As I said last time thanks to the dedicated experts we now know that there are about 500 examples of libraries and librarians in cinema but first I want to look at one of the more unlikely film stars. Hollywood directors clearly have a liking for casting statuesque expressionless stars with stone faced unchanging features and although far as I know Arnold Schwarzenegger has never played a librarian in his many roles the magnificent marble built New York Public Library has featured in more than 50 films although the claim to 50 films can be deceptive. In Sex and the City (2008) Carrie Bradshaw is a regular library user and sizes up the Library as a potentially venue for her wedding to Mr Big. She clearly feels the Beaux Art style marble stone exterior and stunning interiors would be an impressive, meaningful and iconic and venue and perhaps also thinks that if she gets married in a library if she doesn’t like her
husband when she gets him home she can bring him back in a couple of weeks and take out another one. The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) on the other hand had nothing at all to do with libraries but although the exterior shot and the dialogue clearly indicated that you were about to enter The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art the interior scenes were actually of NYPL which was better suited to the entertaining scene with countless men in bowler hats running around bewildering the FBI.
Conversely NYPL also, featured prominently in the 1984 film Ghostbusters where the opening sequence features paranormal goings on in the stacks where our eponymous protagonists discover a ghostly figure. Is it the ghost of a dead reader, a dead janitor or just a random poltergeist? No it’s a librarian, and how do they know this? Because when they speak to her she calmly says “Shush” but when you fail to heed her first warning, like many librarians of stereotypical legend, including some I have worked with, changes from a demure librarian into a terrifying ghoul. Later we discover that she is the ghost of Eleanor Twitty a former Head Librarian at NYPL still not revenged for her death at the hands of her lover; killed not because of her terrifying temper but just because she banned him from the Library. For reasons known only to the location finders though the outside shots are on the wonderful steps leading up to NYPL but the stack scenes where all the ghost-busting goes on were all shot in Los Angeles which was presumably cheaper but the ghosts were a lot more unpleasant there.
The Library features in amongst others 42nd Street (1933), Portrait of Jennie (1948), Chapter Two (1979), Escape from New York (1981), Regarding Henry (1991), Prizzi’s Honor (1985), The Time Machine (2002), Spider-Man, Off Beat (1986) as well as You’re a Big Boy Now (1966) and The Day After Tomorrow(2004) some of which we’ll come to in future posts. In The Adjustment Bureau (2011) Matt Damon and Emily Blunt briefly cause chaos in one of the famous reading rooms and in The Wiz (1978), an African-American re-make of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy finds herself outside the NYPL which she is smart enough to know is definitely not in Kansas and is joined on her journey by one of those famous huge bronze lions, Patience and Fortitude as they are known, who guard the entrance to the library. For which we should thank the director. If they had followed the usual protocol for libraries in films they would have made sure that she took a librarian instead of the Tin Man because he didn’t have a heart.
Directors as I said are clearly attracted to the timeless solidity of NYPL because it gets to feature in a couple of future set sci-fi thrillers. Briefly in Escape from New York where it has become part of the prison that is the whole of New York but I guess the building once again is a handy shorthand visual to remind you that you are in New York which probably means that the city council put up some of the cash for the film. In The Day After Tomorrow the role like the building is a lot more substantial. The people of New York are warned to expect a new ice age following a catastrophe triggered by global warming and when the weather reaches polar winter extremes residents start seeking refuge in NYPL. The poor librarian is horrified that the people in the library want to start burning the
books to keep warm rather splendidly missing the point that if they don’t burn a few books soon, because the temperature is dropping to -150c and the world is about to freeze over there won’t be many people left to lend or borrow the books by the end of the week. Still you have to admire his dedication and it really isn’t clear quite why so many people including the hero’s son thought NYPL was a good bet to survive a new ice age. Still it’s not every day you get a film featuring a discussion about what are the best books to burn first; the ones nobody reads, the oldest, The Guttenberg Bible that’s pretty old after all? No this is America, they start with all the tax regulations and most importantly the library comes through in the end and our heroes are saved. The film ends though before we find out if they have to pay for all those burned books. That will probably feature at the start of The Day After Tomorrow II: This time it’s the law books?
New York Public Library also features in Breakfast at Tiffany’s but if you are a fan of the book you might have missed it because there is no library scene in Truman Capote’s short story Breakfast at Tiffany’s so NYPL benefited from Hollywood’s curious practice of changing perfectly good plots for no obvious reason. In the film version George Peppard takes Audrey Hepburn to NYPL and the only possible reason I can see for adding this is to demonstrate how spectacularly dumb and shallow is Hepburn’s character Holly Golightly who is completely mystified by the whole library business and is first told sternly to be quiet and then gets in trouble for encouraging Paul, Peppard’s writer character to autograph the library copy of his book. She haughtily marches off declaring “I don’t think this place is half as nice at Tiffany’s”. What that adds to the film is anyone’s guess unless the Director’s mother played the librarian, who knows?
As I said this is not the only instance of Hollywood changing the plots, characters and locations of perfectly good books apparently for no obvious other reason than because they can, although this will always of course be described as artistic licence. MGM take similar liberties with Agatha Christies 4.50 from Paddington. First they changed the title to Murder She Said presumably because American audiences wouldn’t know where Paddington was or perhaps because they can’t tell the time, after all this is the American audience for which title of The Madness of George III had to be changed to The Madness of King George because the audience would want to know how they missed the first two movies about Mad George. More significantly however they also changed the plot. In the book it is Miss Marples’s friend Elspeth MacGillicuddy who witnesses the murder and helps with the dénouement but she is written out of the film and replaced by Miss Marples’s regular side kick in the 60’s film series, Mr Stringer for no obvious reason. Unless, that is it was because they had to find a place for Mr Stringer because the actor who plays him was married to Margaret Rutherford who played Miss Marples. Which might also explain the fact that he doesn’t actually do very much at all in any of the films and isn’t in the book either; but then again this is the studio that tried to give Wuthering Heights a happy ending. The only reason for mentioning this at all however is that in the films Mr Stringer is a librarian.
I am getting a bit off off the point, though, which was about the films that featured New York Public Library, but at least Mr Stringer brings us back nicely to librarians in the cinema which we will return to next time.