Regular followers will recall that in the previous post we looked at some examples of librarians in film guaranteed to inflame the ire of the Provisional Wing of the Librarian Image Protection Society. They included you may recall a sad and inadequate librarian driven to murder and then driven mad by his own guilt and a female librarian who in a spirited attempt to put to bed forever the bun and tweed skirt image appeared in her bath wearing nothing at all. What may surprise many is that these are some of the less offensive portrayals of librarians on the silver screen and are just the tip of a rather grubby iceberg, either because the films are irredeemably awful or because they are not the kind of film that decent people or even librarians would want to admit to watching, where the behaviour of the librarians is distinctly un-bun like. They are portrayals over which the library profession may
wish to draw a veil and so of course in the spirit of openness and transparency displayed recently by our own politicians and financiers I will spend this post rudely drawing back that veil.
Take Debbie does Dallas for example which surprisingly for a film featuring a library was one of the most successful video releases of its genre. Debbie does Dallas sounds like one of those feel good movies about a young girl finding happiness after the usual setbacks and misfortunes, and indeed in part it is just that. Debbie needs to raise money to audition for the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and so she and her friends set about earning the money she needs. However, thanks to the online magazine from which I discovered the existence of this movie I now know that although there is a library scene in the film it is not because Debbie is working there part time, at least not officially but because she and her friends find a far more lucrative source of income not to mention a number of very interesting locations and positions as well as eager customers in the library where they are giving out a lot more than books. The librarian of course spots what she is up to and as you would expect decides that he can’t condone this sort of lewd public behaviour but it’s fine in the privacy of his office. I’ve not seen the film of course but it has become one of the most famous and popular porn films of all time apparently. The occasional reference to libraries in the American Pie films, I understand, occupy a similar grubby place in the movie undergrowth though I have not watched them either as some things are beyond the call of blogging duty.
Librarian Renee Russo telling her former boy-friend that she has a better body that Miss Fuel Injection of Detroit whom he has been more recently screwing may raise a smile in Major League if nothing else does but Moritz Bleibtreu’s librarian in Agnes And His Brothers (2004) is a sex addict with a fondness for young students that includes looking up their skirts and following them in to the restroom which of course is no laughing matter. And do be careful that you check which version of Alice in Wonderland you are buying for your kiddies as these antics are nothing compared with the erotic encounters that sweet and innocent librarian Alice encounters in her dream in Alice In Wonderland (1976), a “porn musical spoof” of Carroll’s classic. Like many librarians Alice isn’t backward in coming forward in opening her mouth to sort people out but in this case whatever she is doing with the Mad Hatter it isn’t saying “shush” because she knows it’s rude to talk with your mouth full.
Jill the librarian is straight out of central casting, cardigan dark glasses, shy, the whole lot and looks like the next conquest for our dubious hero in Tomcats (2001). The film is the usual stuff; randy bloke assumes that behind that demure librarian outfit is a smouldering sex kitten just waiting for the right man. And he is not far wrong, but just far enough wrong to spend a painful few hours with Jill who turns not into a sex kitten but a leather clad, whip wielding BDSM expert with a particular passion for beating any naughty boys unfortunate enough to find themselves handcuffed to her bed. As you might guess from this little snippet from the film it was panned by the critics, received 15% on rating website Rotten Tomatoes and the best review said it took gross out comedy to a new low. Best avoided then for all sorts of reasons.
We should also be grateful that Jennifer O’Neill is another professional who saves her hobby to her life outside the library where she works in Personals (1990), a made-for-TV show in which like other apparently lonely people, before the arrival of Tinder, she finds potential partners in the personal ads in the newspapers. Unfortunately for her unwitting dates she is bit more hard core than Jill and in the guise of seducing them takes a knife to their throats as punishment for their infidelity to their wives. I am not sure though whether she checked out how the wives feel about this approach first.
And if directors and producers didn’t keep messing around with perfectly good books then I wouldn’t need to draw your attention to Dennis Danvers’s novel Wilderness which became a three part TV mini-series that was eventually edited down to a one-off movie. This is the kind of novel and film I would go a long way to avoid and would have done so but for the change to the book which meant it appeared in one of those excellent and exhaustive lists of librarians in films. Alice (no not that one!) is a young attractive single librarian working in the kind of grand old wood lined academic library that doesn’t exist anymore and her hobby is getting off with random men in bars and sleeping with them for just one night only presumably until she finds one who doesn’t snore or dribble. Her inability to stick to one man may or may not be to do with her inconvenient monthly problem (no not that one) when she turns into a wolf which I am sure the director intended would represent deeply profound psychological issues around identity but seems mainly to be a pretext to show her with no clothes on. This has been happening since she was 13 so the medication hasn’t helped much either then. In the book Alice works in a travel agents but some bland high street shop clearly offered the director a lot less scope for lingering shots of rich wood walls to create an erotic atmosphere, and sex behind the shelves is clearly more rewarding visually than across a cheap office desk. Unfortunately I am in no position to compare these as I have little experience of either.
Even great directors have had a go at combining libraries, librarians and sex although only in their early period and with limited success. You’re a big boy now (1966) is the kind of American coming of age film that I have always been too old to appreciate and only rates a mention now in part because it is directed by a young Francis Ford Coppola and was the film that first got him noticed in Hollywood. The film lacks the brooding menace of The Godfather, the napalm of Apocalypse Now and the quality of, well just about anything else by Coppola and although one of the best features is the soundtrack by The Lovin’ Spoonful it’s not exactly The Ride of the Valkyries, but it does feature not one but two librarians and the New York Public Library again. The film tries to capture the hip coolness, clever camera work, mind expanding drugs and of course uncomplicated committment-free sex that people tell me characterised the 1960’s. Bernard is a librarian at NYPL where I was surprised to see him skating around the stacks and assumed that was typical ‘60’s cool but then I realised that Judge Reinhold does the same thing in Off Beat (1986) and now presume that this was indeed the practice of the shelvers at the time. But anyway that is where Bernard works as does his father (Rip Torn) who is the Librarian in charge of incunabula (basically, very old stuff. You can look it up if you want a fuller description but I don’t have the time) and Bernard is desperate to follow his father’s advice to grow up by belatedly joining the sexual revolution or, to use the technical term from the era, getting his leg over. He is only a librarian of course because it provides a vehicle to make him believably awkward with women and so achieving his aim takes up most of the length of the film and is not helped by the close attentions of a neurotic, doting, and deeply disturbed mother who is just as desperate for her son not to grow up and certainly not in that way.
Obviously being a librarian he passes up the chance of the girl who for some reason is happy to be his first conquest and goes for the clearly unobtainable and deeply disturbed dancer who as you would expect messes him up. To counter the low brow bedroom scenes there are though plenty of library scenes including shots of NYPL and a Gutenberg Bible that is involved in a typical 60’s trippy chase but they are fighting a losing battle to raise the overall seedy tone of the film. It also features a collection of erotic incunabula kept by the dad in his vault which his son’s prim and proper landlady catches sight of when she goes to meet him there. Mistakenly assuming it is a prelude to seduction she screams ‘Trapped in the pornography collection of a fiend!” Which is I guess better than being trapped in a library with Sally because we can’t end this look at the less edifying use of librarians in film without a mention of librarian Sally Diamon’s approach to library discipline.
One of the perennial problems in libraries as everyone knows is keeping people quiet so all those nerdy swots can get on with whatever it is they do in the library. So in academic libraries we introduced a system of fines and suspensions to enforce this, especially for those who think they can just look at library staff with contempt and walk off after being admonished. Every year a new president of the Student‘s Union would come and see me and argue that this system of sanctions was very unfair and I would patiently explain why it was necessary and in the best interests of the majority of their members. I wish now that I had seen the film featuring Sally and her decisive and innovative solution to library discipline. I could have offered her approach as a possible alternative, an approach of which I know several of my colleagues would have wholeheartedly approved.
Sally’s library is no different to mine in having problems with noisy readers who ignore her requests for quiet, but, not content to be ignored by the arrogant bloke who just wanders off to the Gents whilst she is remonstrating with him, Sally demonstrates the finest qualities of strong women by marching straight in there after him and explains clearly that when she says quiet she means quiet. Then just to make sure it doesn’t happen again demonstrating the finest qualities of psychopaths she slits his throat. This ought to be a warning to others that Sally is not someone you mess with and that more serious offences such as keeping books overdue will put you in big, big trouble with Sally but unfortunately Tina, a serial overdue offender, wasn’t paying attention. She certainly does pay attention when Sally catches up with her and after pinning Tina to the ground reminds her in no uncertain terms that it is socially irresponsible to deny others the use of those books by keeping them overdue and then proceeds to impose a much more satisfying punishment than taking a few quid off Tina using her favourite instrument of chastisement from which the film takes its title. As far as I can see Chainsaw Sally is still available and appears to be something of a cult slasher horror classic although to my surprise you don’t hear much mention of it amongst long suffering librarians but I wonder how many of them have her poster on their bedroom or office wall!
Finally another reminder that my blog only selects a few films from the several hundred that feature libraries and librarians and if your appetite has been whetted and you want to find out about others you might like to check out the sites that offer a more comprehensive list. Martin Raish’s LIBRARIANS IN THE MOVIES An Annotated Filmography , Jennifer Snoek-Brown’s blog Reel Librarians and the book The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917–1999, Ray Tevis and Brenda Tevis. On the other hand if this has whetted your appetitie for soft porn and slasher movies you’re on your own. Next time some more wholesome librarians for those of you who prefer that sort of thing.