Diablo Cody, who won an Oscar for writing the screenplay for Juno (2007), followed up that hit film by writing the screenplay for the horror movie Jennifer’s Body, which starred Megan Fox in the title role and Amanda Seyfried as Jennifer’s best friend, Needy. This movie was not a hit at the time (the marketing was so bad and missed the point of the film!), but since then, it has gained fans as an under-appreciated cult classic and “forgotten feminist classic” (Grady). My husband and I recently watched this movie for the first time via Amazon Prime.
If you’re unfamiliar with the movie, here’s a trailer.
School library scene
I was very surprised when a school library and research scene popped up in the film! Disturbed by how her friend is behaving, Needy visits the school library at 1 hour and 10 minutes into the movie.
“So I did some research. Paranormal research.”
Needy looks up occult books and paranormal research, including how to kill a demon. Here are the glimpses of the book shelves and titles featured in this short library scene:
In the next scene, Needy shares what she found out with her boyfriend, Chip, and she tries to explain her theory about Jennifer:
Needy: Jennifer’s evil. I’ve been through the occult section at the library five times.
Chip: Our library has an occult section?
Needy: Yes, it’s really small. You have to read this.
Needy then pulls out a binder from her backpack, full of stuff she has printed out about demonic transference.
In the end, Chip doesn’t believe her. Which he comes to regret later.
But I do feel Chip and his incredulity about their school library having an occult section! And there looked to be a couple of rows of books in that section, which doesn’t feel that small to me… I guess it’s all about perspective, eh?
Was there a reel librarian?
The first time we watched this scene, I did NOT notice a school librarian. So I was going to chalk this up as a Class V movie, films with library scenes without librarians. However, when I went back to rewatch the scene and take screenshots, lo and behold… there IS a flash of a reel librarian! A blink-and-you-will-miss-it cameo. Literally. Because I literally blinked and missed that school librarian the first time round.
But here is the reel librarian, in her nanoseconds of glory. She looks to be a White woman, with reddish-brown, shoulder-length hair, and she is wearing eyeglasses and is dressed in a suit jacket. She appears to be shelving books, as you can just glimpse the top of a rolling cart beside her.
Alas, this reel librarian goes uncredited in the movie’s cast list. 😦
This school librarian helps establish the setting of the school library, so she fulfills the role of Information Provider. Ultimately, the movie lands in the Class IV category of movies with cameo appearances from reel librarians.
Have you seen Jennifer’s Body lately? Did you remember the paranormal research scene? Please leave a comment and share!
“This movie may be called Dangerous Minds, but it seems to me that the librarians have Suspicious Minds!”
Because we’re (still) living in coronavirus times, a lot of us — at least here in the United States — are not going back to school in the usual way (e.g., I’m teaching and working remotely from home again this fall). But we can still experience that back-to-school feeling by proxy, via the medium of film! Therefore, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the 1995 movie, Dangerous Minds, starring Michelle Pfeiffer as Louanne Johnson, a retired U.S. Marine and White woman who becomes a teacher in an impoverished, inner-city school and teaches poetry and literature to high schoolers, many of whom are Black and Latino students. The movie is based on Johnson’s real-life teaching experiences, as detailed in her 1992 memoir My Posse Don’t Do Homework.
Below is a trailer for the film, especially if it’s been awhile since you’ve seen it… and an opportunity to get Coolio’s hit song, Gangsta’s Paradise, stuck again in your head. You’re welcome. 🙂
I like that in introducing Louanne Johnson’s character, the director John N. Smith took time to show us Johnson’s work ethic. Yes, we know she’s a former Marine, but it’s nice to actually see her apply that discipline and work ethic to her new chosen profession. And one way they highlight this in the film is to show Johnson researching teaching and classroom management strategies.
The visible titles include:
Assertive Discipline for Parents: A Proven, Step-by-Step Approach to Solving Everyday Behavior Problems (Revised edition) by Lee Canter and Marlene Canter
“Disciplining the Adolescent” article reprinted from Teacher’s Quarterly
Almost an hour into the movie, Johnson introduces a “Dylan Dylan” poetry contest in class. The goal is to find a Dylan Thomas poem that’s like a Bob Dylan poem/song and write about how they connect.
Next stop? You guessed it — the high school library!
This school library scene lasts only one minute long, but we get to see the typical school library setting, with bookcases, wood tables and chairs, and lots and lots of posters. The camera pans around to showcase students in groups at different tables in the school library. According to the filming locations listed on the film’s IMDB.com entry, this scene was filmed at San Mateo High School in San Mateo, California.
Although it feels novel — to Johnson and to her fellow teacher mentor, played by George Dzunda — that she got her students to go to the school library, the students already seem pretty comfortable in the space and confident about how to start researching. (Suspension of disbelief? Discuss.) As you can see in one of the photos above, I like the detail of one student, a young Black man in a grey hoodie, is holding a slip of paper in his hands (on which I assume is a call number) as he walks around the bookcases.
The student has clearly been successful at finding the book he was looking for — yay! — but the librarians at the high school library do not seem so impressed, however.
Rather, they are giving MAJOR side-eye to this student as he passes them seated side-by-side at the front desk. He doesn’t so much as glance at the school librarians, but the camera focuses, albeit briefly, on the two librarians, one Black woman and one White woman. This movie may be called Dangerous Minds, but it seems to me that the librarians have Suspicious Minds! Perhaps you could argue that they seem surprised, rather than suspicious? I looked up my past notes, and I initially wrote down the word “surprised,” but after this second viewing, I think the more apt descriptor is “suspicious.” Either way, it’s clear these two school librarians have no interest in getting up and helping any of the students. 😦
A librarian by any other name?
I also thought it interesting that although there are two school librarians, there is only ONE nameplate on the desk, which reads “Toni Devereaux, Librarian.” You can see this nameplate more clearly in the image below.
But which one is Toni Devereaux? There is no such name included in the cast list. Jeff Feringa is listed as Librarian #1 (she is seated on the right in the photo above, dressed in the floral dress and lace collar), and Sarah Marshall is listed as Librarian #2 (she is seated on the left in the photo above, in a green cardigan). Is Toni supposed to be Librarian #1, as Feringa is listed first in the credits? It remains unclear. Also, why are there two librarians at this school, when it seems clear that neither one is interested in helping the students?
What role do these reel librarians serve in this movie? Although neither librarian actually helps any of the students, I would argue they still both fulfill the role of Information Provider. They do help establish the setting of the high school library; in fact, you could argue they function more like props! But more than that, I would argue their suspicious glances are also reflective of a larger issue, a societal under-appreciation and distrust of these students and their abilities. While I appreciate the racial diversity of these school librarians — please also see this post highlighting 5 movies that feature Black reel librarians — their suspicious attitudes and seemingly purposeful inaction leave me disappointed. Ultimately, their cameo appearances land this movie in the Class IV category.
Dangerous Minds. Dir. John N. Smith. Perf. Michelle Pfeiffer, George Dzunda, Courtney B. Vance. Hollywood Pictures-Buena Vista, 1995. Based on the book My Posse Don’t Do Homework by LouAnne Johnson.
In my previous post, I highlighted the reel librarian’s cameo scenes in the 1999 teen comedy — a pitch-dark comedy! — Drop Dead Gorgeous. That got me to thinking about how many teen comedies feature scenes with school libraries and reel librarians. Let’s round up 10 examples, shall we? The movies below are listed in chronological order by year of release, starting in the 1980s.
The Last American Virgin (1982)
This Class III movie is a quintessential ’80s flick, about teenage boys seeking every opportunity to have sex. When we first watched this movie, my husband cheekily asked, “Is the librarian the title character?” No, she is not, y’all! The movie includes a brief — but memorable — fight in the school library. The school librarian, an older White woman with glasses, is shocked, I tell you, SHOCKED that fisticuffs fly in the school library! Her facial reactions are priceless.
In this Class II film and action/adventure comedy, young student Michael (John Stockwell) is in search of a science project. He then breaks into a military base and finds a strange glowing orb, as you do. The orb wreaks havoc when it turns the school into a battlefield of the past, present, and future — because OF COURSE — and Michael and his friends must find a way to stop it. Michael goes to the library to find out information on time travel, and he gets help from Sherman (Raphael Sbarge), the school nerd and know-it-all who works in the school library.
Pretty in Pink (1986)
This teen classic is part comedy, part drama, and part love triangle. Another classic ’80s movie — and fashion! Andie (Molly Ringwald) likes Blane (Andrew McCarthy) while her best friend, Duckie (Jon Cryer), pines for Andie. There is a brief scene in the school library, in which Blane flirts with Andie via the school library’s computers. You can catch a brief glimpse of a school librarian in the scene, landing this teen comedy in the Class IV category of reel librarian films.
This Class IV film features Mark Harmon as gym teacher Freddy Shoop, who gets stuck teaching remedial English in summer school. On the second day of summer school, he takes the students to the library to work on book reports. You can juuuuuuust spy the back of the school librarian in the scene. It’s easy to miss her and her hair bow amidst all the hand-lettered signs in the library! 😉
In this high school dramedy, and Class II film, new high school student Mark (Christian Slater) uses a short-wave radio to broadcast as pirate DJ Hard Harry, incurring the wrath of the principal. Student library assistant Nora (Samantha Mathis) investigates the DJ’s identity and finds out about Mark via the book he checks out at the school library. She impresses Mark, who calls her “fearless.” They have a super cute “Meet Cute” moment in the school library.
High School High (1996)
In this Class IV film — a parody of films like Dangerous Minds — a naïve teacher (Jon Lovitz) gets a job at an urban high school. After he makes a would-be inspirational speech at the school assembly, the school librarian in the crowd yells out, “You suck!” A proud, inspiring moment for all librarians. 😉
Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)
This Class IV comedy focuses on teen girls (and their mothers) competing in a local beauty pageant. The plot includes murder, a huge swan float engulfed in flames, beauty pageant contestants upchucking contaminated seafood, and more! There are a couple of memorable closeups with an older librarian, who recalls her past as the beauty pageant winner in 1945.
In this Class III film, Dizzy (DJ Qualls) tries to restart the year at another school as the cool “new guy.” Why? Because he was humiliated at his old high school when a group of jocks pulled his underpants over his head and pushed him toward the school librarian. It is certainly a, uh, memorable opening scene!
In this Netflix teen comedy and romance, teen Lara Jean (Lana Condor) has to deal with the romantic complications that ensue after her secret love letters are exposed. There is a brief school library scene early in the film, in which Lara Jean breaks the silence rule (she eats a carrot). However, it’s not the reel librarian who enforces the silence rule — her fellow students take care of that! We do see a glimpse of the school librarian as Lara Jean enters the school library, placing this sweet teen flick in the Class IV category of reel librarian films.
In this whip-smart teen comedy directed by Olivia Wilde, two high school seniors and best friends (Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever) put down their books and let loose en route to graduation parties. OF COURSE they use a library to try and track down one party’s location. And OF COURSE they enjoy a fist-bump greeting with the librarian. This movie is so much fun!
I am not sure why I had never gotten around to watching this Oscar-winning film, but never late than never, right? I was blown away by Marlee Matlin’s emotional performance, especially considering this was her feature film debut! She totally held her own as Sarah — and then some! — against William Hurt, who plays James, a new speech teacher.
The film was also nominated for Oscars in the categories of Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Notably, the film was not nominated for Best Director; the film was directed by Randa Haines, and she was nominated for a Director’s Guild of America Award that year for this film.
A few contemporary reviews pointed out that the film was told from a hearing perspective and for a hearing audience; for example, they did not provide captions for any sign language, and James translated most of Sarah’s signing through his own voice.
Here’s a trailer for the film, if you are either not familiar with it or it’s been awhile since you’ve seen it:
*Mild Spoilers Ahead*
School library scene without a school librarian
A little over 40 minutes into the 2-hour film, James is trying to connect with Sarah, and she becomes angry when she learns that he has visited her mother (played by Piper Laurie). Sarah goes into the school library, where James follows her. There’s a “Library” sign on the wall beside the door, and a “Drop Box” below the sign.
It’s clearly a very small library — just one small room — but as the two circle each other around the room, we can spot a section for print magazines and newspapers, a “Book Nook” corner of bookcases, and a counter with a bell. (The bell prop on the counter gives us a clue that the school librarian is not deaf, because they would need to be able to hear the bell for it to successfully get their attention. FYI, the large amber light on the wall is one used to signal class periods for students.) We also see signs by the counter for “How to Find Books,” and these posters feature the Dewey Decimal call number classification system, which is the most common call number system for school library collections.
We can also spot hand-lettered signs for different collections crammed together on the bookcases, including sections for Fiction, Reference and Encyclopedias, History, and Children’s Books.
Behind Sarah, you can also spot call numbers on books. However, there do not seem to be call numbers on every book — including books with wide spines that should theoretically have room for call number labels — so I’m a little suspicious that the propmaster just crammed a bunch of random books — some from libraries and some not — into the room and called it a day.
We also are never gifted with the presence of a school librarian, so this film remains in the Class V category, films that include library scenes but no reel librarian characters. This also means that I get to update my Best Picture nominees that feature reel librarians, 2020 update post, and move Children of a Lesser God into the “Best Picture nominees with library scenes (but no reel librarians)” section.
The role of silence
The role of silence is, understandably, a major theme in this film. Libraries are known for being quiet places — or at least, that’s a common misconception, and “shushing librarians” are a common stereotype. (Libraries DO usually have “silent study” spaces for those who really need quiet, but there’s usually a medium-level of expected noise and conversation in most modern libraries nowadays. Libraries are community spaces, and people often need to be able to make a little noise!)
Therefore, Sarah tries to escape into the library to get away from James — a safe space where she may expect others to be as silent as she normally is. But the library instead becomes a private place to have an argument, where Sarah exposes a major secret of her past to James. The library is no longer safe for Sarah; she cannot escape, even from herself or her own painful memories. The library is also no longer a silent space for Sarah, as James breaks the silence with his translation of Sarah’s signing, even shouting in frustration multiple times across the room at her.
I found it very interesting that this film flips the script, so to speak, on libraries as quiet spaces. This library scene, in effect, breaks the silence between Sarah and James. After this scene, they become lovers, which lays the foundation for the rest of the film’s plot and romantic drama.
Continuing the conversation
Have you seen this Oscar-winning film? Were you blown away by Marlee Matlin’s feature film debut? Did you remember this scene in the school library? Please leave a comment and share!
Children of a Lesser God. Dir. Randa Haines. Perf. Marlee Matlin, William Hurt, Piper Laurie. Paramount, 1986. Based on the stage play by Mark Medoff.
A rare example of a reel librarian character in a Thanksgiving-themed movie. Hoo-ah!
Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers! Although there are many horror films featuring reel librarians to help celebrate the Halloween holiday — as well as many holiday-themed films featuring reel librarians for the Christmas holiday season — there remains a scarcity of Thanksgiving-themed films featuring reel librarians. In fact, I have come across only ONE example in my 20+ years of researching librarians in film. That film is 1992’s Oscar-winning film Scent of a Woman, starring Al Pacino as Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade and Chris O’Donnell as Charlie Simms.
Scent of a plot
Has it been awhile since you’ve seen Scent of a Woman? Catch up by watching the trailer:
This coming-of-age story focuses on a young, clean-cut prep school boy, Charlie (Chris O’Donnell), who attends a New England private school on a merit scholarship and works as a student worker at the school library. To pay for a flight home to Oregon for Christmas, he agrees to be temporary caretaker for an alcoholic blind man, Lt. Col. Frank Slade (Al Pacino), who takes Charlie on an adventure-filled Thanksgiving weekend in New York City.
Scent of a school library scene
A little over 17 minutes into this 156-minute-long (!) film, we see Charlie working as a student assistant in the school library. While standing behind a high desk, he’s stamping and checking out a book to another student. The library is in the classic style, with lots of wood tones and tall bookcases, befitting a private prep school.
A classmate, George Willis, Jr. (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) then rushes up to the library desk with an armful of books. George has already been introduced in earlier scenes, as one of a group of rich, elite boys, so we know that he likes to mess around and make fun of those who are not elites like himself.
George: Chas, Chas, hold up. [Puts books on counter] How ya doing’?
Charlie: I’m good.
George: That’s great.
Charlie: [looks at one of the books] This can’t go out. This is on reserve.
Their conversation continues:
George: Here’s the thing. I need the book tonight for a Thanksgiving quiz with big-shit Preston in the morning.
Charlie: Yeah I know. That’s why he put it on reserve. This is our only copy.
George: Chas, I’m pulling an all-nighter. Without that book I’m dead, okay?
Charlie, as the one working behind the elevated library desk, is standing above George, ostensibly the one in the power position, at least visually. He also has the power of rules supporting him, the rules that the school instructor set for the book on reserve. The camera mimics the angle of Charlie’s perspective, as he’s looking down at George, who is pleading with him to bend the rules. However, we also know that Charlie is the “poor” kid, the one on merit scholarship, and George is the “rich” kid. Therefore, George is the one who really holds the power in this situation.
It’s no wonder that Charlie is the one who relents. You can see it on his face, as evident in the screenshot below. He knows the score.
Charlie: If it’s not back by 7:30, it’s gonna be my ass.
George: Oh, I promise. I promise.
They then leave the library together. Charlie tells George to wait because he’s “gotta lock up.”
Side note: As a self-respecting, professional librarian, I gotta interject and say, this is NOT realistic. I do not believe for one second that any library would allow a student worker to be solely in charge of the library — especially a library at a private school that surely has lots of expensive materials and collections — and be allowed to lock up the library by themselves. Nope. Not happening. Librarians usually take turns working a night shift during the week, or there are specific librarian positions designated for evening services. In my personal experience, student workers usually help with closing up the library — tasks like announcing when the library is about to close, checking group study rooms, etc. — but the professional staff is ALWAYS ultimately responsible for locking up.
SIGH. Okay, soap box moment over. Please continue. 😉
The library scene lasts about 40 seconds in total. As they walk away from the library, Charlie and George see George’s friends setting up some kind of prank. This will prove pivotal to the rest of the film plot, as this prank later humiliates the head master, Mr. Trask (James Rebhorn). Trask then tries to get the two boys to reveal who pulled the prank, but neither Charlie nor George cooperate. Trask then puts the screws on Charlie — the vulnerable one on merit scholarship, natch — and gives him the Thanksgiving weekend to think about cooperating; otherwise, Trask will hold a discipline hearing in front of the whole school right after the Thanksgiving holiday.
After the holiday weekend with Lt. Col Slade and lots of “white male bonding” adventures — eating fancy dinners! dancing the tango with a beautiful woman! endangering the lives of others by encouraging a blind man to drive a sports car! — Charlie faces judgment at that discipline hearing. Lt. Col. Slade joins Charlie at the hearing and defends the young man.
Scent of a Liberated Librarian
So what role does Charlie fulfill? I believe he fulfills the role of a Liberated Librarian, a character who “discovers” himself — and what he’s capable of — during an adventure or crisis. These characters are usually younger (check!), become more “masculine” or “assertive” after the liberation (check!), and usually need an external force to aid or instigate the “liberation” (check!).
It’s important to note that in the case of this Liberated Librarian character, Charlie is not liberated from being a librarian or working in a library like some others (e.g. Joe Versus the Volcano). Rather, he is liberated from his own fear and self-doubt.
I place this role and this film into the Class II category, films in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, but the librarian’s occupation does not directly affect the plot.
Charlie is a not an actual librarian, of course, since he is a student worker in the school library, but he is considered a “reel librarian” for the purposes of this research and blog post. He is the only one we see in any kind of authoritative role in a library, using that authority to break the rules about reserve books as well as lock up the library. However, the fact that he works in the library does not directly affect the plot. He could have worked elsewhere on the campus; his job as a student library worker is used primarily to demonstrate that he needs a job. (Clearly, the salary for a student library job is not enough to pay for a plane ticket to Oregon.) And the library setting itself is not essential because it’s a library and serving as a center of knowledge or access to information; instead, it’s used as a convenient locale and reason for the boys to be out late at night on campus. But there could have been other locales chosen on campus, like a tutoring center or student center or even a dormitory, which would have worked just as well for reasons of plot.
Charlie is one of the two leads, but he’s not really the main character. After all, Al Pacino is the one who chews up the scenery throughout the film and won an Oscar for Best Actor for yelling out “Hoo-ah!” a lot. We learn a lot more about Pacino’s character, Lt. Col. Slade, than we do about Charlie.
So how is Charlie described in the film, and what do we learn about him?
Here’s how he describes himself:
I’m not a squealer.
Here’s how Lt. Col. Slade first describes Charlie, at the beginning of the film:
You little snail darter from the Pacific Northwest.
And then toward the end of the film, he recognizes Charlie’s worth:
You got integrity, Charlie.
When the shit hits the fan, some guys run and some guys stay. Here’s Charlie facing the fire.
Scent of an award
As I mentioned, Al Pacino won an Oscar for Best Actor for this role (he had previously been nominated 6 times, and was also nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category for Glengarry Glen Ross the year he won for this film). Scent of a Woman was also nominated in the Best Writing, Best Picture, and Best Director Oscar categories but didn’t win.
The film also won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama, and Pacino won the Golden Globe for Best Actor.
And in a rare example of a reel librarian character resulting in major acting awards: Chris O’Donnell was also nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category for the Golden Globes and won the Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Most Promising Actor that year. Hoo-ah!
Scent of a comment
Have you seen Scent of a Woman lately? Did you remember that it’s a Thanksgiving movie?! Like me, are you left wondering if George ever returned that reserves book?
Please leave a comment and share… and then get back to your turkey and pumpkin pie! 😉 Happy Thanksgiving!
Scent of a Woman. Dir. Martin Brest. Perf. Al Pacino, Chris O’Donnell, Gabrielle Anwar. Universal, 1992.