Revisiting the reel librarian hero in 1999’s ‘The Mummy’

As the new version of The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella as the title character, opened to scathing reviews this past week, I noticed a trend of reviewers referencing the 1999 version of the film, and several critics urging people to just go and rewatch the 1999 version of The Mummy instead of watching the new version. As the 1999 version also happens to star a reel librarian in a lead role (Rachel Weisz as Evelyn “Evie” Carnahan, a librarian and Egyptologist), I thought it a perfect opportunity to follow their advice!

My DVD copy of The Mummy (1999)
My DVD copy of The Mummy (1999)

Snippets from current reviews of the new version of The Mummy which reference the 1999 version:

  • But alas, The Mummy turns out to be a drab, nonsensical affair that squanders its potential for humor, atmosphere, and sweep — qualities that the much-maligned, Fraser-starring 1999 Mummy had in droves.” (from The Village Voice)
  • No one over the age of 10 ever confused them [Universal’s film archive of monsters] with good movies, but the “Mummy” franchise that kicked off in 1999 had a joyously sinister and farfetched eye-candy pizzazz.” (from Variety)
  • [I]f you want to watch a fun Mummy movie this weekend, the newest option isn’t your safest bet.” (from Rotten Tomatoes)

And finally, the review from Vox, which sums up its review of the new version with this takeaway:

The Mummy is playing nationwide. You would be better off watching the 1999 version, and I don’t even like that movie.

But I do!

I still find The Mummy (1999) a fun adventure film, tongue firmly in cheek, and winking at its own spectacle; I agree with IndieWire, which called it “enduringly delightful.” I must admit two biases up front:  (1) I have always been a fan of genre films that commit unabashedly to their genres, like the 1999 version does (not so much the sequels), and (2) I love films with meaty reel librarian roles. Because OF COURSE. Especially reel librarians who kick ass onscreen and win at camel races. 😉

Oh, and SPOILERS.

If you need a reminder of the plot, here’s a trailer for the 1999 version:

The Mummy Official Trailer #1 – Brendan Fraser Movie (1999) HD,” uploaded by Movieclips Trailer Vault, is licensed under a Standard YouTube license.

In this adventure, Egyptian priest Imhotep is accidentally brought back to life. Egyptology librarian Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), her brother (John Hannah), and an American soldier (Brendan Fraser) join forces to stop Imhotep.

Here’s a look at my original notes from when I first analyzed the film (and yes, I initially misspelled Rachel Weisz’s name in those notes, mea culpa):

My original notes for the 1999 version of The Mummy
My original notes for the 1999 version of The Mummy

I could go in many different directions in analyzing this film, but I’m going to stay in the direction these early notes took me:  focusing on Evie’s reel librarian role and how that role evolved. Even in this one snapshot from my notes, you can see my scrawled notes describing her character and how Evie’s character evolves on screen:

  • “quiet at first but becomes forceful by end”
  • “wants to move up”

Liberated Librarian:


Evie is one of the lead characters of the film, and her character arc fulfills the role of Liberated Librarians. Let’s check off the hallmarks of a Liberated Librarian that connect and describe Evie’s character and role in the film:

  • A naïve, inexperienced woman who discovers herself—and what she’s capable of—in face of an adventure/disaster
  • Her “liberation” is intertwined with the major plot — the discoveries of the “Book of the Dead” and the “Book of Amun-Ra” mirror her own self-discovery
  • Young in age
  • Clothing more conservative and buttoned-up at first
  • Undergoes a change of appearance, dressing more feminine and more exotic (and her hair comes down from its bun!)

The scene in which we meet Evie comes early in the film, after the introduction that sets up Imhotep’s backstory. The library scene takes place in the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo, Egypt, and Evie is on a tall ladder and shelving books. While trying to take a shortcut to shelve a wayward title, she accidentally topples all the bookcases in the library. (One of the lessons learned in this film? Don’t take shortcuts while shelving books!) Also, during the commentary of this scene on the DVD, director Stephen Sommers reveals that they got this scene in one take!

the mummy library scene” video uploaded by Hammerfall541 is licensed under a Standard YouTube license.

As director Sommers also states on the DVD commentary:

“We learn everything we need to know about Evie and her backstory without it seeming like lame exposition.”

From her light sparring with the museum director, as seen in the clip above, we also learn this crucial characteristic at the heart of this reel librarian character:  She stands up for herself when others directly challenge her. However else she changes, and her story arc evolves, this remains true. She also knows her own intelligence, and that her intelligence is an asset.


“I am proud of what I am. I am a librarian.”


One of the major ways that Evie’s character breaks from the Liberated Librarian character type is that unlike most Liberated Librarians, Evie is committed to and proud of her profession.

This is most apparent in the (in)famous scene around the campfire in which Evie is inebriated, as seen in the clip below. (I also highlighted this scene and quote in a previous Quotable Librarian post.)

“Look, I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure seeker, or a gun fighter… But I am proud of what I am. I… am a librarian!”

However much I love this rallying cry — “I am a librarian!” — I do think she undersells herself in this moment. She has already proven onscreen that she is indeed an explorer and an adventurer, and she shot a gun in a skirmish just minutes before this campfire scene. It is true, however, that it is her brother (played by the cheeky John Hannah) who is the treasure seeker.

The.Mummy.WMV” video uploaded by deanxavier is licensed under a Standard YouTube license.

The power of reading:


Evie also underestimates the power of reading. And from a librarian, too — for shame! But it sets the rest of the movie in motion, and serves as another way to highlight how she evolves over the course of the film.

In another campfire scene, after she has discovered the “Book of the Dead,” she figures out how to open the book and starts to read from it.

“It’s just a book. No harm ever came from reading a book.”

Yeah… except by doing so, she conjures up the mummy. (Next time, maybe try reading silently first.) The other Egyptologist, played by veteran Australian actor Jonathan Hyde, knows the danger, but he is too late in shouting, “No! You must not read from the book!

In a word, “Oops.”

This is a cautionary tale enveloped within an adventure story. Reading = Power.

The Mummy: Imhotep Revived” video uploaded by rpetteson is licensed under a Standard YouTube license.

Reel librarian hero:


The hero in the story who got all the attention at the time was Brendan Fraser as American soldier Rick O’Connell. But the real hero in this story, in my opinion, is Evie.

Here’s evidence from the film to back that up:

  • Evie saves Rick from hanging in an Egyptian prison by negotiating his release — and setting the plot in motion to find Hamunaptra, the city of the dead
  • She saves Rick’s life again on the boat, by pulling him aside from a spray of bullets (this is a clever bit, as she sees the pattern of gunshots along the wall and anticipates that Rick is in the way — demonstrating that she’s not just book smart!)
  • She beats Rick at camel racing
  • She figures out the solution to reverse the curse is to find the Book of Amun-Ra AND figures out where the Book of Amun-Ra is buried
  • Evie sacrifices herself to Imhotep in order to save her friends
  • She helps her brother translate the Book of Amun-Ra while SHE HERSELF is fighting off a mummy — thinking in action!
  • She helps make Imhotep mortal so that Rick can finish him off

Evie is the one who (accidentally) conjured the curse, so following standard hero-story arcs, she therefore has to be the one to figure out how to solve it. And she does. She comes through stronger in the end, further highlighting her intelligence and resilience.

However, Evie is never called a hero in this story by others. Instead, there are a variety of phrases and terms, often unflattering, that other characters use to describe Evie, including:

  • “Compared to you, the other plagues were a joy”
  • “catastrophe”
  • “damsel in distress”
  • “broad”
  • “lady”
  • “not a total loss”
  • “old Mum”

SIGH.

But instead of dwelling on those less-than-flattering descriptions, let’s instead focus on appreciating Evie and the actress who first brought her to life in The Mummy (1999):

Tribute to Rachel Weisz in The Mummy (1999 version)” video uploaded by King Achilles is licensed under a Standard YouTube license.

Fun facts:


I came across this fun fact that I came across while reading the film’s trivia on IMDb.com:

When King Tutankhamen’s tomb was found on November 4, 1922, the person in charge was George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon. Along with him was his daughter, Lady Evelyn Carnarvon. Rachel Weisz’s character is named Evelyn Carnahan. Originally, her character was meant to be Evelyn Carnarvon. She and her brother were to be the children of the “cursed” Lord Carnarvon. The only evidence of this left in the film is in the line where Evelyn tells O’Connell that her father was a “very, very famous explorer”. The Mummy novelization goes into a bit more detail on her back story.

Amazing! Here’s a picture of Lady Evelyn Carnarvon with her father at King Tut’s tomb in 1922:

At the entrance of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 (from left to right): Lady Evelyn Carnarvon and her father on the left. Image is in the public domain.
At the entrance of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 (from left to right): Lady Evelyn Carnarvon and her father on the left. Image is in the public domain.

You can see more pics and read more about the real-life inspiration for Evie’s character here on this site.

And one final fun fact:  the ancestral Carnarvon home is none other than Highclere Castle — which served as the locale for Downton Abbey in the TV series! The website for Highclere Castle even has a whole section dedicated to its Egyptian connection.


I thoroughly enjoyed this trip down Mummy memory lane and learning more along the way. Hope you did, too!

Next week, I will be back with a post about another adventurer librarian!


Sources used:


All the president’s librarians in ‘All the President’s Men’

Why would a librarian lie?! Definitely something is up!

As I featured last week, All the President’s Men (1976) is one of the few films featuring reel librarians that have been nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. It also seemed timely to revisit this classic film, which follows the Watergate scandal uncovered by Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford), the scandal that eventually brought down President Nixon. The film closely follows its source material, Bernstein’s and Woodward’s book of the same title, published just two years earlier in 1974.

All the President's Men book and movie collage
All the President’s Men book and movie collage

When I first watched this film, I noted four reel librarian characters. After carefully rewatching it recently, I realized I was mistaken — there are actually FIVE reel librarians.

Let’s count ’em down, shall we?


Reel Librarian #1:


Almost 25 minutes into the film, Bernstein flirts with interviews a former assistant to a Nixon administration staffer, who was paranoid about Ted Kennedy. The assistant reveals, “I remember seeing a book about Chappaquiddick on his desk. He was always getting material out of the White House Library and the Library of Congress. Anything he could find.

Cue the next scene, Bernstein on the phone to the White House library. This reel librarian is never seen, only heard, a female voice on the other end of the line. Let’s listen in to their conversation:

Bernstein:  This is Carl Bernstein, from the Washington Post. I was wondering if you can remember any books that a Howard Hunt checked out on Senator Kennedy?

White House librarian:  Howard Hunt? … Yes, I think I do remember. He took out a whole lot of material. Why don’t you hold on and I’ll see?

Bernstein:  I sure will. Thank you very much.

Bernstein calls the White House librarian in All the President's Men (1976)
Bernstein calls the White House librarian in All the President’s Men (1976)

White House librarian:  Mr. Bernstein?

Bernstein:  Yes, ma’am?

White House librarian:  I was wrong. The truth is… I don’t have a card that says Mr. Hunt took any material. I, uh, I don’t remember getting material for… I do remember getting material for somebody, but it wasn’t Mr. Hunt. The truth is I didn’t have any requests at all from Mr. Hunt. The truth is, I don’t know any Mr. Hunt.

As seen in the collage above, Bernstein’s facial expressions reveal his investigative instincts, as his face goes from polite, distant interest to confusion to suspicion. He smells a rat. Why would a librarian lie?! Definitely something is up!

Bernstein immediately walks across the room to Woodward. This is how he describes the interaction: “I just got off the phone with the librarian. … Between the first and second quote there’s a complete contradiction… in a space of about five seconds.”

Woodward immediately calls the White House Communications office. While he’s waiting for a response, Woodward and Bernstein suss out the significance of what had just happened:

Bernstein and Woodward discuss notes in a scene from All the President's Men (1976)
Bernstein and Woodward discuss notes in a scene from All the President’s Men (1976)

Woodward:  This was all one conversation?

Bernstein:  First, “I think I got a bunch of books for Hunt.” Five seconds later, she says, “I don’t even known a Mr. Hunt.” It’s obvious someone got to her.

Woodward:  There’s not enough proof. If there was a piece of paper… that said Hunt was taking out books on Kennedy and Chappaquiddick. Like a library slip.

Bernstein:  He also took out from the Library of Congress. But what’s more important, somebody got to her in that space of time.

Woodward:  How do you know?

Bernstein:  Because she said that Hunt… there was a lot of books that Hunt checked out. Then she comes back and doesn’t even know him.

The White House Communications officer than calls back, stating that the librarian “denies that the conversation with Mr. Bernstein ever took place.

Bernstein’s succinct response? “Total bullshit.” AGREED.

Side note:  I have not been able to find out much at all about the White House Library, mainly that the library was established by 1853 by First Lady Abigail Fillmore and that the collection was expanded in the early 1960s in order to reflect “a full spectrum of American thought and tradition for the use of the President.” Also, the page about the White House Library on the current White House website has been removed.

This scene in the film is very similar to how it’s described in the book, on pages 31-33 of the original 1976 hardback edition. The White House librarian has no name in the film — and doesn’t even get a screen credit! — but she is named (and therefore shamed?) in the book, Jane F. Schleicher.

This scene with the first reel librarian lasts about three minutes in total.


Reel librarians #2 and #3:


Immediately following the contradictory story from the White House press office, Woodward declares, “We’ve got to get something on paper.”

Next stop? The Library of Congress!

Woodward and Bernstein climb the steps of the Library of Congress
Woodward and Bernstein climb the steps of the Library of Congress

While at the iconic library building, the two reporters are immediately blocked by a sneering, dismissive, white Congress Library Clerk, played by James Murtaugh.

You want all the material requested by the White House? All White House transactions are confidential. Thank you very much, gentlemen.

Woodward and Bernstein visit the Library of Congress
Woodward and Bernstein visit the Library of Congress

The reporters, however, remain undeterred. As they walk down a side hallway of the Library of Congress filled with columns, the two continue to strategize.

Woodward and Bernstein walk a column-lined hallway of the Library of Congress
Woodward and Bernstein walk a column-lined hallway of the Library of Congress

We need a sympathetic face.

We’re not going to find one here.

I can understand their lack of confidence in librarians, based on the two encounters they’ve had thus far. But they DO end up finding a friendly face while at the Library of Congress! Notice the differences in facial expressions below:

A contrast of two male librarians at the Library of Congress, in All the President's Men (1976)
A contrast of two male librarians at the Library of Congress, in All the President’s Men (1976)

Jaye Stewart plays a character billed simply as “Male Librarian,” with as much screen time and as many lines as the previous seen Library of Congress clerk.

You want every request since when? [The answer is July of ’71] … I’m not sure you want ’em, but I’ve got ’em.

Cue the stacks of library card checkout slips!

Checkout slips from the Library of Congress
Checkout slips from the Library of Congress

As Bernstein and Woodward flip through seemingly endless checkout slips, director Alan J. Pakula cannot help but take advantage of the round Reading Room, slowly panning up so we can get a glorious bird’s-eye view of this iconic space.

A bird's-eye view of the Library of Congress Reading Room, as seen in All the President's Men (1976)
A bird’s-eye view of the Library of Congress Reading Room, as seen in All the President’s Men (1976)

Alas, all that work to go through the library checkout slips does not provide the information they want, to confirm if any White House staffer checked out books on Ted Kennedy.

Bernstein:  Maybe they pulled the cards. Maybe they changed the names.

Woodward:  Maybe there was a card there, and we missed it.

But not all is lost, as Woodward gets another idea for how to confirm the information.

Side note:  As a librarian, I cringed a little during this scene. I had conflicting emotions. Although I was so glad that at least ONE librarian on screen had a face described as “friendly,” it’s sooooooo not ethical to give out checkout slips or records without a court order. We do have an obligation to protect the privacy rights of our patrons.

The two reporters then write up the article, and they take it to editor Ben Bradlee, played by Jason Robards in an Oscar-winning turn for Best Supporting Actor. He is unimpressed.

You haven’t got it. A librarian and a secretary saying Hunt looked at a book. That’s not good enough. […] Get some harder information next time.

Reporters discuss a story in All the President's Men (1976)
Reporters discuss a story in All the President’s Men (1976)

The reporters, though disappointed, stay on the trail, which leads us next to two librarians at the Washington Post itself.


Reel librarian #4:


Ten minutes later, at 41 minutes into the film, Bernstein is looking up newspaper article archives in the Washington Post library. We can just spot a male Post Librarian in the background, played by Ron Menchine, chatting away at a table.

Bernstein researches newspaper archives, while the Post librarian sits back and chats
Bernstein researches newspaper archives, while the Post librarian sits back and chats

The takeaway? Bernstein’s doing all the work while the reel librarian idles in the background. Reel librarian FAIL.

Can the fifth and final reel librarian help restore some shine to the profession?


Reel librarian #5:


At 47 minutes into the film, Woodward is busy doing research in what appears to be the reference section of the Washington Post library. I spot several law books along the shelves.

A well-dressed woman walks into the frame, her back to the audience. We can see that she has long blonde hair and glasses resting on top of her head. Jamie Smith-Jackson plays the second Post Librarian seen in the film.

The second Post Librarian redeems the librarian profession, by providing a vital clue to Woodward, in All the President's Men (1976)
The second Post Librarian redeems the librarian profession, by providing a vital clue to Woodward, in All the President’s Men (1976)

Post Librarian:  You’re the one that wanted the articles on Dahlberg, Kenneth H. Dalberg? Couldn’t find anything in the clip file at all.

Woodward:  Oh, wonderful. [sarcastic tone]

Post Librarian:  I did find one picture, though, if it’s any help.

And lo and behold, it DOES help! What the female Post Librarian digs up in that picture provides a vital clue — a man’s name that they can directly connect to a check involved in the Watergate Hotel arrests — that leads to the unraveling of the scandal. This scandal turns out to be much bigger than anyone suspected at first.

Connecting the research dots
Connecting the research dots

I also loved that old-school research materials (phone books, newspaper clippings) and research methods (cross-checking indexes and noting proximity of page numbers) are key to solving the mystery. I was reminded of similar details and research highlighted in the Oscar-winning film Spotlight.

Doing research in the Washington Post library
Doing research in the Washington Post library

How important is the work that Bernstein and Woodward are doing? As their editor Bradlee states toward the end of the film, “Nothing’s riding on this except the First Amendment of the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters.


The final score:


Ultimately, how do these reel librarians matter to this story and to this film? I enjoyed how the film — again, closely following the source book material — rolled back to the beginning. But the story was so layered and so huge that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had to decide where the beginning was. And the beginning point that mattered, that spurred all the resulting actions forward, went back to the research. Back to when their suspicions were first roused by a White House librarian who lied. Back to when they had to ask themselves, Who got to her? Why would a librarian lie about a book being checked out? After all, if a librarian was lying to them, WHO ELSE was lying to them? And that trail led all the way to the President of the United States.

The final tally for the 5 reel librarians from All the President’s Men? When it came to helpfulness to other characters, only 2 of the 5 librarians scored any points. But when it came to helpfulness to advancing the plot, 5 for 5. 🙂

The Oscar-nominated film lands in the Class III category, in which reel librarians are minor or supporting characters, and all 5 librarians fulfill the Information Provider role.


For more about Ted Kennedy and the Nixon administration’s paranoia — and more details about which book Hunt did check out from the Library of Congress — check out this article from the Daily Beast, “How Kennedy Brought Down Nixon.”


Sources used:


‘Spotlight’-ing a news library

The focus, therefore, is not on the librarians and researchers — the focus is on the research itself.

The Best Picture winner from this year’s Academy Awards, Spotlight (2015), focuses on the Spotlight team of reporters who, in 2002, published a series of stories about Catholic priests who, for decades, had been sexually abusing children in their parishes. Spotlight also won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay and was nominated for four other Oscars.

The film’s spotlight (har har) is on the months of investigative reporting that led to the publication of the initial story in January 2002, as the reporters went from investigating one priest, John J. Geoghan, to uncovering a decades-long cover-up from the Catholic Church. That first story, which you can read here, led to hundreds more stories, across the United States and around the world, as the film’s closing cards reveal. It also led to a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003 for the Boston Globe‘s Spotlight team, “for its courageous, comprehensive coverage of sexual abuse by priests, an effort that pierced secrecy, stirred local, national and international reaction and produced changes in the Roman Catholic Church.”

The Spotlight team was Mike Rezendes (played by Mark Ruffalo, in an Oscar-nominated performance), Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (played by Michael Keaton), Sacha Pfeiffer (played by Rachel McAdams, also an Oscar-nominated performance), and Matt Carroll (played by Brian d’Arcy James).

Fifteen minutes into the film, we get our first glimpse into the newspaper archives and library research team.

News librarian in Spotlight (2015)
News librarian in Spotlight (2015)

Spotlight news reporter Matt drops off an info request to Lisa Tuite, the head of the news library. Lisa (played by Michele Proude) is sitting behind a desk and typing on a computer, and you can see shelves and shelves of files and boxes in the background.

Matt:  Hey Lisa. Could you pull all the relevant clips on that for me?

Lisa:  Yeah. [looks at paper] Is this for Spotlight?

Matt:  Just drop them off when they’re ready? Thanks.

A few minutes later, at 22 minutes into the film, there is a series of quick cuts and closeups of a variety of research methods and materials, including microfilm, photographs, clipping files, and keyword searching in an online database.

Variety of news research materials and methods in Spotlight (2015)
Variety of news research materials and methods in Spotlight (2015)

It’s clear that the news researchers are all women, and we see closeups of the hands and backs of the researchers, almost no faces. The focus, therefore, is not on the librarians and researchers — the focus is on the research itself.

Also, news flash:  Not all information is available on the internet! There’s still value in research the “old-fashioned” way.

We then see the initial results of all that research rolled, literally, into the Spotlight offices.

News research files in Spotlight (2015)
News research files in Spotlight (2015)

The research librarians are curious about the story, too, but the reporters have been directed to be “more discreet than usual” on this story. After more folders get dropped off, the Spotlight team discuss some of the possible leads.

Robby:  How much longer you need to get through the clips?

Sacha:  I mean, a few days. There’s a lot. Lisa’s still sending up more.

There are folders and folders of clippings and articles stacked up on the reporters’ desks. The research library team is definitely delivering on their end, and it is clear that their research is vital in helping the reporters pinpoint names of both priests and victims, as well as follow up on a victims’ organization and support group.

It’s also clear that Lisa, as head of the library, is well-known and on a first-name basis with the entire Globe staff. At 49 mins into the film, Matt asks advice from Eileen MacNamara, the columnist who had initially written about the priest Geoghan.

Matt:  Hey Mac, if I wanted historical data on a priest and parishes he’d been assigned to, where would I find that?

Eileen: The Geoghan case? It’s all in the clips. Lisa has the source material.

In the very next scene, we see Lisa again, this time in what must be the print collection of the newspaper library and archives. We get a closeup of the multi-volume Catholic Encyclopedia and paperback copies of the Massachusetts Catholic Directory, all with spine labels of what looks to be Dewey Decimal call numbers in the 200’s. [And that is correct, Class 200 in the Dewey Decimal classification system is about religion. Y’all knew I would doublecheck that, right?!]

Print directories in Spotlight (2015)
Print directories in Spotlight (2015)

Lisa:  The Archdiocese puts out an annual directory. Every priest and parish.

Matt:  Oh, that’s great. Do these go back any further than ’98?

Lisa:  Oh yeah, going back to the ’80s in the mez. Beyond that, you gotta go to the BPL. [Boston Public Library]

Matt:  The mez, huh? Thanks, Lisa.

Lisa:  You bet.

Print collection of news library in Spotlight (2015)
Print collection of news library in Spotlight (2015)

There are rows of shelves in the news library, and there looks to comfy seating in the back with a padded chair.

We next see Mike and Walter join Matt in the aforementioned “mez” (short for “mezzanine”), looking through the old church directories. The “mez” is decidedly less comfortable than the news library, with metal shelving, stacked-up boxes, no light (no one can find the light switch), and a suspicious smell.

Mike:  What the hell is that smell?

Matt:  There’s a dead rat in the corner.

Mezzanine library archives in Spotlight (2015)
Mezzanine library archives in Spotlight (2015)
Church directory archives in Spotlight (2015)
Church directory archives in Spotlight (2015)

These old church directories provide a series of vital clues that propel the rest of the investigation — and therefore, the rest of the film. The reporters realize that through these directories, they can track down priests who were reassigned by the church in order to obscure their crimes. With the 13 names of priests they currently have, Matt figures out that guilty priests were designated in the directories with a variety of related keywords, like “sick leave,” “absent on leave,” “unassigned,” “emergency response” and “treatment center.”

Sick leave designation in church directories
Sick leave designation in church directories

At 1 hour into the film, almost at the halfway mark of the 128-minute running time, the reporters realize there is an even bigger scope to the investigation. They could be looking at 90 or more priests, and they need a way to quickly identify them. They had been using the directories to track down and confirm priests revealed through interviewing victims — but what about using the directories the other way around? Therefore, the reporters use the directories — with the keywords they had already identified! — to track down more potentially guilty priests.

There is a resulting montage of this methodical research, all featuring the four reporters going through the directories, line by line, in different locations — at their desks, in the news library, even in public places like a bar.

We even get a quick clip of Sacha in what must be the Boston Public Library (Lisa had mentioned in an earlier scene that the BPL had even older copies of the church directories), at a library table and surrounded by the iconic green lamps you find in classical libraries. A security guard announces “Library closing,” and Sacha checks her watch.

Boston Public Library library scene in Spotlight (2015)
Boston Public Library library scene in Spotlight (2015)

Matt (who was described by the Globe as “the database reporting specialist for the Spotlight Team”) then begins building a database of names. This research method results in a database file of 87 names.

Cross-checking names in Spotlight (2015)
Cross-checking names in Spotlight (2015)

I have to admit, I clapped my hands at this montage and shouted out, “Keywords! It’s all about keywords!” My husband thought my outburst hilarious, but I was seriously pleased at the inclusion of this kind of old-school, thorough method of research — and critical thinking. It made my librarian heart smile and burst with pride! 😀

By the way, this 2016 interview with the real-life Lisa Tuite reveals that it was also the news librarians — not just the reporters — who “manually cross-referenced the directories to follow priests from parish to parish. As names of the priests involved in the scandal came to light, Tuite and her team researched the priests’ backgrounds. Tuite’s “research forensics” revealed the story.” (By the way, Lisa Tuite is also personally thanked in the film’s acknowledgements.)

In a Boston Globe article from Oct. 28, 2015, Lisa is included in “The real people behind the ‘Spotlight’ characters,” about actors and the real people they are portraying.

Boston Globe article screenshot
Boston Globe article screenshot

I also looked up Lisa’s staff profile page on the Boston Globe website:

“Tuite directs a staff of researchers who provide background and fact-checking to reporters and editors. The library manages the Globe text and photo archive as well. She joined the Globe in the library in 1979.”

Librarian staff profile page on Boston Globe site
Librarian staff profile page on Boston Globe site

In her scenes, Lisa is dressed in comfortable, professional clothing (cardigan and shirtdress in one scene and a button-down and black trousers in another), wears glasses and subtle jewelry (small hoop earrings and a thin gold watch), and has long brown hair with the front half pulled back. The film’s credits also list Zarrin Darnell-Martin as Intern Wanda (she’s the one who delivers the files to the reporters), and the IMDb.com cast lists includes Colleen Kelly as a Librarian, uncredited. There are at least two other library researchers uncredited, women you can see in the background of the library and archives research scenes. All fulfill the Information Provider role in this Class III film.

You can see Michele Proude’s clips in the film via Vimeo, here at https://vimeo.com/159127965.

Spotlight librarian video
Click on screenshot to play video of librarian scenes in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

I really enjoyed watching Spotlight, a film that is smart and mature — it goes deeper than the surface of the sensational stories they uncover and write about. And it doesn’t do that with flashy performances or “gotcha” moments. It builds slowly, methodically, until the evidence they uncover cannot be denied:  not by the reporters themselves, not by the church lawyers, not by the public, not by the audience watching the film. And as a librarian, I gotta love a film that treats research — “Get those directories upstairs!” — as pivotal and key scenes.

To sum up, I have to highlight a contribution to the “Auto-Cat” listserv (a listserv for automation & cataloging librarians) from Michael Klossner, who highlighted the library scenes in Spotlight. I can’t sum it up any better than he does:

The film is being described as a valentine to an old institution which is often considered out-of-date in the wired world, the newspaper. It is also a tribute to another old-school  institution, the library — in spite of the rat in the corner.

I highly recommend Spotlight not only as an excellent film, but also as a film that highlights excellent research. And kudos to Lisa Tuite and her staff of librarians and researchers at the Boston Globe news library!


Sources used:


Lilly the Librarian in ‘Rising Sun’

Willy the Weasel is busy digging into any dirt, and he’s enlisting the help of Lilly the Librarian at a newspaper library.

In the 1993 drama, Rising Sun, young, beautiful woman is found strangled atop a table in the L.A. headquarters of a Japanese corporation. Who killed her? To solve the crime, Wesley Snipes, who plays Lt. Webster ‘Web’ Smith, partners with Sean Connery, who plays Capt. John Connor, an expert on Japanese culture. They delve into the seemingly seamy underworld of Japanese business etiquette.

Rising Sun (1993) ORIGINAL TRAILER [HD 1080p]” video uploaded by HD Retro Trailers is licensed under a Standard YouTube license.

I’ve watched this film before (and I had totally forgotten it was based on a Michael Crichton novel!), and I’ve always wanted it to be a better film than it turned out to be. One night, when I was working on my computer, I came across this movie in my DVR listings, so I had it playing in the background while I was working on something else. I did NOT remember this movie having a reel librarian, but once your radar is on, you find them EVERYWHERE. When I heard the words “Lilly the Librarian” spoken in the background, I stopped what I was doing and looked up in surprise. Instant reel librarian research — and resulting blog post! 😀

The scene happens exactly halfway through the movie, at 1 hour and 4 minutes. The scene lasts only a minute, and we get only a brief glimpse of Lilly the Librarian. It is also a rare instance where a Class IV librarian gets a name! (And a rare portrayal of a newspaper librarian/archivist, as well.)

So what’s the context? Smith gets a call from a reporter informant, Ken Shubik, who is keeping tabs on a weaselly investigator, played by Steve Buscemi (!). And yes, Buscemi’s character on the cast list is officially listed as Willy ‘the Weasel’ Wilhelm. Willy the Weasel is busy digging into any dirt he can find on Lt. Smith, and he’s enlisting the help of Lilly the Librarian at a newspaper library.

Screenshot from Rising Sun (1993)
At the newspaper office

Ken Shubik:  Where the hell you been? Did you get my message?

Web Smith:  Yes, about the weasel?

Ken:  Last night, I’m working late at the paper, I see the weasel arrive, dressed in his tux. He goes right to the library. I could tell the ambitious little terd had the scent of blood. He’s still here. I asked Lilly the Librarian, what’s he checking out? A cop she says, a cop named Web Smith.

Willy the Weasel IS successful in digging up dirt — obviously with help from Lilly the Librarian. And actually, the brief scene reveals the possibility of TWO reel librarians, both of them redheads. Here’s the first, who walks away, shaking her head in frustration.

Screenshot from Rising Sun (1993)
Can you spot Lilly the Librarian?

As the first woman walks away, we see another redhead — the one I theorize is the actual Lilly the Librarian — sitting at a desk filing periodicals, which you can see in the screenshot below and in the first screenshot above. Willy the Weasel, who has been pacing back and forth to a bank of computers, then walks back over to her, talking and pointing, and we see only the side of her head.

Screenshot from Rising Sun (1993)
Second verse, same as the first
Screenshot from Rising Sun (1993)
The closest we get to Lilly the Librarian in Rising Sun (1993)

Lilly the Librarian definitely fulfills her role as Information Provider. Too bad that wasn’t enough to warrant a credit in the cast list. 😦

This reel librarian cameo also reminded me a little of another reel librarian character in You, Me and Dupree (2006). Although the characters fill VERY different roles, there are some striking coincidences:

  • Both are redheads
  • We see both only briefly — and mostly from behind or from the side
  • We never hear them speak
  • Both are named similarly:
  • Both are uncredited in the cast lists

Amazing the things you start to connect when you dig into reel librarian research!


Sources used:


  • Rising Sun. Dir. Philip Kaufman. Perf. Sean Connery, Wesley Snipes, Harvey Keitel, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. 20th Century Fox, 1993.
  • You, Me and Dupree. Dir. Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Perf. Kate Hudson, Matt Dillon, Owen Wilson. Universal, 2006.

Of ‘monsters’ and missing maps

“We’ve checked every possible source. You’re our last resort.”

My colleague Michael from the Century Film Project passed on The Monster That Challenged the World (1957) to me for the website. It’s a ’50s sci-fi film about how an earthquake in California unleashes radioactive mollusk monsters. As you do. The special effects are… pretty much what you’d expect from that plot description. Earnest and enjoyably cheesy.

VHS copy of The Monster That Challenged the World
VHS copy of The Monster That Challenged the World
Screenshot from The Monster That Challenged the World
Aaaargh, I’m the monster!

I also love the film’s tagline, “Distinctly chilling. So real that it is nearly incredible.” Nearly incredible. Nearly. A ringing endorsement! 😉

So where does a reel librarian fit into the picture? There’s not a librarian technically, more a museum archivist. But I’m still including the character in the reel librarian category, as the character is primarily an Information Provider, along with a little Comic Relief thrown in for good measure.

The Naval officers on a base near where the mollusk monsters were unleashed are working hard to contain the issue and track down the remaining monsters. Fifty-five minutes into the film, Lt. Commander John “Twill” Twillinger (Tim Holt) and a scientist figure out that the mollusks are traveling by an underground river through a system of 700 miles of canal bank. The scientist advises them to be on the lookout for a survey map that would show underground rivers.

Twill assures him, “If there is such a map, we’ll find it.

A couple of minutes later, the director cuts to the Imperial County Museum, and we see a middle-aged, balding man closing a file cabinet drawer. Milton Parsons plays the museum archivist Lewis Clark Dobbs, in an uncredited role.

Imperial County Museum sign and building
Imperial County Museum sign and building
Screenshot from The Monster That Challenged the World
Can I help you?

Let’s listen in on the exchange:

Dobbs: Well, now, we gave most of our map collection to the library.

Twill:  Mr. Dobbs, we’ve already been to the library. We’ve checked every possible source. You’re our last resort.

Dobbs:  Too bad, too bad. We don’t have many documents. We don’t have room for them. We put up a bond issue, Proposition 14-A specifically asking for a document room, but… Oh, here. Here we are. [He hands them one rolled-up map.]

Screenshot from The Monster That Challenged the World
Maps save lives, y’all

Twill:  Is this all you have?

Dobbs:  I’m sorry, just not a speck of room.

Twill:  Mr. Dobbs, this is very important. Have you ever heard of an underground river or an ancient waterway in the valley that empties into a deep pool?

Dobbs:  Dear, dear. Let me think. I can’t think of a thing. But every once in a while, somebody dies, and leaves us a whole lot of documents for our room, the one we didn’t get, you understand. Propositition 14-A was defeated.

Twill:  Well, if you should hear of anything, let me know. You should be able to get me at the base.

Dobbs:  Oh sure, sure, I always cooperate with the authorities. You’ll find that I’m a very cooperative person. Just call on me any time, night or day.

Screenshot from The Monster That Challenged the World
You come back now, ya hear?

The officers are as eager to get away as Dobbs is eager to continue talking to them. He is very solicitous but doesn’t actually help them (at least not yet). He is more interested in talking about the failed bond issue. I KNOW THE FEELING. It’s an interesting choice to highlight public funding issues for a library or museum. This is definitely an issue that continues today — but not one I’d expect to find in a cheesy ’50s sci-fi flick.

I honestly thought we had seen the last of Lewis Clark Dobbs. But I was mistaken! At one hour and seven minutes, he shows up at the base — so nondescript that Twill doesn’t notice him on his way out; Dobbs calls out to him to no avail. Dobbs holds a briefcase and has smartened up a bit with a blazer and hat. He takes off his hat when the phone operator asks if she can help him. Dobbs dithers, muttering, “Well, well” several times and announces that he will wait. The phone operators shrug, and Dobbs sits down in the corner. Awkward social manners, to be sure.

Screenshot from The Monster That Challenged the World
I’ll wait.

Hours later, Twill comes back to the base and is so focused on fighting mollusk monsters — as you do — that he doesn’t notice Dobbs in the corner. (Dobbs is probably used to this.)

Screenshot from The Monster That Challenged the World
I’ve got a map.

After they shake hands, here’s the resulting conversation:

Dobbs:  It’s probably not anything at all.

Twill:  I see. [turns away, dismissive]

Dobbs:  You said it was important, you know, about the map.

Twill:  Yeah.

Dobbs:  Well, a very strange thing happened. I was looking for these papers — well,  actually, I was looking for this petition. [Takes out papers.] We’re campaigning again, for the Proposition 14-A, the one that was defeated. [Twill nods.] And there was this folder, and in this folder, there was this map.

Screenshot from The Monster That Challenged the World
Here’s my map.

As Twill reviews the map, Dobbs mutters on about a family that helped settle the area, the family that donated the map; Dobbs is oblivious that Twill is not listening. Instead, Twill points to the map and asks him if this is a river.

Dobbs puts on his glasses, and states, “Oh no, but the Indians dug wells all along there. It says here — in Spanish, of course — the wells of life. I read 18 foreign languages.

So what do we learn about Dobbs?

  • He dresses conservatively
  • He is patient
  • He doesn’t read social cues very well (which adds to the “Comic Relief” role)
  • He is a multi-linguist
  • Proposition 14-A is his favorite topic of conversation

Twill, a man of action, immediately sends the map off to the photo lab to help identify the location of the mollusk monsters. He doesn’t even thank Dobbs for the map! Twill gets all the credit (of course), but it’s really Dobbs who provided the essential evidence that saved the day. And if only that Proposition 14-A had passed, he could have helped them sooner… and perhaps saved a few more lives.

I was hoping this Class III film would end with Twill saying that the Naval base would contribute funds to the Imperial War Museum and their documents room, but alas there was no more mention of Dobbs or Proposition 14-A after that third short scene with the reel librarian. Oh, well. In my head, that’s what happened: the Imperial War Museum got a donation (and a plaque) to celebrate their pivotal role in challenging the mollusk monsters that challenged the world, and Dobbs is now happily puttering away in his new documents room.

Reel librarians save the world! Now THAT’s a movie tagline. 😉


Sources used: