There is possibly nothing more important than books. The Booksellers, a documentary not on books but the less important role of booksellers, is still less important than the topic it discusses. It is a ladder of significance, with the peak being the paper bricks passed to and from new and old readers who are on the lower rungs of the ladder. Lower still are the documentarians that try and capture the securely guarded role of bookkeepers, whose desire to preserve the historical value of first prints, rarities and signed copies is noble and, frankly, a bit useless. In the technological age, it is hard to sever the idea that implementing a gatekeeping strategy to physical art forms is any indication of their quality. The Booksellers does not assess that, instead, it is carried deeper and deeper into the wonderful world of reading.
Wonderful it is, The Booksellers is not. A formidably standard documentary that tries to piece together some talking heads clips with the famed faces that litter the streets of New York. A dying profession in a growing city, talked of by people on the outside. Fran Lebowitz, the commentator and writer, stakes her claim in having a say on booksellers like she often does with most subjects. Her dictum is of little value here, not because she is not interesting but because documentarian D.W. Young is unsure of what to focus on and when to do so. He pilfers through the abandoned apartments in New York City with the fruitful endeavours of book collectors hoping to keep track of everything they own and are desperate to sell.
Seeing someone rake through dusty, moth-riddled flats and bug-infested boxes looking for something that could be of potential value is always strangely fascinating. To see someone approach a relatively interesting hobby and profession with such candour and love is exceptional. But The Booksellers fails to approach much else in its time with these professionals and experts. Young is yanked around a snooty book fare, where the closed-circuit mentality of so many involved in the art of selling art are slowly killing their businesses and industries without knowing it. How can one find value in the ownership of art and not the engagement of it? Historical artefacts are one of a kind, books are not. Printing presses put to rest that problem. Young has the right people assembled but asks them all the wrong questions.
The Booksellers captures somewhat the thrill of the hunt shared among collectors of books, vinyl or film and goes a long way in showing the process behind it all that denotes what is and is not valuable, historically relevant or culturally significant. But it is shaky, built on a foundation that cannot support the empty shell pockets that are littered throughout. Like any art or culture, some prove themselves to be self-serving bodyguards of quality and quantity, which is what The Booksellers is all about. Audiences are given a peek behind the curtain at an industry they may have heard of, but will rarely, if ever, be an active participant in.