01 September 2004

Librarian Movie Reviews

by Heather Phillips

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"

You wouldn't think there would be much of a connection between L. Frank Baum and a giant, floating stone head, but in fact, there is. It is when Zed, a remorseless Brutal, makes this connection that the final crisis of humanity begins.

Zardoz is the first movie I will review in what I hope will become a series of reviews on the subject of libraries in movies. It opens in the year 2293 upon a post-apocalyptic world (obviously inspired by Aldous Huxley) in which the only remnants of human society are the deathless and supercilious Eternals who live in a series of inescapable and impregnable �Vortexes� and the Brutals whom they manipulate. Zed (played by Sean Connery) gains entry to one of the Vortexes by means of the giant flying stone head, which the Brutals worship as the fearsome god 'Zardoz.' The Eternals consider Zed an interesting biological specimen and begin to study him. While they are studying him, he is studying them, trying to devise a way of destroying "The Tabernacle," the self-aware database that keeps the Eternals from dying.

Despite its surreal pseudo-artistic trippiness, Zardoz projects two very potent views of libraries. Zed begins to doubt the authenticity of his god in a library (where he reads the Wizard of OZ). On the other hand, the Vortexes themselves were originally akin to libraries--great repositories of knowledge that cut themselves off from the rest of the world and evolved into the stagnant, complacent society illustrated by the Eternals.

The effete lives lived in the Vortexes is in no way connected to the 'nasty, brutish and short' existence of the outside world. The Eternals manipulate the people on the outside in much the same way as a rancher controls his herds--by breeding the best specimens and by killing the rest. The Eternals are so disconnected from humanity that they are barely even connected to themselves, having become so cerebral that they don't even sleep. Knowledge is dangerous, Zardoz says, when it is concentrated in the hands of a few. Zardoz envisions a world where the sequestered elites have sole access to knowledge--and access to knowledge is access to power.

In a sense, Party Girl proclaims the same message -- that knowledge is power -- but portrays it in a much more egalitarian manner. Parker Posey plays Mary, the party girl of the title, who lands in jail after a wild party, and calls upon her godmother, a librarian at a branch library somewhere in New York City, to bail her out. After a shouting match ("You don't think I'm smart enough to work in your fucking library?!"), Mary takes a job as a library clerk. Despite Mary's (admittedly muddled) attempts to gather her life into some kind of coherent order, her godmother persists in seeing her as a feckless hedonist, constantly saying that Mary is just like her mother--who "had no common sense!"

In Party Girl, it is self knowledge that is power, and the library is the symbol of Mary's pursuit and capture of that knowledge. It is in the library that she begins to find direction for her life--to make decisions and to develop the 'common sense' she seems to be lacking.

Unfortunately, Party Girl portrays librarians very much in the 'Nancy Pearl' mode--dressing them in clunky glasses and unattractive shades of gray, and displaying a condescending tendency to intimidate others by using use fifty-cent words while constantly shushing the patrons. Mary has to shed her vintage couture wardrobe and put her hair in a bun before she can announce that her life's ambition is librarianship. I was disappointed by the disjointedness of this movie. It obviously wanted to be Breakfast at Tiffany's or Clueless, but couldn't manage the necessary subtlety. But while Party Girl certainly won't be making anyone's Top-100 List, it manages an undemanding, pleasant fluffiness seasoned with enough interesting characters and sub-plots that makes it watchable.

For more information about the movies mentioned, check out theses websites.





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