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 sentence).
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.