Smelling a rat in ‘Homicide’

Oooh, I smell research!

I have tried, I really have, but oh, David Mamet, I just am not one of your fans. But if you do happen to be a fan of Mamet’s patented staccato speech patterns and twisty-turny plots and self-important awareness, that’s cool with me. We’ll just agree to disagree and not talk about Mamet when we meet up at dinner parties, ok? 🙂

The Mamet in question is the 1991 film Homicide, starring Joe Mantegna as conflicted Jewish cop Bobby Gold, and the other usual suspects of a Mamet film. Yeah, I’m probably going to get all kinds of cranky and all-capsy with this one. Fair warning. But bear with me, because there is an interesting library scene in this one.

*SPOILER ALERTS AND SNARKINESS THROUGHOUT*

So I won’t get too much into the plot, because really, what’s the point? It’s all a mirage, anyway. It’s a David Mamet film. The puzzle-within-the-puzzle-within-the-other-puzzle-you-didn’t-see-coming IS the point. Suffice to say, Detective Gold is investigating a minor case and gets involved with a secretive Jewish group, which makes him question his faith and self-worth, yada yada yada. Along the way, Gold finds a piece of paper with the word Grofaz scrawled across it, and later, about an hour in, some random Jewish shopkeeper tells him the word was another name for Hitler. Oooh, I smell research!

Librarian in Homicide
What? I’m a librarian. Sweater vests are awesome.

The camera immediately cuts to a man, a young white male, all buttoned-up, writing out what Grofaz means on a chalkboard (see above). At first, I was thinking, “Teacher?” But it turns out he’s the head librarian at a special library for Jewish studies, listed in the credits simply as Librarian (Steven Goldstein). The librarian reveals that Grofaz is an acronym for Größter Feldherr aller Zeiten, translating roughly to “the greatest strategist of all time.” I was intrigued.

But then the camera revealed a cigarette in the librarian’s hands. A cigarette! A smoldering flame around archival posters and propaganda ephemera. Dude, I know this is a Mamet film and all that, but seriously?! A cigarette in a modern library full of priceless archives? Nuh-uh. Not buying it. SMELLING A RAT #1.

So the reel librarian continues to puff on that cigarette, telling us all about the Grofaz strategy, which apparently was “an interesting attempt” by a special division of the Propaganda Ministry that “didn’t particularly take.” This mini-lecture takes us through most of the special library, where we get vistas of dark wood paneling, rows of tall bookcases, study tables, books piled up, etc. Plus, we get a split-second glimpse of another assistant in a white coat back in the maps room, listed as Library Technician (Andrew Potok).

Looking at archival posters in Homicide
Looking at archival posters

Finally, head librarian stubs out the cigarette before reading from a “very rare” poster that highlights the Grofaz (see above).

Bobby Gold:  What do you have on the use of this word? Currently. Particularly in conjunction with anti-Semitic acts.

Librarian:  As I said, it’s an arcane usage, but we’ll look. We’ll take a look.

The librarian calls out to a colleague in the stacks. An older, grey-haired lady dressed all in grey (Charlotte Potok as Assistant Librarian) comes out of the stacks, carrying a clipboard and looking very serious (see below). The head librarian rattles off some directions, finally instructing her to “Bring it all,” and also instructs Gold to wait.

Assistant librarian in Homicide
Assistant librarian in Homicide

So while Gold is waiting (impatiently, I might add), he encounters some additional attitude from a Hasidic Jewish scholar, who basically ridicules him for not being able to read Hebrew. As he gets up, the scholar asks Gold to replace a book for him on the shelf. WTF?! Nuh-uh. (Side note:  We librarians generally prefer it if you don’t reshelve materials on your own. We are better able to make sure that items are placed back in the right locations, no offense, plus we also get to collect browsing stats. It’s a win-win for us, trust me. And don’t ask other patrons to shelve stuff for you. That’s just rude.)

And OF COURSE, while Gold is placing the book high on a shelf, he just happens to overhear a suspicious conversation between the head librarian and the grey lady assistant. SMELLING A RAT #2. 

Assistant Librarian:  The material on anti-Semitic acts.

Librarian:  Yes. I thought we had quite a file of current —

Assistant Librarian:  It was requested by 212.

Librarian:  212 wants it? [looks at envelope on clipboard]

Assistant Librarian:  Yes.

Librarian:  Loaned to 212 now? Fine. Then just pull the file.

Gold steps out as the grey lady steps away, and the librarian tells him, nope, they got nothing on the anti-Semitic acts in relation to Grofaz

Gold:  Nothing?

Librarian:  No.

Gold:  This is official police business.

Librarian:  Officer, you know I’d help you if I could, but as I said, it was rather arcane material. I’m sorry.

Gold:  Well, if there’s nothing you can do, there’s nothing you can do. Thank you.

Librarian:  Not at all. If there’s anything else I can help you with, let me know.

The librarian — after lighting up yet ANOTHER cigarette — walks down some stairs, leaving the clipboard and file out in the open. Yeah. Sure. SMELLING A RAT #3.

Librarian smokes in the library in Homicide
You know what you can do for me? You can take that cigarette out of your mouth.

So, OF COURSE, Gold leafs through the oh-so-conveniently-placed clipboard (see above), and spots an address with “212” in it. The next shot cuts to him at that location, and the plot continues to twist from there.

I’m sure you can tell by now how much this brief scene in this Class III film irritated me. The smug and dismissive attitude of this (mis)Information Provider librarian. The way he waved off his assistant. The clunky scene where the scholar tells him to shelve the book. Leaving the clipboard out. The cigarettes. The way the library is portrayed as yet another establishment — like the boys in blue? — insulated by its own rules and reasons and secrets, too easily influenced by outside pressures.

At the very end of the film, where Gold has lost everything, he gets handed a file. The final close-up reveals a newspaper advertisement for Grofazt, a type of pigeon feed. Was it all a set-up? That gotcha! moment so typical of Mamet. But what’s the point?

Looking for clues on how to answer that question, I did watch the other special features on this Criterion Collection disc, and I also rewatched the library scene with commentary by Mamet himself and co-star William H. Macy. The writer/director highlights Goldstein as the “go to Jew” in the Mamet acting company, and he calls out the “great Charlotte” who played the Assistant Librarian. Although Mamet states that the library scene is pivotal in the transition of Gold’s character (where does the hero belong? etc.), he also refers to the reel librarian as “head of the Jewish whatever-it-is.” Sigh.

And he addresses the smoking, too, in this commentary:  “That’s why I used to do a lot of writing in law libraries around the country, because they let you smoke in them. And also they didn’t ask you for any identification, because you know, who would pretend to be a lawyer?” How long ago did Mamet write in law libraries? The 1960s? The 1970s? Surely that has changed by now. And by the way, law libraries are NOT the same thing as special archives libraries. No smoking allowed!

William H. Macy’s reaction to the smoking? “It is an odd choice. Took poor Stevie about 10 years to quit smoking.” Because of this film?! Poor guy. And thank you, William H. Macy, for also thinking all that smoking in the library was weird. Also, you’re the best thing in this movie. Bless. ♥

Misspelling in the Homicide gag reel
Spelling matters, y’all

One last side note: In the gag reel in the Criterion Collection dvd, Goldstein initially misspelled Grofaz as Grozaz (see above). Woopsie. 😉


Sources used:


  • Homicide. Dir. David Mamet. Perf. Joe Mantegna, William H. Macy and Vincent Guastaferro. Triumph Releasing Corp., 1991.

‘Brainstorm’-ing

It’s gotta hurt to witness your precious tape library go berserk on you.

The 1983 film Brainstorm was Natalie Wood’s last film, and quite a strange one at that. It’s a hard plot to describe, so I’m going to trust in IMDb to sum it up thusly:

Brilliant researchers Lillian Reynolds (Louise Fletcher) and Michael Brace (Christopher Walken) have developed a system of recording and playing back actual experiences of people. Once the capability of tapping into “higher brain functions” is added in, and you can literally jump into someone else’s head and play back recordings of what he or she was thinking, feeling, seeing, etc., at the time of the recording, the applications for the project quickly spiral out of control.

The plot reads like virtual reality on acid — an intriguing idea, but it’s like the idea was 20+ years ahead of what visual effects technology could realistically pull off at the time. The movie just feels very ’80s, and therefore, has not aged well. Natalie Wood plays Michael’s estranged wife, Karen, and a product designer for the research company her husband works for. It also doesn’t help that Natalie Wood and Christopher Walken have little chemistry as a couple.

So, where does a librarian fit into all this? Admittedly, not very well. There are 3 characters listed in the credits as follows:

  • Jimmy Casino as Tape Library Technician
  • May Raymond Boss as Tape Library Woman
  • Clay Boss as Tape Library Man

About an hour and 15 minutes into the film, Michael has been banned from the premises and is trying to hack his way into “Project Brainstorm” and the online tape library. Of course, the higher-ups at the research laboratory catch on to this but allow Michael to think he’s getting away with it. They give the Tape Library Technician the go-ahead to load the “Project Brainstorm” tape. They call him “Jimmy,” so I’m making an educated guess that he’s the Tape Library Technician, although he’s dressed more like a security guard in his drab blue uniform (see below). But now that I think about it, he really is more like a guard than anything else. Sigh.

Tape librarian in Brainstorm
“Jimmy, load it up”

We then get treated to a look at the oh-so-sophisticated tape library and a close-up of the tape rolls that look like extra special Christmas ribbon (see below). Oooh, shiny! I personally get a kick out of all the warning labels haphazardly placed on the tape roll. DANGER. TOXIC. And another label that clearly states to NOT play the tape for a person. So much for the warning.

Tape closeup in Brainstorm
Danger! Signage overload

Toward the very end of the film, Michael and Karen work together to bring down the research facility and manage to cause the tape library to self-destruct (see below). That’s when the Tape Library Woman and Tape Library Man, dressed in white lab coats, get a few seconds on film. Alas, they are too late to save the tapes. Awwwww, so sad.

Library chaos in Brainstorm
Chaos in the tape library, stat!

So the reel librarians in Brainstorm are really more akin to IT technicians, but I’m feeling in a generous mood. It’s gotta hurt to witness your precious tape library go berserk on you. So they join the other Information Providers in the Class IV category. I’m sure they will find some moral support in there. 😉


Sources used:


  • Brainstorm. Dir. Douglas Trumbull. Perf. Natalie Wood, Christopher Walken, Louise Fletcher, Cliff Robertson. MGM/UA, 1983.
  • Brainstorm (1983) Plot.” Internet Movie Database, n.d.

A not-so-enchanting librarian in ‘Ella Enchanted’

“I can’t find anything in any of these books!”

The 2004 film Ella Enchanted, adapted from Gail Carson Levine’s book, is a delightful twist on the Cinderella tale. Winningly goofy, it features a sparkling Anne Hathaway as Ella; a, well, charming Hugh Dancy as Prince Charmont (“Char” to his friends); and a deliciously scheming turn by Cary Elwes as Char’s Uncle Edgar and regent of the kingdom.

*SPOILERS BELOW*

The well-known plot hinges on Ella’s gift of obedience bestowed by a fairy godmother, Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox), whom Ella is trying to find in order to release this curse of a blessing. Almost an hour into the film, Char tells Edgar that he needs to take Ella to the Hall of Records, to try and find where her fairy godmother Lucinda is located. The camera than cuts to a young black woman, billed as the Hall of Records Attendant (Merrina Millsapp), slamming down a thick book on a table, releasing a cloud of dust.

Hall of Records librarian in Ella Enchanted
Whatever, Ella

The attendant, dressed in modest medieval garb, appears quite disinterested in Ella’s task. “Here’s the latest census. Names are listed first by location then species.” As she walks away, she rattles off a “Good luck” with a dismissive flip of her hand. Although more of an archives clerk than an actual public services librarian — perhaps this explains her lack of customer service? — she serves the basic function of a reel librarian.

Due to the incompetence of Ella’s magical aunt, one of Ella’s sidekicks, Benny (Jimi Mistry), has been accidentally stuck in a book for years. Benny, therefore, is right beside her in the Hall of Records (his book, the one that looks more like a frame, is propped up in the screenshot above). He, too, grimaces at the sight of the massive volume. “Look at the size of that thing!” And as Ella heaves the book open, she sighs, “Lucinda, I hope you’re in here.”

Bird's-eye view of the Hall of Records in Ella Enchanted
Bird’s-eye view of the Hall of Records

The camera than spirals up, giving us a bird’s eye view of the messy table in the Hall of Records (see above). The reel librarian will certainly be of no help, and this camera trick underscores just how alone Ella is in this seemingly hopeless task.

A few minutes later, after a brief scene full of Edgar’s evil scheming, we return to Ella slumped in a chair in the Hall of Records. “I can’t find anything in any of these books,” she laments, banging her head on the book. “I don’t know where else to look.” Because asking the librarian is obviously not an option!

Finally, Ella spies a clue in the book in which her friend Benny is enspelled — NOT in one of the library books, I might add — and figures out how to find Lucinda. But alas! Edgar comes into the room and blocks her way, sneering, “I hope you’ve found everything to your satisfaction?” Due to the total lack of help or interest from the reel librarian, I would have answered with a definitive NO! But Ella is more polite than I am. 😉 Then Edgar tests Ella’s secret and sends her out in order to kill Char. Fortunately, Edgar doesn’t notice Benny stuck in the book, who has overheard the entire evil plot.

Archives librarian from Ella Enchanted
This book doesn’t look familiar…

A few minutes later, the archives clerk walks back into the library — sighing at the all the mess, of course — and discovers the book of Ella’s friend (see above). However, Benny can only reveal himself to certain people, so the reel librarian sees only empty pages. Heaving another big sigh, she immediately dumps Benny and his book into the “recycling parchment” bin. Sigh. Thank goodness, Ella’s other sidekicks find Benny in the trash and recycling center outside the castle the next morning. So it’s a relief that the actions — or rather, inactions? — of this disinterested Information Provider did help advance the plot after all.


Sources used:


  • Ella Enchanted. Dir. Tommy O’Haver. Perf. Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancy, Cary Elwes. Miramax, 2004.

If looks could kill in ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’

This reel librarian does NOT go gently into that good night.

First things first:  No, I have not read the books yet. Second: The trilogy is on my reading list, I promise. And third: I also plan on watching the original Swedish film adaptations starring Noomi Rapace. So this will not be a compare-and-contrast post.

Ok, now that’s all cleared up. The hubby and I caught this 2011 American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on our On Demand listings, and we were definitely in the right mood for this dark tale. The movie is tense and visually stunning — David Fincher films are never anything less than well done — and I found Rooney Mara’s performance as Lisbeth Salander riveting. I simply couldn’t take my eyes off her whenever she was onscreen (and considering the allure of Daniel Craig and his covetous wardrobe, that’s saying something). The only thing that really irritated me about the film (other than a few plot holes, or rather, leaps, that I’m sure are better explained in the book) was Daniel Craig’s tendency to hang his glasses down from his ears. NO ONE does that. Seriously. I should start another blog on the misuse and abuse of spectacles in film.

Anyway… Imagine my pleasure at discovering a reel librarian! Of course, Lisbeth would make a kick-ass librarian if she set her mind to it, but let’s be thankful she makes for a kick-ass investigator instead. She does plenty of research (on Google and Wikipedia) along with a generous amount of computer hacking. But while searching online for similar cases of past murders, she does employ the classic research techniques of Boolean operators and keywords in the midst of her search strings and queries (see below). ♥

Keywords and Boolean operators in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Keywords and Boolean operators in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

So a little after an hour and a half into the film, Mikael and Lisbeth get permission to use the Vanger Industry’s corporate records, and Lisbeth gets right to work in the archives. This REALLY disgruntles the archivist librarian, who wastes no time casting dirty looks and tight-lipped smiles in Lisbeth’s direction. Although never referred to by name in the film, I did my own research and found the archivist listed in the credits as Lindgren, played by Anne-Li Norberg.

Lindgren has short, slicked-down hair, and dark, conservative wardrobe consisting of a greyish buttoned-up shirt, long cardigan, black skirt, black tights, and flat shoes (so sensible!). I almost wished for glasses hanging off a lanyard, just to complete the stereotypical image of the Spinster Librarian (see below).

Reel archivist in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Girl, I don’t have time for this crap!

In the archivist’s spacious office, we spy a computer — which looks positively ancient and old-fashioned when contrasted with Lisbeth’s Mac, as does Lindgren herself when contrasted with Lisbeth, hmmm — plus a typewriter, stacked files, and boxes of notecards.

Lindgren:  Are you finished?

Lisbeth: I need to know where all factories, offices and projects were from 1949 to 1966.

Lindgren: You already have everything.

Lisbeth:  No, I don’t. Nothing on subsidiary corporations, partnerships, or suppliers.

Lindgren: Then you’ll have to do without.

Lisbeth: Mr. Frode said I have access to whatever I need. This is what I need.

Lindgren: He said you have access to THIS floor.

Lisbeth: Call him.

Yeah, you know Lindgren’s repeating some choice words in her head after that exchange! The next frame highlights another tight-lipped expression on her face. And score one for accuracy, we also get treated  to a shot of her pulling on white cotton gloves in preparation for handling archives.

Book cart alert! in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
No problem, I’ll push this cart all by myself. It’s in the reel librarian job description, after all.

Next, the archivist’s shown on a ladder, with Lisbeth studiously ignoring gestures to help out with the heavy volumes. After all, we wouldn’t want to be deprived of Lindgren pushing the cart full of heavy books (see above). How else would we know she’s a reel librarian? 😉

At an hour and forty-five minutes, this reel librarian has had enough, with the announcement, “We’re closing.” Lisbeth doesn’t even look up, and Lindgren is forced to admit that she’s not authorized to stay late. Lisbeth’s response? “I am. And I need access to everything, including anything that’s locked. Call Frode.”

So the long-suffering Lindgren locks up, sighs, drops her keys on the table behind Lisbeth, and tries to salvage one last shred of authority by stating, “Leave the keys with the guard.”

Lindgren the reel archivist in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
I’ve had enough.

But this reel librarian does NOT go gently into that good night. We hear later from Martin Vanger (Stellan Skarsgård), the head of Vanger Industries, that he had heard from their archives manager, who was “very perturbed with this girl Lisbeth.” And she wasn’t even subjected to witnessing Lisbeth’s eating and drinking coffee (from a cup with no lid, no less!) while walking through the stacks.

What Lisbeth finds in those archives does not actually advance the plot all that much in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as Mikael also comes to the same conclusion regarding the killer’s identity, albeit from a different route. But as one reviewer, Volkman, points out, “Fincher may be overrated as a director, but he can sure build suspense and dread. Witness the fine job he does near the end of the film with Lisbeth combing through the archives of the Vangers’ company. Not every director can wring tension from such an innocuous setting.” Although personally rolling my eyes at the phrase ‘innocuous setting,’ the point is well-made.

If looks could kill in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
If looks could kill

So there you have it. A typical Spinster Librarian with a sliver of Information Provider (she helps establish the archives setting, and she does retrieve the archival volumes, albeit most unwillingly), similar in the vein of Eily Malyon in Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Lindgren gets enough screen time — and enough “looks could kill” close-ups (see above) — to join the Class III category of reel librarian portrayals.

One last note:  About an hour into the film, reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) visits the local newspaper office, Destads Kuriren (Destads Courier, according to Google Translate), and peruses photo archives in a back office with the help of a woman (Sandra Andreis). I’m not, however, including this woman as a reel librarian, because (a) the local newspaper office is probably too small to staff an actual archivist, and (b), this role is billed as Photo Editor.


Sources used:


First impressions: ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’

Is it wrong that I smiled at comparing a library to a lion’s den?

In an earlier post, I had highlighted some librarian films about to be released, including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) and mused that “it might be fun to do some posts about my first impressions in the theater, and follow up with more in-depth analysis later on.” So here we are, with my first impressions of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, an adaptation of John le Carré’s 1974 novel and remake of the 1979 British miniseries.

Note:  I have not yet seen the 1979 miniseries, starring Alec Guinness, but I have it on order through my local public library.

I was super psyched to watch this film. It had entered my radar by way of Colin Higgins’s Libraries at the Movies blog, and I strongly suggest reading his reviews of the miniseries and recent adaptation. The trailers looked AWESOME and there was something hypnotic about the way Gary Oldman’s voice said the title, like a spine-tingling nursery rhyme (see below). And I do love spy thrillers, especially British ones, and especially especially ones that make you think.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Official US Trailer” video uploaded by tinkertailormovie is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

What I liked:


Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy came this close to living up to my expectations. First off, Gary Oldman as George Smiley, the aging agent forced out of MI6 but called back in to investigate a mole, is fascinating to watch even when he doesn’t appear to be doing anything onscreen.

And the director, Tomas Alfredson, is clearly talented at setting a mood — which was also evident in his Swedish child-vampire film Let the Right One In (remade in the U.S. as Let Me In). The film also features the excellent acting of Benedict Cumberbatch (he of Sherlock fame) as fellow agent Peter Guillam — and frankly, it’s always fun to write or say Cumberbatch’s name out loud.


What I didn’t like:


However, I always felt like I was rushing to understand what was going on. And I kept getting names and faces confused. I’m looking forward to watching the miniseries, where there is scope to understand all the characters and what’s really at stake. Because at the end of this film, at the reveal of the all-important MacGuffin, I was left with a niggling “So what?” question of doubt.


Library/archives setting and scenes:


And so what of the library and librarians? A shot of the library was included in the trailer, where you get a fleeting impression of multiple levels of bookshelves and lots of iron banisters. I remember liking how near the beginning of the film, the camera followed a woman’s hands placing a large book in a kind of dumbwaiter and then up the pulley into a level far above. In that first shot, with the closeup of the hands, you could spy rows of bookshelves behind her. I thought this was an effective way of using the library as an establishing shot of tone and location.

Later — about 2/3 through the film? — Smiley sends Guillam into “the lion’s den” to retrieve a smaller MacGuffin, some vital records that proved something or other.

Is it wrong that I smiled at comparing a library to a lion’s den?

And we meet two reel librarians, a man and a woman. Or at least I think there were two librarians. The man had more screen time and more lines, I think, but I remember the woman. Probably because I noticed that she was the same actress, Laura Carmichael, who plays Edith, the scheming middle sister on Downton Abbey. Wearing a dark red turtleneck that contrasted with her red hair, she acted a bit nervous and breathy, like her character really fancied Guillam and wanted to impress him. And, of course, he probably knows that she fancies him but has no interest in her whatsoever. ANYWAY.

So armed with some complicated directions provided by the female librarian, off Guillam goes into the library archives. With NO supervision or guidance, I might add. I couldn’t help thinking how lax this was for a top-secret organization to send people off, alone, in the closed stacks. There’s a reason behind closed stacks, folks. Closed stacks are usually reserved for archives or other important records — you know, like for records used in an organization involving spies and super-secret info, perhaps? — and librarians get the items and therefore maintain order and organization and privacy. But whatever. Of course it was necessary for Guillam to be alone in the library stacks. He needed to be in order to succeed at swiping the records he needed and the plot to move forward. Chalk it up to suspension of disbelief.


Final verdict:


Overall, I enjoyed the film — a solid B+ for me. And I look forward to watching Alec Guinness’s interpretation of George Smiley’s inscrutability in the 1979 British miniseries. Stay tuned…

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979) Trailer” video uploaded by ricardobarretta is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Sources used:


  • MacGuffin” via Wikipedia is licensed under a CC BY SA 3.0 license.
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Dir. Tomas Alfredson. Perf. Gary Oldman, Mark Strong, Colin Firth. StudioCanal, 2011.