Business and Economics

BookWars ***
2000 78 min. Jason Rosette/Camerado
(dist by Transit Media Communications 1-800-343-5540). PPR
Color Cover

When filmmaker/narrator Jason Rosette first set up his table amongst NYC’s street bokosellers, he didn’t know that George Eliot was a woman. Before long, Rosette was not only well-versed about Victorian women novelists’ penchant for adopting men’s names (to conform to society’s sense of propriety and to improve sales), he’d also learned many tricks of the trade (if you wrap plastic around a book, for instance, you can double the asking price). Combining interviews with fellow sidewalk peddlers of lterature, philosophy, popular fiction and “bad religion”, together with handheld camcorder shots of sellers dickering, buyers whining, and the ever present parade that is New York City street life, Rosette spins a loosely structured tale of dipsy-dumpster diving for cast-off books, battles with local police in the wake of Mayor Giuliani’s efforts to clean up the mean streets, and tales of incredible finds at the Friends of the Library book sales (Rosette had a library “friend” whom he anonymously refers to as his source in much the same way a junkie would talk to a dealer.)

In addition to the low-budget look, viewers have to endure the affectations of youth, beginning with the subtitle “a flick by Rosette” and continually cropping up in Rosette’s overlaid narration, which is delivered in a halting, beat poetic style, punctuated by vapid Kerouac-ian on-the-road-isms and, occasionally, tuly awful metaphors (on the police crackdown, for example, he intones-with apparent seriousness-“a snake had entered the garden”).

Still, there’s a fascinating charm in watching these grumpy young and old men at work (earning $50 on a slow day, several hundred on a good), smooth talkers who are equally adept at pushing Kierkegaard and Clancly, professionals who know the difference between a cheaply constructed Doubleday Book Club edition and the real thing. Already a hit in NYC art theaters and on the film circuit, BookWars< is recomended, with reservations. [Note: the box correctly proclaims that the film contains “raw language”-not that anyone should necessarily expect different from NYC street merchants.] Aud: C, P. R. Pitman)

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