The Jedi librarian

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I watched the fan edit of the Star War prequel trilogy, entitled Star Wars:  Rise of the Empire, which was compiled back in 2007. Out of the 7+ hours of the original prequels (Episode I: The Phantom Menace, 1999; Episode II: Attack of the Clones, 2002; Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, 2005), this techie fan managed to whittle the story down to a still-healthy-yet-manageable 4 hours. It seemed like a majority of the second prequel, Attack of the Clones, stayed on the cutting-room floor (no more painful love scenes out on the lake by Naboo, thank goodness!), but guess which scene made the cut in its entirety?

That’s right, the library scene!

Reel Librarians:  Star Wars Library Scene

The Jedi archives library is still quite recognizable as a library, with its rows of bookcases and library tables. The cool blue tones of the set foreshadow a certain coolness, or aloofness, that we will see reflected in the Jedi librarian’s manner, as well.

Early on in Star Wars, Episode II:  Attack of the Clones, Obi-Wan (Ewan MacGregor) visits the Jedi Archives to research a mysterious planet called Kamino. During his talk with the archivist librarian (Alethea McGrath as Madame Jocasta Nu, seen below), Obi-Wan discovers that the planet has been removed from the navigation maps of the Jedi archives.

Reel Librarians:  Star Wars Library Scene

Madame Jocasta Nu, Jedi librarian

Here’s how their interaction plays out:

Jocasta Nu:  Did you call for assistance?

Obi-Wan:  Yes, yes, I did.

Jocasta Nu:  Are you having a problem, Master Kenobi?

Obi-Wan:  Yes, I’m looking for a planetary system called Kamino.

Jocasta Nu:  Kamino.

Obi-Wan:  It doesn’t show up on the archive charts.

Jocasta Nu:  Kamino. It’s not a system I’m familiar with. Are you sure you have the right coordinates?

Obi-Wan:  According to my information, it should appear in this quadrant here, just south of the Rishi Maze.

Reel Librarians:  Star Wars Library Scene

This futuristic version of a library still retains a traditional air, including a backdrop of sculptures and columns. Also, that computer library desk/table wouldn’t look out of place in a modern library.

So far, so good. But when the computer screen pulls up a blank on that quadrant, the Jedi librarian fails to look further:

Jocasta Nu [shaking her head]:  I hate to say it, but it looks like the system you’re searching for doesn’t exist.

Obi-Wan:  Impossible. Perhaps the archives are incomplete.

Jocasta Nu:  If an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist.

This is not at all a flattering scene for real librarians or archivists; that look on Jocasta Nu’s face during her last line is a real groaner, as seen below.

Reel Librarians:  Star Wars Library Scene

The chilly look on the Jedi librarian’s face when Obi-Wan suggests that the archives are incomplete.

And Obi-Wan is not convinced of Jocasta Nu’s declaration. He takes his discovery to Yoda, and they reason that this erasing of archival data could have only been done by a Jedi, suggesting a dangerous conspiracy.

This library scene is a classic cinematic example of a failed reference interview, to be sure. (I’ve even used it as training example of what NOT to do on the reference desk!) Where are the follow-up questions? A keyword search for “Kamino” in other archival collections? A search to see when/if the planetary archives log has been tampered with? A helpful referral for another archivist or department to look into the matter? Nope, none of those things that would (hopefully) happen in the real world. (SIGH.)

Reel Librarians:  Star Wars library scene

Obi-Wan contemplates his options after talking with the Jedi librarian.

Nevertheless, this library archives scene is still quite an important one, and Jocasta Nu still remains a key Information Provider (even if she is a provider of misinformation in this case). It’s a pivotal scene that propels the plot forward, revealing the depth of the conspiracy. Even Jocasta Nu’s prim refusal to believe in the infallibility of the archives adds proof to the difficult task ahead of Obi-Wan and the Jedi, who are fighting generations of tradition and complacency — the very things that the Emperor is manipulating to ensure his plan’s success.

All of this helps explains why this Class III library scene — all one minute of it! — survived the fan edit.

Also, in my research, it turns out that Jocasta Nu makes a reappearance in the 2005 video game version of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. And she has earned her own action figure!

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Twisted librarian love

Continuing in our series of scary movies featuring librarians, this week’s feature is Twisted Nerve (1968). SPOILERS AHEAD.

Whistling past horror — although there are some close-ups of bloodied bodies and hatchets along the way — this decidedly odd film tries to sell itself as a psychological drama, with a main argument that homicidal/psychopathic tendencies are passed genetically. It also attempts to relate this issue of “twisted nerves” to Down’s Syndrome — referred to as “Mongolism” in this ’60s film — as the main star/villain of the film, Martin (played by Welsh actor Hywel Bennett, who looks like Zac Efron in a bad wig) has a brother with Down’s Syndrome living in a mental institution. Martin himself reverts to a mentally  handicapped personality, “Georgie,” throughout the film.

This (controversial and offensive) link to Down’s Syndrome is so badly pieced together that the filmmakers were forced to add a prologue during post-production, stating “that there is no established, scientific connection between Mongolism and psychotic, or criminal, behavior.”

You’re probably wondering… what in the world is a librarian doing in this film? Enter Hayley Mills as Susan Harper, a lovely young librarian who, in the space of an ill-timed smile, becomes the obsessive target of Martin, who assumes the persona of “Georgie” around Susan in order to gain her trust. Which isn’t very hard to do, because again and again, Susan is shown to be incredibly gullible, naive, and easily manipulated (even blaming herself in one scene for Georgie’s behavior!). It’s a credit to Hayley Mills’ acting skills that she comes across as warm-hearted and intelligent as she does; otherwise, you would just want to scream at the screen constantly about how dumb her actions are. Which, now that I think about it, totally fits the tradition for those watching horror movies, to scream at the young girl who walks into a dark house without telling anyone where she is.

A little over ten minutes into this Class II film, Martin/Georgie embarks upon his obsession by following Susan one morning to the public library, whilst whistling a creepy tune:

Don’t look behind you!

Susan is a classic Spirited Young Girl character type:  a young, physically attractive, intelligent, and modern girl who is working temporarily at the library. She’s quite open about working for a teaching degree, and she has a conversation later with her mom about school lasting “only one more year.” And along with Ali McGraw in Love Story (1970), she’s one of the best-dressed reel librarians ever! Behold the blonde-haired cuteness:

Our first introduction to Susan in a library setting is a classic one; while looking for a book atop a library ladder, two young lads enjoy the view up her (short) skirt.

It’s interesting to compare how the behavior of these two boys comes off as cheeky, while Martin’s behavior as alter ego Georgie — a young boy’s personality stunted in a man’s body — comes off as creepy. In small moments like this, this movie can be quite clever and intriguing.

Susan enjoys a nice moment of readers’ advisory with the boys:

Susan:  Here we are. How about this? [hand them book ]

Boy #1: The Tower of London? Get off. That’s history, isn’t it?

Susan:  That’s bloodthirsty enough, even for you, Johnny.

Boy #2:  Any girls in it?

Susan:  Well, there’s Lady Jane Grey. She gets the chopper.

Boy #2:  I’d rather have Lady Chatterley.

Susan:  I bet you would. But you take this. You’ll like it. I promise you.

Also during the few library scenes throughout the film, we are introduced to the head librarian, Mr. Groom, who is portrayed as a textbook example of the Anti-Social Male Librarian. Again, so clever to juxtapose this decidedly neurotic reel librarian with the name of “Mr. Groom.” Or maybe they’re hinting he’s horsey? 😉

In this first library scene, Martin/Georgie gets upset at Susan refusing to go to the cinema with him and starts unbuttoning his shirt in distress. While trying to help him button his shirt back up, Susan manages to then upset Mr. Groom, who rushes over with a stack of books, hissing in a loud stage whisper:

Look, I don’t know whether you are dressing or undressing your friend, but I do wish you wouldn’t do it in the public library.

In a later library scene, Martin/Georgie is waiting in the library for Susan after hours. Of course, this rattles Mr. Groom’s cage, who quickly scuttles over to him to point out the library’s been closed for the last 10 minutes. Martin doesn’t waste any Georgie mannerisms on Mr. Groom; rather, he calls him “Ratface” and later yells at the hapless reel librarian to “Get stuffed!”

Poor Mr. Groom, he has no idea what he’s in for

After Martin/Georgie has killed a few people, the drama increases as Susan finally starts putting all the pieces together. But even after figuring everything out and returning to an empty house all by herself (insert shouting at the screen!), she gets trapped in the attic in an effectively tense climax scene. The film ends on a plaintive note, as Martin/Georgie continues to call out for, “Susan, Susan.”

A memorable reel librarian in an otherwise troubled film.

Here’s a clip of the whistling scene (later echoed in Kill Bill: Vol. I), and our first glimpse of the public library:

Your friendly local librarian

In The Magic of Ordinary Days (2005), a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie set during World War II, a beautiful young woman (Keri Russell) agrees to an arranged marriage with a lonely, good-hearted farmer (Skeet Ulrich) due to an unplanned pregnancy. The farmer’s not the father — they’d never met before the wedding — but he’s determined to do the best by her. This film is based on Ann Howard Creel’s novel of the same name.

The brief library scene happens early in the film. A little over 10 minutes in, as they’re settling in and getting to know each other, Livy (Russell) mentions to Ray (Ulrich) that she doesn’t know how to cook. She’s an intellectual from the city, obviously a fish out of water in this rural setting.

Livy: It [cooking] shouldn’t be that hard. I can get a book from the library.

… [long pause] …

Livy:  Is there a library?

Ray:  Oh yeah. In La Junta.

Livy:  That’s an hour away.

So a few minutes later, we see Ray driving her over to the La Junta, the nearest town. It’s pure Americana, with red brick buildings around a small town square. (Click here to visit the Woodruff Memorial Library, the current public library in La Junta, Colorado.) But Livy isn’t the one interested in checking out the library, after all — she’s too concerned with calling back home. Ray’s the one who mentions that he’ll be in the library, checking out some cookbooks for her.

‘Getting Prepared for Baby’ by Dr. James Graley

The next shot (see above) cuts to a close-up on two books:  Cooking is Easy by Otto Helmig, and Getting Prepared for Baby by Dr. James Graley.

Side note:  I wasn’t able to find any corresponding titles/authors in WorldCat, the largest online catalog of libraries worldwide. I wonder if they made up the titles and authors for this film. And yes, I also looked up the movie’s full cast and crew on IMDb.com, but didn’t find those names listed there, either.

You knew I was going to look all that up, right? 😉

So we go from the close-up of the books in Ray’s hands to the librarian’s hands. She looks up with a smile on her face, “Are you expecting a little one?” And after Ray confirms this, her response is a delighted, “Well, how wonderful!”

This friendly local librarian (Kira Bradley, see below) is quite young and attractive, with blonde hair pinned back in curls. Her dress (a grey, floral print dress and dark cardigan) and accessories (colorful stud earrings and beaded necklace) look conservative yet also fun and modern for the time period.

Hi, I’m your friendly local librarian

Because of this reel librarian’s warm and friendly demeanor, Ray feels confident enough to follow up with a question.

Ray:  Do you have any books on Heinrich Schliemann? [Note: Livy mentioned this name while talking about what she studied in graduate school]

Librarian [puzzled expression]:  Is that ‘sh’ or ‘sch’?

Ray:  Your guess is as good as mine. I think he was an archaeologist.

Librarian: Let me have a look.

The librarian is obviously able to find him some information on the subject. About 50 minutes into the TV movie, Ray brings up the subject at the dinner table in an effort to connect with Livy’s interests. Success! 🙂

During this very brief scene, which lasts less than a minute, we also get glimpses of wooden bookcases, shutters, red brick, desk lamps, and a flash of a card catalog on the main check-out counter. Despite the scene’s brevity, the bright lighting and setting of this library, combined with the warmth of this Information Provider, provide a very positive portrayal overall of librarians and libraries. This public library is a resource not only for its local population, but for its rural users, as well.

He’s… Conan the Librarian!

Never before in the history of motion pictures has there been a screen presence so commanding, so powerful, so deadly. He’s… Conan the Librarian!

I haven’t featured that many male reel librarians so far, so let’s bring out the big guns (or swords, rather) with Conan! The! Librarian! from the 1989 cult comedy, UHF. In this film, George Newman (Weird Al Yankovic) takes over an almost-bankrupt public TV station, and it becomes an unexpected hit. And one of those hits is showcased in a brief sketch — only 40 seconds long! — in the form of a television ad for the show “Conan the Librarian,” a parody of the famous “Conan the Barbarian” character created by R. E. Howard. I think it’s a bit fun, too, that the name serves as a subtle (and unintentional?) riff off the “Marian the Librarian” character and song from The Music Man (1962).

Conan’s first scene shows a balding, middle-aged man with thick glasses, cable-knit sweater, and tweedy jacket (really, doesn’t HE look more like a stereotypical male librarian?) who asks Conan the Librarian, “Can you tell me where I can find a book on astronomy?”

Conan’s classic response?  To heave the poor man up by his lapels, of course, and shout, “Don’t you know the Dewey Decimal System?”

FYI, the astronomy books would be in the 520’s. And as a librarian, I have repeated this line — and Schwarzenegger-type intonation —  many times. It is ALWAYS funny!

Conan then goes on to showcase more what-NOT-to-do examples for providing reference services, including slicing a young man in two because his books were overdue.

UHF successfully parodies the “Guardian of the Library” image and the librarian character types who display anal-retentive qualities — the Spinster Librarian and her male equivalent, the Anti-Social Male Librarian immediately spring to mind — who are prone to shushing anyone who dares to be loud in a library, or reel librarians who express over-the-top anxiety about late or damaged books. Conan the Librarian is a classic Comic Relief character type, with its crude portrayal of librarianship and extreme physical characteristics.

The scene’s over-the-top humor is more potent because it plays against type: a reel librarian, especially a male librarian, is often portrayed as weak or effeminate. Conan the Librarian shows off his physical superiority at every opportunity. (Fun fact! We first see Conan hanging out in the 613’s, which is the Dewey Decimal number for Aerobics.) Librarians are also usually portrayed as intelligent — even if a condescending type of “book smart” — and this Conan characterization riffs off of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dim-yet-tough brand of acting in his classic 1982 Conan. Although Conan the Librarian is a VERY bad librarian, he is a hero in one sense: he helps save the UHF television station. He’s so bad that he’s funny.

So although only 40 seconds long — again, a short scene provides an immortal reel librarian! — this scene packs a punch (literally) while laying waste to several reel librarian stereotypical traits. Just as Conan the Librarian helped save the fictional TV station, I think this funny scene and unforgettable librarian helped save the film itself. UHF was a notorious flop at the time it was released, but has since solidified fame with its cult status.

As iconic as UHF‘s Conan the Librarian is, it seems the character first starred in a 1987 Mother Goose and Grimm cartoon.

Source: Mike Peters, Mother Goose and Grimm, 18 January 1987

And if you can’t get enough of Conan the Librarian? Check out The Adventures of Conan the Librarian, as well as other pop culture references in the Wikipedia entry for the character.

The fastest librarian in the West!

My vote for the quickest reel librarian EVER? The Microfilm Clerk in The Changeling (1980). Behold (and please excuse the grainy quality of my screenshots):

Starting the timer…

.. and 4 seconds later!

If this library clerk (played by David Peevers) had set up this microfilm in 4 minutes, I would have been impressed! But this scene demands suspension of disbelief, as the young clerk is able to take the microfilm box out of the drawer (top screenshot), roll the microfilm out of its box, thread it through the microfilm reader in the next room, AND spin it through to the requested article — all in 4 seconds (!!!!). WOW. He personifies the concept of “efficiency” for all librarians ever after.

Not sure what microfilm is? Read more about it here. The microfilm reader — kind of looks like a computer, right? — can be seen in the 2nd screenshot above.

Where were we? Oh yes, the fastest reel librarian ever. The library clerk is a young, white male with short brown hair and mustache, and he wears a fairly conservative brown sweater and dark collared shirt. He begins the reference interview with “1909? I’ll set it up for you” and leaves them with “It’s all ready to go, and the scanner’s on the right.” They thank him for his help (yay!).

Ok, a little context. In this atmospheric thriller, George C. Scott plays John Russell, whose wife and daughter are killed in a freak road accident. He rents a house with a mysterious — and murderous — past and goes about researching the tragedy he believes the house is trying to communicate to him. John first goes to the local Historical Preservation Society and meets Claire (played by then-wife in real life, Trish Van Devere), who joins him on his research quest. Their next step is the local library, to look up newspaper articles from 1909.

Note: This is in a time period before full-text articles become available through electronic library databases — but some newspaper archives are still only available through microfilm or microfiche. Not sure what an electronic library database is? Read all about ’em here.

The label on the microfilm box? It reads “Seattle Daily Times, Jan. 13, 1909 thru Feb. 22, 1909,” which fits John’s inquiry. However, this drawer of microfilm is not organized very well, as one box of the Seattle Daily Times sits next to Farm Electrical Studies in the Pacific Northwest. But hey, with the fastest librarian in the West on your staff, who needs organization?!

John gets more help when he goes to the Hall of Records. The Archives Clerk (Robert Monroe), an older white male with glasses, thinning hair, and white beard and mustache, is quite tall and wears a dark shirt and grey blazer. He shows John property atlases of Seattle and helps explain the system of maps and legends.

Although the two male librarians in this film combine for very little screen time, they are helpful and efficient Information Providers — supplying information vital to John’s discovery of the film’s central mystery. It is also refreshing how the film showcases an effective research strategy. Remember, ask a librarian!