BookWars
Documentary directed by
Jason Rosette

By Bob Campbell
Star-Ledger Staff

If cable access TV offered a movie night, Jason Rosette's "BookWars" could be its signature attraction.

Imagine a glossily expensive screen profile of swinging stockbrokers and Internet fortune-hunters.. Now imagine the opposite: a funky, homemade video documentary about scroungy loners pursuing the most archaic of trades, peddling used books on the streets of New York.

In today's go-go context, "BookWars'" cranky independents seem strangely heroic.

During his own three-year selling stint on West Fourth street, just outside New York University, Jason Rosette chronicled the vendor life via Super-8 film, digital imaging and a gaggle of video formats. Narrated by the director with neo-beatnik mock bombast, this discount documentary fondly celebrates the trade's eccentrics and their struggled against an unsympathetic Giuliani administration.

Rosette's own on-the-ground savvy permits knowing distinctions between his won bookish Fourth Street gang and the more raffish Sixth Avenue crew, who specializes in tattered comic books and skin mags.

For most dealers, surpsrisingly, this isn't just a fill-in occupation. It's a career and a ten or 12 hour-a-day lifestyle. Down time is devoted to storage duties, book restoration and scavenging through suburban house sales. In season, the daily take can range from $50 to "a few hundred dollars".

Rosette passes on a few tricks of the trade-sealing a publication in plastic can quadruple its price..

Severa lof his colorful recalcitrants have had substance abuse problems, a couple may still have them. They're not particularly socialized. One gaunt, shaggy long-timer drives off customers whose tastes offend him.

Unsurprisingly, many are highly verbal in an idiosyncratic way. Sly collage-maker Pete, whose Newark loft is a funhouse of books, art projects, and toad-themed objects, blithely reels off a passage that is by "the divine Marquis (de Sade)". If any enjoy personal relationships beyond professional cameraderie, the camera isn't letting us know. Their backgrounds remain mysterious.

"BookWars" consists mainly of archetypal Manhattan street scenes, oddball encounters and workplace chit-chat. Yet, all in all, the film is a weirdly charming nod to a noble profession. Rating Note: Street Language