BOOK WARS (NR)
by Jody Boyns
Director Jason Rosette brings a touch of humanity to the
oft maligned literati subculture known as the street book
seller in the award winning (New York Underground Film
Festival) documentary, Book Wars.
Rosette, a native midwesterner who also serves as narrator,
starts his movie like the old Nails song, '88 Lines'.
Instead of the '88 Lines' being about 44 women, Rosette
provides 32 lines about 16 bibliophiles that sell mostly
used tomes at street corners around New York City. The
story focuses on the sellers on West 4th Street (near New
York University), a diverse mix of scholars, antagonists
and weirdoes who share a love of dealing Dostoyevsky to a
literature craving community. They're really dealers and
pushers but it's not crack or heroin that are their wares.
Instead, they sate a readers yearning for learning.
Trouble brews for the crew when New York City mayor Rudy
Giuliaini enacts stricter guidelines for the Rimbaud
retailers in his 'Quality of Life' mandate that was moreso
designed to stamp out the likes of squeegee men and 'Rolex'
salesmen. After all, how many times do you remember
stopping at an intersection in the Village a few years ago
and having someone attack your car with a copy of 'Animal
Farm' or 'Naked Lunch'? It's here that the real Book Wars
begin as a combination of the city's animosity and a new
found competitiveness between sellers starts the downward
spiral of a street selling eraRosette, a seller himself,
has the unenviable task of chronicling these events while
deftly trying to straddle a biased line between the city
and his friends.
For the most part he does this with aplomb although he does
overstate the Giuliani edict by comparing the swarming
police presence with locusts in the Old Testament. Granted,
the sight of so many hucksters hawking baubles in the
streets makes New York New York (to quote Scorcese) and it
was a hell of a lot more fun when 42nd Street wasn't Disney
Boulevard, but equating Rudy's decree, albeit a blatant
suck up to corporate America, to anything of Biblical
proportions is stretching it a bit (like that last run on
Most importantly, Rosette does something that his book
brethren don't seem to - he reads the books he sells,
learns something from them and then transposes that to his
life as is evidenced by his 'on the road' final shots. A
promising directorial effort from the celluloid Burroughs
of the boroughs.