangerous Chemicals and Poisons.

Backdrop of library shelves in library scene in 'Evil Under the Sun' Poirot TV movie
Backdrop of library shelves in library scene in ‘Evil Under the Sun’ Poirot TV movie

Duh duh dummmmmmm! SUSPICIOUS. This scene lasts only 30 seconds total, but it does move the plot along and serves to establish a potential suspect. The reel librarian serves as an Information Provider.

NOTE:  I have written about this before, but this scene exhibits completely unethical behavior on the part of the librarian. At least here in the United States (although it may be different in the United Kingdom), you need a court order to view patrons’ library records. It may be convenient as a private detective or a police officer to go into a library and ask for a patron’s library records, but it is unlawful without a court order or warrant. And it is certainly unethical for a librarian to give out that information without requesting proof of a court order or warrant! I just had to do my duty in helping protect patrons’ privacy and reiterate that.

A couple of more notes from this short scene:

  • I appreciated how the costume designer matched the color of the librarian’s cardigan to the color of the curtains. This immediately and succinctly ties her visually to the setting of the library.
  • The set designer didn’t need much to establish the library setting, just a row of bookcases behind the librarian, a second row of bookcases (with organizational signs along the top in an Art Deco font, nice touch) behind Poirot, a table with card catalog drawers, and a few props like a stamp, pencils, and a notice board. I don’t know if this scene was filmed in an actual library — I couldn’t see any credits to that effect or anything mentioned online — but it could just as easily have been filmed on a set.

How does this scene compare with the book?


*POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERTS*

There is a public library mentioned in the book source material, and Arlena’s stepchild does check out a book that elicits suspicion.

However, there are some key differences, including:

  • Arlena has a stepdaughter in the book, Linda Marshall, which got changed to stepson Lionel in this film adaptation
  • Linda is obsessed with witchcraft and checks out a book on witchcraft, not poisons — still suspicious, but in a totally different way
  • Linda also later attempts suicide, but that is scrubbed entirely from the film adaptation

Final thoughts?


All in all, this short library scene is very efficient, and the reel librarian is a classic kind of Information Provider. She also looks fairly stereotypical for a reel librarian, being a white, middle-aged woman dressed in conservative clothing. Her demeanor is one of trying to be helpful (although winds up being inadvertently unethical). No glasses, but her hair is pulled back in a low chignon bun.

Are you a fan of the David Suchet Poirot series of episodes and TV movies? Have you seen this particular adaptation of Evil Under the Sun? Please leave a comment and share!


Sources used:


‘Indiana Jones and the’ reel librarian

“Seventy percent of all archeology is done in the library.”

One of my librarian colleagues recently asked me if I had done an analysis post for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), one of her personal favorites. I have included the film in prior posts on this blog — see here in my post about Comic Relief librarians and here in this post in which I likened the reel librarian in the film to Stan Lee’s reel librarian cameo in The Amazing Spider-Man— but I realized I hadn’t done an in-depth analysis yet. So, Heather, this one’s for you! 🙂

I have watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade many times over the years, and goodness, how this film holds up! It’s just a really solid — and really re-watchable — action adventure movie with romance and comedy perfectly mixed in. It’s the third film in the series, and in this installment, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) sets off to find the Holy Grail… and his missing father (Sean Connery), who is also a professor and historian. Such good casting!

Here’s a quick trailer for the film:

“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) Trailer #1,” uploaded by Movieclips Classic Trailers, Standard YouTube license

Facts, libraries, and research:


Before we get to the library scene, we first have to visit a pivotal scene that occurs 14 minutes into the film. After the introductory scenes of “Young Indy” and a glimpse of Indiana Jones in full adventurer mode at sea, we swing back to spy on Indiana Jones in the classroom. Instead of wearing a fedora and leather jacket, Indiana is in full professor mode in a three-piece tweedy suit, bow tie, and round glasses. (Put a pin in that, as we will revisit that costume.)

Screenshot from the classroom scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)
FACT, Indiana Jones is still very handsome in a three-piece suit and polka-dotted bow tie. FACT.

He writes “FACT” on the chalkboard, underlines the word, and then states what is arguably the most important speech in the entire film:

“Archeology is the search for FACT, not truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall. So forget any ideas you’ve got about lost cities, exotic travel, and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and “X” never, ever marks the spot. Seventy percent of all archeology is done in the library. Research. Reading.”

Screenshot from the classroom scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)
Hurray for libraries!

Why is this speech so important?

Not just because of the focus on the library, researching, and reading — that’s all gravy! — but because this character is setting up the rest of the film’s plot for us. Even though he’s in denial, we viewers know we’re set for lost cities, exotic travel, maps to buried treasure… and libraries!


The library scene:


Flash forward 10 minutes, almost to the half-hour mark of the film, to when Indiana Jones goes to Venice to meet Dr. Elsa Schneider (Allison Doody). She takes him to where his father was last seen, a local library.

Elsa SchneiderI have something to show you. I left your father working in the library. He sent me to the map section to fetch an ancient plan of the city. When I got back to his table, he’d gone, with all his papers, except for that scrap, which I found near his chair. Here is the library.

Indiana JonesThat doesn’t look much like a library.

Marcus BrodyLooks like a converted church.

Elsa SchneiderIn this case, it’s the literal truth.

A reel library in a converted church
A reel library in a converted church

Trivia alert: The exterior is St. Barnaba church in Venice, but it’s actually still a regular church, not a library. (Bummer, right?!) The interiors were filmed elsewhere.

Below, watch a video of the entire library scene, which lasts about four minutes in total:

“X Marks the Spot Indiana Jones,” uploaded by elder rod, Standard YouTube license

I love the “X marks the spot” reveal in this scene — harkening back to that pivotal speech in the classroom.

X marks the spot!
X marks the spot!

The reel librarian:


And of course the BEST PART of this scene is the reel librarian stamping his books, which exactly syncs up when Indiana Jones hits the floor tiles with the end of a metal post. (Suspension of disbelief? Yep.) It only takes three hits to crack the tile, and the closeups of the reel librarian’s face after each stamp are priceless. He never says a word, yet says SO MUCH through his facial expressions.

My favorite moment of this scene is when the reel librarian — an older man, dressed in a suit, formal collar, and bow tie — stares at the stamp in his hands, then puts the stamp atop the last book softly, in a daze, like he can’t fathom the power he just unleashed. Thus is the power of the library stamp! 😉

The power of the library stamp
The power of the library stamp
Screenshot from the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)
With great power comes great responsibility

Reel librarian as comic relief:


This reel librarian is onscreen for a maximum of 30 seconds in a 4-minute scene (thus landing the film in the Class IV category), and the actor goes unidentified in the film’s credits. Yet he makes such an impact! Literally. 😉

This reel librarian is a prime example of the Comic Relief character type. The purpose of this character type is the most obvious of all reel librarian roles, to entertain, but the reel 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.

They are also the most extreme physically — note how the reel librarian in this film is rail-thin, which is emphasized by the slightly oversize nature of his suit. And these physical characteristics are part of the humor; marveling at this heretofore unseen and unknown strength (!), this reel librarian could not fathom that something other than his stamp could be making noise in the library.

Now for a few additional things I noted while rewatching this film…


Library organization:


First up, I enjoyed the peek at the signs at the end of each bookcase, which give hints about the organization and classification system for this part of the library collection. They’re obviously in the Arts & Literature section of the library, including literature, dramatic arts, and music.

Screenshot from the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)
I love getting peeks of reel library organization!

Reel library goof:


I watched this film on Amazon Prime, which also provides trivia and goofs. I had never noticed this goof before, that when Indiana Jones gets to the top of the spiral staircase, you can tell the backdrop is made up of book spines glued on a black background, rather than real books. Wow!

Trivia about the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)
Reel library goof!

You can click the screenshot below to view a larger image of it in a new tab. Tip: Look for the shadows on the shelf behind Indiana’s elbow, which reveal that the books are really just book spines.

Screenshot from the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)
I love this facial and body expression, like Indiana Jones is apologizing for the book spines glued onto the backdrop.

A tale of two personal libraries:


The two Dr. Joneses like to think they’re so different — yet they’re so alike! And this goes to the state of their personal spaces, as well.

For example, here’s a screenshot of Dr. Jones, Sr., in his personal library at home, in the film’s introductory scenes. The room is lined with bookcases, but none of the items in the bookshelves — books, artifacts, scrolls — look to be very well organized or neatly arranged. Quite disheveled! And the father is dismissive of his own son.

A messy private library for the father...
A messy private library for the father…

But the younger Dr. Jones is equally dismissive of his own students — he escapes by his office window! — plus his own office, full of bookcases and artifacts, is equally messy.

... a messy private office for the son
… a messy private office for the son

Attention to detail:


I also appreciate the attention to detail in this film. In that same scene I mentioned above, when Young Indy tries to enlist his father’s help, we see a closeup of his father’s hands sketching a stained glass window in a small book.

We see that drawing again in the library scene, when Indiana Jones takes out his dad’s diary and flips to the page with the stained glass drawing.

Drafting the library stained glass window...
Drafting the library stained glass window…
... and a peek at the finished drawing of the stained glass window and accompanying notes. Love that attention to detail!
… and a peek at the finished drawing of the stained glass window and accompanying notes. Love that attention to detail!

A tale of two suits:


And here’s one final thing I noted this time around while rewatching this film. Remember when I said put a pin in the costume Indiana Jones wore while teaching? Let’s revisit that. And I used the word “costume” very deliberately, as Indiana Jones only looks truly comfortable when he’s in his leather jacket and fedora. His entire being — posture, manner, etc. — gets stiff when he’s wearing the three-piece suit and bow tie.

And notice just how similar that costume is to what the reel librarian is wearing:

Tales of two suits, the adventurer and the reel librarian
Tales of two suits, the adventurer and the reel librarian

Both of them are wearing a three-piece suit, a bow tie, and round eyeglasses. There are differences, of course:  Indiana Jones’s suit is lighter in color, and a different texture, while the librarian’s suit looks shabbier, and his collar is more old-fashioned. Both bow ties have polka dot patterns, however, and it’s the same outfit formula. It’s like they’re wearing a uniform to do research!

Ultimately, this subtle bit of costume design sartorially links the theme of the library throughout this first part of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.


Continue the conversation:


Do you remember the library scene from this film? If so, what were your thoughts in revisiting this memorable scene? Did it make you laugh? Please leave a comment and share!


Sources used:


‘Me Before You’ (and the library, too)

Research is hard, y’all

I recently watched the tearjerker romance Me Before You (2016) on Amazon Prime, and I was — once again — surprised to see a library scene pop up in the middle of the film. The film stars Emilia Clarke as Lou Clark, a ditzy but warm-hearted girl who loves bright colors, striped tights, and fashion with a bedazzled “F.” Sam Claflin plays Will Traynor, a recently paralyzed man that Lou helps take care of.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

Here’s a trailer for Me Before You, directed by Thea Sharrock in her directorial debut:

“Me Before You Official Trailer #1 (2016) – Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin Movie HD,” uploaded by Movieclips Trailers, Standard YouTube license

The film is based on the novel by Jojo Moyes, who also wrote the screenplay. I have to note that it has become a controversial film, with criticism and protests from the disability rights movement protesting the film’s central issue of disabilities and voluntary euthanasia. (I did warn you about spoilers.) But it’s not really a spoiler when the fact that Will wants to kill himself comes up halfway through the film and provides the motivation for the remaining half of the film — and the library scene. And that it’s a plot point featured in the trailer.

So. Will is depressed and convinced he is a burden to his family and cannot reconcile the ideal of his former self with his current self. (Can you understand why this film has garnered criticism?) In an attempt to stimulate Will and get him out of his depression, Lou tries to plan fun activities for him. This idea comes out of a conversation with her sister, Treena (played by Jenna Coleman).

TreenaIf this is what he really wants, then use the time he’s got left. Make it special. … A bucket list. Show him how good this time can be.

LouBut.. what if that list could do more than that? What if it could make him change his mind?


Cue library research montage!


The director then cuts immediately to a public library. This scene occurs 47 minutes into the film.

Lou and the library
Lou and the library

And I am assuming this scene was filmed in an actual library, because — you may have guessed it, so say it with me now — there are CALL NUMBERS on the spine of the books. Thank goodness! (I wrote a blog post a few years ago about how you can spot the difference between a bookstores and a library onscreen, if you need a refresher.)

Call numbers!
Call numbers!

Note: I’m not sure where this scene was filmed, as its filming locations on IMDb.com don’t list a public library. If anyone reading this blog knows the real-life library used in this scene, please leave a comment and share!


Research is hard, y’all:


I laughed so hard at the next bit of the scene. The director starts out with a shot of Lou searching online from the perspective of the audience looking over her shoulder (so that we see the back of her head and the computer screen, a website about activities and support for quadriplegics)…

Computer research
Computer research

… then overlays a shot of Lou’s face getting more confused as she reads the computer screen…

Research is hard, y'all
Research is hard, y’all

… and THEN finishes off with Lou’s doubly confused face(s), one looking down at a stack of books she has loaded into her arms and the other still staring at the computer screen.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Me Before You' (2016)
Really hard.

Priceless.

Also… maybe ask a librarian for help next time. That’s why we’re here!


The reel librarian:


The first time I watched this scene, I thought it would turn out to be a Class V film, a movie that may have a library scene but does not feature any reel librarians. But the second time I watched this scene, I am convinced that I spy a reel librarian — or at least the back of one leaning down to either retrieve or shelve a book. I’ve indicated the character I’m referring to in the screenshots below. The bun, cardigan, and dowdy skirt sealed the deal for me. Even though no background character from this scene is listed in the credits, I’m putting Me Before You in the Class IV category, with cameos and bit parts for reel librarians.

The back of a reel librarian
The back of a reel librarian
The backside of a reel librarian
The backside of a reel librarian

A real-life story:


The entire library scene only lasts thirty seconds. Near the beginning of this research montage, Lou pulls out a book from the bookcase, and the title clearly reads Walking Papers.

Walking Papers book spotlighted in this library scene from Me Before You (2016)
Walking Papers book spotlighted in this library scene from Me Before You (2016)

And it’s a real book! (Y’all knew I would look that up, right?!) Its full title is Walking Papers: The Accident that Changed My Life, and the Business that Got Me Back on My Feet by Francesco Clark, published in 2010. Here’s the write-up of this book on Amazon:

Walking Papers is the incredibly inspiring story of a young man who wouldn’t give up. Francesco Clark was a twenty-four-year-old with a bright future when he went to Long Island for the weekend–but a nocturnal dive into the pool’s shallow end changed everything, forever. Paralyzed from the neck down, Francesco was told by his doctors that he would never move from his bed or even breathe without assistance. But Francesco fought back. Within days, he was breathing on his own. His father, a doctor himself, investigated every opportunity for experimental treatment, and Francesco used every resource available to speed his recovery. To avoid having his lungs painfully suctioned, he sang, loudly, for hours–and that was just the beginning.

[…]

Seven years after the accident, Francesco continues to improve and to surprise his doctors–for instance, he can now work on a computer. Walking Papers is the inspiring story of how, with individual determination and unconditional family support, Francesco Clark overcame extreme adversity and achieved an extraordinary triumph.

And come to find out, Francesco Clark was NOT happy that his autobiography was spotlighted in this film. As he stated in an interview:

“I was never asked if my book could be included in the movie, nor was I ever told that it would be included. While I understand that this movie is based on a work of fiction, my book – and my life – is not.”


Got research?


If you just can’t get enough of the time-honored tradition of fast-forwarding plots with library research montages, then check out my posts for WarGames, He’s On My Mind, and Spotlight, just to name a few.


Sources used:


Reader poll write-up, Spring 2018: ‘Ask the Dust’

The librarian and her red lipstick stand out amidst all the hazy earth tones of the library setting.

As per the winning entry in the most recent reader poll, this week I am analyzing the 2006 film Ask the Dust this week. I had never seen the film before.

“Ask The Dust – Trailer,” uploaded by YouTube Movies, Standard YouTube License

What’s it all about?


The 2006 film stars Salma Hayek, who plays Mexican immigrant Camilla, and Colin Farrell, who plays Arturo Bandini, the son of two Italian immigrants. Here’s the film description from Amazon Prime:

“Arturo Bandini (Colin Farrell), a young would-be writer who comes to Depression-era Los Angeles to make a name for himself. While there, he meets beautiful barmaid Camilla (Salma Hayek), a Mexican immigrant who hopes for a better life by marrying a wealthy American. Both are trying to escape the stigma of their ethnicity in blue-blood California. The passion that arises between them is palpable.”

The film is based on the book by Italian-American author John Fante and was first published in 1939 — but the book, and its author, fell into obscurity in subsequent decades. However, Robert Towne rediscovered and used the book as inspiration for the Depression-era (and Oscar-winning) dialogue he wrote for the 1974 classic Chinatown, and writer Charles Bukowski helped the book get republished and wrote a foreword for the 1980 reprint edition by Black Sparrow Press. The book is part of the “Bandini Quartet,” four novels about central character Arturo Bandini.

Bandini Quartet cover
“John Fante, Ask the dust” by giuliaduepuntozero is licensed under CC BY ND 2.0

I had admittedly never heard of the book or the author before, but by all accounts, it’s an underrated gem of a novel — and both its style and subject matter have been extremely influential in the last few decades. For that reason alone, I’m glad I watched this film!

On paper, the film has a lot going for it:  it’s based on a groundbreaking novel; stars two talented and award-winning actors; was written and directed by Robert Towne (the same one who rediscovered Fante’s work in the 1970s!); and was produced by Tom Cruise.

The final result, however, is frustratingly disappointing, all the more so considering the talent involved. Hayek and Farrell display very little chemistry onscreen — or rather, Hayek has sexual chemistry for days (and is the bright spot in this film), but Farrell cannot seem to, uh, rise to the occasion. Farrell has a natural Irish brogue, and acting with an American accent seems to have dampened his naturally charismatic personality. (Yes, an Irishman is playing an Italian-American immigrant.) There is also waaaaaaaay too much voice-over narration, an expository trick that falls as flat as Farrell’s American accent.


Reel librarian fake-out:


Within the first few seconds of the title cards, Eileen Atkins’s name came on screen against a backdrop of an open book, a fountain pen, and glasses on a chain. I immediately perked up at these often librarian-adjacent props and thought, “Oh! Perhaps Eileen Atkins is also playing a librarian!”

Credit card for Eileen Atkins in Ask the Dust (2006)
Credit card for Eileen Atkins in Ask the Dust (2006)

Alas, no. Fake-out! The first few minutes of the film reveal that Eileen Atkins plays Arturo’s no-nonsense landlady, not a librarian. She does wear glasses on a chain, but the open book in the credits turns out to be the guest registration book.

Eileen Atkins as the landlady, not the librarian
Eileen Atkins as the landlady, not the librarian

The real reel librarian:


Nine minutes into the scene, Arturo recalls a memory from when he lived in Colorado. (I didn’t get at first that this was a flashback scene, but then I recalled the librarian role was listed in the credits as “Denver librarian.”) He is in a public library, and he sets down a book on the front counter to check it out.

The librarian at the counter, played by Natasha Staples, is young, blonde, and attractive. She is also fashionably dressed in modern, stylish clothes (for the 1930s time period), and it’s obvious that she has made a considerable effort with her makeup and curled hairdo. She and her red lipstick definitely stand out amidst all the hazy earth tones of the rest of the library setting.

Public library scene and background
Public library scene and background

Here’s how their “meet cute” moment plays out, as Arturo sets down the book on the counter:

LibrarianYou have nice hands.

ArturoI do?

LibrarianVery.

There is definite flirty eye contact happening between the two.

Arturo and the librarian "meet cute"
Arturo and the librarian “meet cute”

Then the librarian looks down as she stamps his card, her eyes registering his name. She looks up at Arturo.

LibrarianBandini? You’re Italian. 

Her face subtly hardens, and her voice flattens out.

LibrarianThat’ll be two cents every day it’s overdue.

Reel librarian discrimination and dismissal
Reel librarian discrimination and dismissal

This is the librarian’s last line, and it is a clear dismissal. Arturo’s face falls as he realizes that the librarian is no longer interested in him, due to his name and Italian roots.

Meet disappointment
Meet disappointment

This library scene lasts only 30 seconds and includes the bare minimum of sets and props, including stacks of books and a stamper.


The reel librarian’s role:


What is the reel librarian’s role in this short scene? Although the reel librarian is onscreen for only a few seconds, she stands out enough to merit a Class III category, in which librarian(s) plays a secondary role, ranging from a supporting character to a minor character with perhaps only a few lines in one memorable or significant scene.

Primarily, this reel librarian serves as an Information Provider character type. In addition to helping set the library scene, her role reflects the discrimination toward Italian immigrants at that time. This scene provides necessary backstory for Arturo’s personal frustration and experiences suffering unfair treatment and discriminatory behavior due to his name, ethnicity, and background. The plot is then set for Arturo to meet Camilla, a Mexican immigrant who has also suffered discrimination to her name, ethnicity, and background.

It’s also interesting to note that this reel librarian partially fulfills the Naughty Librarian character type. It’s clear that she’s willing to be naughty… if the man has the right name, of course.


Sources used:



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