Just Deserts?

November 3, 2007

Dario Argento makes the most lovely horror movies. They rarely make sense, but if you really care about that, you probably shouldn’t be watching them. In his 1980 film Inferno, Argento stages a key scene in a creepy library in Rome. The library stuff comes about 6 minutes into this clip. Jump ahead to the next scene if you want to see what price you pay for stealing creepy books about the occult from creepy libraries in the middle of the night.

And if you like Argento and horror movies with library twists, make sure to watch Deep Red, which ends with a gory twist in the city archives.


what do you do?

June 17, 2007

For the past two years, I have lived in a city that is for most intents and purposes Southern, sprawling and constantly booming, with highways and new cars and lots of good jobs. I work  at its sprawling, booming, self-serious state university, where kids and grown ups get degrees and get good jobs, as a matter of self-perpetuation, societal paricipation, and in taking advantage of unprecedented opportunities. Asking “What do you do?” isn’t a snobby judgemental thing to do, but a matter of business in the most basic sense.

I went straight through college and graduate school- both of my parents finished college after they had kids. I had lot of the same intentions as the students I work with. I’ve yet to see numbers on this, but my perception is that a lot of women who become librarians also become the most educated people in their families while doing so- that this career, this profession, is often one that people enter into, even when as an afterthought, as a life-changing thing. I think new librarians affirm this quite a lot- they take on “librarian” as part of their identity.  The thing I think is so interesting, so magnetic about library blogs, is that they are an excerise in women talking publicly and passionately about their careers.

There’s not a lot of attention in our culture today focused on women in their jobs. In women’s movies, do you ever get much insight on how the Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon characters feel about their careers? To take the pinnacle of genre entertainment as example, how often did we see the Sex and the City ladies actually at work? Their jobs, athough defining in a cursory way, were an afterthought. If movies today show women at work, it’s either in leisurely stylish rich girl jobs, recent past-period pieces, or in fairly disadvanged situations (see North Country, with the excellent line, “Do you want to make as much money as your Dad?”), but never as contemporary professionals. Where is our Network, our Norma Rae, our 9 to 5, even?

I meet other women at parties and bars and barbecues, who are doctors, teachers, lawyers, nurses, engineers, social workers, academics and curators (the real kind, not Charlotte on SATC). I meet women in other cities who work in media or have started their own businesses or who are artists and avoid “real” jobs. And when I think about it, we all put forth quite a bit for our careers, and our jobs, which are all regardlessly, “real”. We must think a lot about what our jobs mean for the other choices they have to make. But it’s hard to even navigate asking those questions. People see their work through the lens of their identity, and explaining what that means is boring for the most part. I also don’t want to be looked down upon by someone who thinks what I do is insignificant, or be percieved as self-important. But these things matter to me, I have a lot of unanswered questions about them, and I do want to talk about this stuff. But instead I talk to other women about their relationships, clothes, and expensive stuff we buy for the kitchen, or at most soul-baring, how we think we could ever afford to and manage to have children. Oh shit, where is feminism in all this?

As an act of feminist assertion and in affirming that I care about what I do, that it is important to me, I want to have more conversations with other women, both in my profession and out of it, about what our careers mean. I want to talk to dudes I know about gender and sex at work, and about what they think their partners careers’ (regardless of respective gender) mean. How do we do this?

The Convent

June 10, 2007

I’m not sure that I can unreservedly recommend the metaphor-heavy film The Convent (1995) by Manoel de Oliveira, but I can recommend its creepy atmosphere and the performances by Catherine Deneuve and John Malkovich, who, honestly, I would watch do anything in any movie for any length of time. And most of all, I can recommend its cool monastery archives somewhere in an isolated nook of Portugal. Malkovich is a scholar doing some research there (but is he really who he says he is?) and Deneuve is his wife that may or may not have the hots for the creepy caretaker of the monastery. The archivist is pretty hot too, and Malkovich may or may not have the hots for her.

The archives pops up a few times in this trailer from YouTube. The archivist is the demure looking cutie with the long braided hair.

Archiving the Supernatural

June 5, 2007

The Changeling (1980)

Not every horror movie has the guts to dip into the world of archival research. We have a major exception to that rule with Peter Medak’s 1980 film The Changeling, starring the always fun-to-watch George C. Scott, where the hero and his lovely assistant (played by Scott’s real-life wife Trish Van Devere) delve into microfilm, old atlases, and the “old files” at the local historical society. No one ever really says the “A” word in the film, but we know what they are up to.

And it’s not a bad movie either – you have to make a few leaps of faith, but the pacing is good, the mystery is fun, and it gets pretty creepy by the end.

Library as Fortress

April 14, 2007


What would you do if you were Harry Dean Stanton, it was 1997 (although it was really 1981), Manhattan Island had been turned into a no-rules maximum security prison, and you had to find a good place to live? Why you would figure out how to manufacture gasoline for The Duke (who is Isaac Hayes), and he would give you Adrienne Barbeau as a girlfriend and let you live in one of the best spots on the Island! And where would that be? The New York Public Library, of course. You even manage to strike oil in the reading room, so you can conveniently have your little oil rig right there. Also, your name is The Brain, so where else would you be living, really? Hopefully you can also figure out how to Escape from New York

document lives in “The Lives of Others”

March 13, 2007


Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s (Oscar winning!) The Lives of Others is the international movie to go see with grannies, boring friends and professional acquaintances now. This is both for the Hollywood-approved tale of honor and morality in commie East Berlin and for the key role that textual objects and archival documents play.

The film’s protagonist, Georg Dreyman, is a playwright who’s successful with his audiences as well as his critics, prized by the GDR theater establishment, popular in cool East Berliner artist circles, and inspired by his oversexed yet nurturing girlfriend/muse Christa-Marie (played by the striking Martina Gedeck, whose style is amazing, despite the overwhelming misogyny lumped on her character). But in the last gasps of mid-80’s Stasi artistic repression, he’s put under surveillance, just as he happens to get interested in writing anti-Eastern missives for Spiegel. The rising Stasi who’s put on the wiretap duty is the schlumpy Capt. Gerd Wiesler, who out of his own loneliness and growing dissent, decides to fudge his reports, thus leaving a false record of Georg’s behavior.

The cop operation is deterred by Wiesler’s misreporting, so they set out to determine the writer of the essay with an exciting round of forensic typography (believe me, those scenes are bananas!). In the end, Wiesler gets demoted for his namby-pambyness in the investigation, and Georg is saved from persecution and goes on to become capitalist-successful after the wall falls. It’s only in the denouemont that Georg, in a quest to come to terms with his past, visits the Stasi archives and reads the records of his surveillance, finally learning what Wiesler did. It can only be described as extreme archival redemption!

The real-life fate of Stasi documents doesn’t seem to be so easy.

Last Life in the Universe

February 28, 2007

In Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s 2003 film Last Life in the Universe, the main character, Kenji, is a quiet Japanese librarian living in Thailand. He takes his librarianism very seriously and obsessively organizes everything in his life (the neatly stacked books pictured here are in his house — and actually look quite a bit like the neatly stacked books in my house….). His continual attempts to commit suicide are always interrupted at a critical moment, and one attempt brings him together with Noi, a Thai bar-girl whose sister is hit by a car on a bridge that Kenji is trying to jump off of. In an attempt to avoid certain problems in his life, Kenji stays with Noi in her isolated home for a few days. Lots of things happen under the surface, and librarianism in general is left behind as the movie comes to its inevitable conclusion, but I still think that librarians (and everyone really) will really enjoy the interplays between organization and chaos (both physical and emotional) that permeate this film.