Reviewed by Jessica Branch
Seriously, has anybody ever complained about the guys
selling books around Washington Square Park? Most of us are
only too glad not to have to drop $25 for a brand-new
hardcover or a gently used classic. But is all that book
business legal? Former street bookseller turned film
director Jason Rosette set out to chronicle the community
of bibliophiles who sell their wares on the streets of New
York, and what happened to their way of life after Giuliani
threw the book at them.
"Bookwars" is participatory documentary-filmmaking at its
finest. Beautifully shot, the film combines a lyrical sense
of the cityscape with an hysterical (but never patronizing)
study of the booksellers and their devoted clientele.
Rosette, whose deadpan Mickey Spillane narration gives the
gently meandering movie both drive and drama, emphasizes
the bookmen's neighborly culture as he reveals esoteric
secrets like the bookseller bars, the secret "sources"
sellers cultivate to keep their supply fresh and, best of
all, the myriad intricacies of pricing.
But the real revelations of the film lie in what happens to
the booksellers after a fearsome threat to their First
Amendment rights arises in the figure of, you guessed it,
Giuliani. As the "Quality of Life" campaign cracks down on
them, the community faces drastically reduced space and
resources, police harassment and ever-changing regulations.
Rosette has claimed that "the plight of the booksellers is
a litmus test for the status of the public forum
everywhere." See the film for a peek into the depths of
their precarious cultureÑand whether it will survive.