Indiana Jones and the reel librarian

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.

Screenshot from the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)

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.

Screenshot from the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)

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:

Let’s see the reel librarian again in action:

Bad Stamp,” uploaded by Average Joe, Standard YouTube license

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! 😉

Screenshot from the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)

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.

Screenshot from an early scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)

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.

Screenshot from an early scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)

… 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.

Screenshot from 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)

Drafting the library stained glass window…

Screenshot from the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)

… 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:

Collage of Indiana Jones 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:

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Me before you (and the library, too)

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.

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

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.)

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

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)…

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

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

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

… 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)

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.

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

The back of a reel librarian

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

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.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot 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:

“You went to the library” | The importance of library books in ‘Zodiac’

It often happens in my life that when I settle down to watch a movie at home, a library or librarian gets mentioned onscreen… and then date night turns into “film analysis” night. Like I have said before, once you are aware of reel librarians, you start seeing (or hearing about them) EVERYWHERE. 🙂

The movie in question this past week was David Fincher’s 2007 film Zodiac, based on the true events of the Zodiac serial killer, as detailed in the 1986 non-fiction book of the same name by Robert Graysmith. The Zodiac’s killing spree was in and around the San Francisco Bay Area during the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the killer sent several letters and ciphers to the police and newspapers. The film’s star-studded cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal as newspaper cartoonist Graysmith, Robert Downey, Jr. as reporter Paul Avery, and Mark Ruffalo as Inspector David Toschi.

Here’s a trailer for Zodiac:

Zodiac – Trailer,” uploaded by YouTube Movies, is licensed under a Standard YouTube License 

*POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD*

Although no librarian is featured in this movie, and no scenes are set in a library onscreen, this film DOES include several scenes that highlight libraries and library books. Reel librarians are often used as shortcuts for plot progression; in this case, just the library books themselves are used as plot shortcuts. Therefore, it’s a Class V film (no librarians featured), but I found it an interesting film to analyze, nonetheless.

Shall we?

Cracking the library code

At 52 minutes into this 157-minute film (it’s a really long, slow-paced film, y’all), Graysmith is talking with Avery in a bar about a cipher the Zodiac killer used to write a note to the police, challenging the public to crack his message. Graysmith explains the starting point to figuring out the coded message. (Underlining throughout signifies my own emphasis.)

AveryBut how do you go from “A” is one, “B” is two to figuring out this whole code?

GraysmithSame way I did. You go to the library.

At this point, Graysmith takes out a book from his briefcase, a book entitled The Code Breakers by David Kahn.

NOTEThis is a real book, by the way, first published in 1967. I looked it up. ‘Cause librarian. 😉 And for sake of the timeline, the first official Zodiac killing occurred in 1969.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

The Code Breakers book in a scene from ‘Zodiac’ (2007)

Graysmith In this book, the author presents a very simple substitution code in the preface. Eight of the 26 symbols that he suggests are in this cipher.

He then takes out another book from his briefcase, this one entitled Codes and Ciphers by John Laffin. This book describes another Middle Ages code called the “Zodiac Alphabet.”

NOTE:  Yep, another real book, this one published in 1964. Gotta hand it to the David Fincher team for its research skills. HOWEVER, that team overlooked the detail of including call numbers, because neither one of these books has a call number — and Graysmith clearly states that he got them from a library. A real library book would have a call number on the spine. Back in the 1960s, it was commonplace to strip the paper covers from hardback books, and then either paint on call numbers or otherwise affix typed call numbers onto the spine. But dully colored hardback books would not have cinematic impact, so I suspect the product team just bought first edition copies and didn’t think about call numbers. But librarians do! 😉

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Codes and Ciphers book in a scene from ‘Zodiac’ (2007)

Newspaper research:

Any film involving reporters has to include a scene in the newspaper archives, right? This almost obligatory scene, lasting only a minute, occurs a little over an hour into the film. Avery takes Graysmith to the newspaper archives, looking for copies of the Modesto Bee. (Yep, a real newspaper, founded in 1884. Of course I had to look that up, too!) They gather clues from newspaper clippings to suggest that some killings the Zodiac killer confessed to are in doubt, because he only provides clues in letters written after articles in the newspaper came out.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Newspaper archives in ‘Zodiac’ (2007)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Newspaper archives in ‘Zodiac’ (2007)

I also wanted to include a couple of screenshots from this scene because of how visually they remind me of ANOTHER archives scene in a library directed by David Fincher, 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (Read my analysis of that film here.)

Real library filming location:

I mentioned earlier that no scenes are set in a library onscreen. However, the production team did use a real-life library location… as a police station.

At one hour and 12 minutes into the film, several regional police officers travel to the Riverside Police Department to discuss a potential early victim of the Zodiac killer.

Here’s the narration of the victim’s last night — which also includes a library!

Cheri Jo Bates attended Riverside Community College. She studies in the library the night of Oct. 30, 1966. She leaves with an unidentified male at closing, 9 p.m. Her body’s found the next morning in a parking lot, stabbed to death.

This is based on true events; Bates’s murder has been linked to the Zodiac killings. Below is a screenshot of the note she left her father:  “Dad — went to RCC Library.

NOTE:  There is technically not a current “Riverside Community College.” There is now a Riverside City College, which had been known as “Riverside Community College” during the 1960s. The college is part of the Riverside Community College District. So the film got this detail correct, as the school was known as “Riverside Community College” during this time period.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Library note in victim’s file

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Real-life library filming location (interior) in ‘Zodiac’ (2007)

The interior and exteriors of this scene at the Riverside Police Station were filmed at the Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum in Culver City, California. The library’s website includes a “Facility Rentals” page with “competitive film location pricing.” The photos on that page definitely correspond to the screenshots above and below.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Real-life library filming location (exterior) in ‘Zodiac’ (2007)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Real-life library filming location (exterior) in ‘Zodiac’ (2007)

“You went to the library”

Graysmith continues to track down clues about the Zodiac killer, even when others have given up. At 1 hour and 44 minutes into the film, Graysmith visits Avery, who has left (been fired? or otherwise forced out?) from his job as a reporter and is living in a trailer. Avery challenges why Graysmith is even continuing down the Zodiac path.

GraysmithIt was important.

AveryThen what did you ever do about it? If it was so fucking important, then what did you ever do? You hovered over my desk, you stole from wastebaskets… you went to the library.

GraysmithI’m sorry I bothered you. [leaves]

I just want to point out that the man who basically says that Graysmith was doing nothing — that going to the library meant doing nothing — is living amidst trash and alcohol bottles and (un)dressed in boxers and a robe. Yeahhhhhh…. it’s Graysmith who has been doing nothing with his life. 😦

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Avery sits in judgment, amidst beer bottles and Pong

Library as alibi?

In the scene immediately following his confrontation with Avery, Graysmith arrives home late. His wife asks him where he has been.

Graysmith’s response?  “The library.”

He puts down books on the chair, the same code-breaking books we saw in the earlier scene with Avery. It’s not clear whether he’s using the library as an alibi, or if it’s where he really went after seeing Avery. Either explanation is plausible, although I’m erring toward the alibi angle.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

The library as alibi? Complete with props!

Tracing library book records:

This next scene, between Graysmith and Inspector Toschi, feels like a companion piece to the first scene I mentioned between Graysmith and Avery; this scene takes place in a diner while the earlier scene occurred in a bar. Both involve library books.

This scene occurs at one hour, 47 minutes into the film, and lasts about a minute and a half.

GraysmithI wanted to ask you about the Zodiac. [Timeline note:  At this point, the Zodiac killer hadn’t written a letter in three years]

Toschi nods assent.

GraysmithCan I show you something? [Takes out books from his briefcase — sound familiar?] I’ve been doing research on the first cipher. Everything an amateur would need to create it can be found in these books. Now, I started thinking that if you can track these books, then maybe you can track the man. So I remember that you thought the Zodiac was military, so I went to every base library and I got a list of every person who’s ever checked out these books, and that’s when I found this.

He then takes out a sheaf of papers and hands them to Toschi. (Side note:  I did notice that at least one of the books below, a thinner tan-colored one, *does* have a call number label on its spine. Hurrah!)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Getting lists of library book checkouts in ‘Zodiac’ (2007)

ToschiMissing.

GraysmithIt means they were stolen.

ToschiSo, almost every book on ciphers was stolen from the Presidio Library?

GraysmithAnd the Oakland Army Terminal Library. Somebody didn’t want a record of ever having checked out these books.

ToschiWho are you again?

GraysmithI just wanna help.

I have to note that this scene reminded me very much of another David Fincher film, 1995’s Seven, in which they track down the killer through library checkouts. (Note to self:  I need to rewatch and analyze Seven soon for this blog!)

I also have to interject as a librarian about how UNETHICAL this is, what Graysmith just described. Librarians giving up library checkout information and records to a civilian??! Nope. No way. Nuh-uh. That requires a court order or a search warrant. If this detail is true — and in this scene, Graysmith clearly states, “I got a list of every person who’s ever checked out these books” — then he got those lists from unethical (or clueless) librarians or library workers. It reminds me of another, similar scene of an librarian doing this SAME THING, in 1943’s The Seventh Victim, in a post I entitled, “The horror of an unethical librarian.” Reel librarians may be shortcuts in movies, but we are NOT shortcuts to proper police procedures in real life.

Okay, soap box moment over. Now onto the final scene mentioning a library, or rather…

“The fuckin’ library”

At two hours into the film, in a scene lasting fewer than 30 seconds, we see Avery drinking again, this time in a bar. (Progress?) The TV is on, and he looks up as a news reporter mentions the Zodiac killer. The reporter is interviewing Graysmith.

ReporterIn the decade since the Zodiac’s last cipher was received, every federal agency has taken a crack at decoding it. But today, where those agencies had failed, a cartoonist has succeeded.

Reporter, asking GraysmithHow did you do it?

GraysmithOh, uh, just a lot of books from the library.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

TV news interview from ‘Zodiac’ (2007)

Avery then quips, “Yeah, the fuckin’ library.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Avery comments, “Yeah. The fuckin’ library” in a scene from ‘Zodiac’ (2007)

That’s right, Avery, the fuckin’ library. 😉

And it’s amusing to me that the first scene that mentions library books happens with Avery, who was consistently condescending throughout the film about the library to Graysmith. But then Avery himself is the one who comes full circle, back to the library.

Here’s a screenshot of Avery’s facial expression from that first scene with Avery and the code-breaking library books. I feel his smug facial expression says it all.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Zodiac' (2007)

Yep, that’s right, the fuckin’ library.

There are 7 scenes total in this Class V film that mention libraries or library books or otherwise take place in an archives or library setting. The duration of those scenes last for a combined 12-15 minutes (only 10% out of a 157-minute running time!), but the combined scenes and library books leave a lasting impression.

Have you seen Zodiac? If so, do you remember the through-line and theme of library books and real-life research? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used:

WarGames and research

As another year draws to a close, here is a final film analysis post for 2014!

Last month, a reader left a comment on my Class IV page — films in which the reel librarian(s) plays a cameo role and is seen only briefly with little or no dialogue — about WarGames (1983).

Reel Librarians  |  Reader comment about 'WarGames'

Lo and behold, I had a personal DVD copy of this cult classic film — some might argue it’s a straight-up classic, and I would not disagree. I was looking forward to rewatching it, as I had not seen the film in years. And I was very pleased to find that WarGames holds up well, especially for a film about cutting-edge technology made in 1983. Also, part of the film’s setting is in Oregon, and it was filmed mostly in the state of Washington! 🙂

Screenshot of 'WarGames' trivia on IMDB.comMany retrospective reviews tout how the film was a touchstone for computer geeks, as it tapped into the psyche of the younger generation and the fun of exploring exciting technology and being creative in ways unfathomable to an older generation. I can totally see its influence today. And it was influential back then, too. I recommend reading the trivia on the film’s IMDb.com page to find out how influential it was. FASCINATING!

One major aspect of the film that gets overlooked, time and again, is about how it’s also a powerful anti-war film. That’s the message I remembered from first watching WarGames. The core message — SPOILER — is that when it comes to war, “The only winning move is not to play.” An anti-war film with the word “War” in its title, no less. A truly brilliant film that manages to be both of its time as well as timeless.

The only discordant note I found while rewatching the film is that it definitely skews male; I wish there could had been more female computer programmers in the film to inspire young females along with young males. (Ally Sheedy’s character has much-needed spunk, but let’s face it, her role in the film mostly consists of listening to Matthew Broderick’s character explain things.)

Now onto the research. There is a very important research scene in a library, as Marco mentioned in his reader comment, but the reel librarian shows up for only a few seconds toward the end of that scene. So yes, it does fall into the Class IV category of reel librarian films.

A little over a half-hour into the film, David (Matthew Broderick), begins a quest for the back door password to hack into a computer game system. From the system’s list of games, he researches the first game on the list, “Falken’s Maze,” as well as the game’s creator, Stephen Falken. (FYI, the character of “Stephen Falken” was inspired by real-life genius Stephen Hawking.)

And where does David go first to start his research? The library, of course!

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'WarGames' (1983)

We also learn later that he’s been skipping school to do this research — as an educator myself, something I cannot endorse — but it does provide a clue that the library featured in this research montage must be that of a college or university library. And look, as you can see above, there are call numbers on the spines of the books. It’s a real library! 🙂

By the way, I looked up filming locations to try and ferret out the real library used for the reel library. There are several locations listed on the film’s IMDb.com entry, and some info here on this “WarGames Filming Locations” post, but no info specific to the library. The commentary track of the director and screenwriters during the library scene also did not reveal anything about the actual library used in the film. I suspect it’s one of the libraries either at the University of Washington in Seattle or the California State University – Long Beach, but I can’t confirm that.

The following montage highlights a very important — and overlooked — aspect of research:  that it is REsearch. Meaning, you expect to search more than once. And so David does. He first finds a journal article on Falken’s maze from the Scientific American periodical.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'WarGames' (1983)

He then goes back to look for more articles using microfilm and a microfilm reader. (Yes, I sighed in nostalgia for microfilm. Cutting-edge technology in its day.)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'WarGames' (1983)

He then goes back a third time and shuffles through a card catalog drawer to locate a card for Falken’s thesis, as seen below. (More sigh of nostalgia.) Another clue that he’s researching at a college library, because the call number is a Library of Congress (LC) call number, which uses a combination of letters and numbers. (Most public and school libraries use the Dewey Decimal call number system.)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'WarGames' (1983)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'WarGames' (1983)

And yes, I totally looked up that call number in WorldCat. The first part of the call number, QA76.9, is spot-on, as that’s in the call number range for computer systems and software. The Qs are for Science, and the QA subclass is for Mathematics. Also, all of the research materials in this film are super-convincing. None of the articles are real — there’s no Stephen W. Falken, of course — but the film’s prop masters used real publications, like Scientific American and The Atlantic to add an edge of verisimilitude. Also, somebody studied real library catalog cards, as that is the best faux-library catalog card I’ve ever seen onscreen. Look at all that info!

In the next clip, David then hands a card to a librarian at a counter. We only get to see the back and side of the reel librarian’s head. She appears to be younger, with contemporary clothing and a bun. (Of course.)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'WarGames' (1983)

The librarian then prints out a list of Falken’s publications and a brief bio; this looked to me like some kind of combined authority control file and publications bio for Falken.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'WarGames' (1983)

The reel librarian, only onscreen for a few seconds, does relay some very important information, to both David and the audience. First, she relays the information that Falken is deceased; later, we learn that David has printed out a copy of Falken’s obituary. We can piece together that the librarian’s information then led David to this obituary, when then led David to the backdoor password for the computer game system, when then led to the major plot of the film.


Librarian prints out Falken’s bio (includes date of Falken’s death)

obituary

 clue to password for computer game system

war games ensue and real plot of movie begins


Thanks, librarian! 😀 A well-deserving Information Provider.

As the director John Badham also chose to include a shot of the reel librarian using a computer to locate this important information about Falken, as seen below, the audience also associates the librarian (and library) with technology. We see David reflected in his home computer monitor several times throughout the research montage, and we ALSO see the librarian reflected in the library’s computer monitor. Therefore the audience cannot help but draw a connection, however brief and fleeting, between the two.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'WarGames' (1983)

He is young and a student, while she is older and part of the education establishment. However, they are both using technology, and she aids him on his quest. The significance of this reel librarian portrayal makes a much bigger impact than its few seconds of screen time initially suggest.

I also appreciate this research scene for showcasing several different types of research materials (including peer-reviewed journal articles, newspaper articles, a thesis, and a documentary video), as well as different methods of approaching research. David is persistent and creative when it comes to researching Falken — we also find out later that he even checked out a videotape of Falken from the library! — and that is a very important concept when it comes to research. There’s never just one way. There’s always a back door to research. Just like with computer systems. 😉

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'WarGames' (1983)

David, a computer whiz, also knows that not everything he needs can be found through the computer. It’s an easy trap for young people to fall into — especially today — to limit themselves only to what is available online. Yes, some of the information that David finds in this 1983 movie could be found online today, but those resources would be available in different systems. And not everything is available for free on the web. Some of those resources, like the thesis, would probably be available only in a library’s print or perhaps digitized collections — and even then, available only to its users, or by special request. (It’s notoriously difficult to track down theses and dissertations, by the way. And obituaries. Just so you know. You would need a librarian’s help to find those resources.)

In addition to highlighting creativity in research, David also shows EFFORT in this research scene. As a librarian myself, I really appreciated seeing this onscreen. David tried out several avenues first by himself, and then when he hit a roadblock, he enlisted the help of a librarian. Another aid to his research! And she obviously helped, as the information she provided led him eventually to the answer, as well as the plot of the movie. Well done, David. And well done, anonymous (and uncredited) reel librarian. Together, you’ve shown a successful research process in action!

Writing this analysis post of WarGames (1983) surprised me. The research scene is only a few minutes long, and the reel librarian portrayal only a few seconds long. I wasn’t expecting to get so much from so little. But there are so many layers to this scene, as I’ve hopefully demonstrated, with a lot of useful information relayed to the audience.

Analyzing this research montage, therefore, was a maze in and of itself. A-maze-ing! (I couldn’t resist.) 😉

Next week, I’ll be back with a round-up of yearly stats. Happy New Year!