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Perception

Houseless, not homeless

The Sixties is the era that just won’t go away. People who weren’t around for it, wish they had been. People who lived it, wish they could go back and do it again, and this time do it better. Today it’s trendy to dismiss Sixties people as caricatures, and the whole hippie lifestyle as a joke. Why are some of the most enthusiastic participants in the bygone era now ashamed of their youthful idealism and readiness to challenge boundaries?

Of course, the recantation isn’t universal. Ken Kesey never repudiated his younger self. This whole train of thought was kicked off by an indie film called Rubber Tramps, one of his last media projects. His commentary alternates with documentation of the ways and thoughts of people who live in vehicles and tend to move around a lot. Over all, it contains the distilled essence of the Sixties. For example, one vagabond tells how his mother asked, “What are you going to do with your life? How will you get the things you want?” He says, “I have the things I want now.”

Kesey guides the film crew into his woods to the resting place of “Furthur,” the noble bus that carried the Merry Pranksters and Neal Cassady. Their adventures provided a blueprint for others who acted out the paradigm of life as a never-ending journey. “Furthur” is cousin to the strange vehicles that occupy the side streets, parking lots and lonely spaces in so many cities. These rolling homes are a source of perpetual aggravation to many permanent residents. In them dwell people whose most important possessions are their wheels – individuals who preserve the idea of freedom for the rest of us, in case we want to get re-acquainted with it some day.

Sixties people felt the need to separate from the prevailing society, which was seen as toxic in all its manifestations. An enormous influence on young minds, at the time, was Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, a novel about a character who blew into town encumbered only by a big trunk plastered with labels from various exotic lands. His room was a disorderly midden of wine bottles, poetry books, paints – about what you’d expect to find in the bus of a modern-day rubber tramp. As mysteriously as the Steppenwolf had arrived, he vanished, leaving behind nothing but a manuscript that traced the development of his philosophy. Its main tenets were a deep craving for independence; hatred for all offices whether governmental or commercial; and refusal to sell himself for money, comfort, sex, or power.

In the Sixties, we had not the first, but certainly the most contagious, instance of a whole lot of people spurning the received wisdom of their society. Countercultures have always existed, and always will. People who prefer motion are a subset of the conformity-spurning class. Gypsies, theatrical troupes, sailors, traders, itinerant musicians, desert herders, shell-shocked veterans who can’t stay under a roof, all kinds of nomadic populations – they’ve been around forever, too. And sometimes a person just wakes up one morning and decides, “I’m not gonna do it. I’m not gonna start my day by tying a noose around my neck. I’m not gonna suck up to a boss. I’m not gonna squander my life buying status symbols for my relatives to flaunt, while I grow stomach ulcers.”

Fancy Van

We know where you live

For any government, there’s an advantage in having twenty zillion laws on the books, even if many of them are generally unenforced. When authority wants to harass you, it will find a reason. The trap is always there, jaws agape. Believe it: there are few adults in America who couldn’t be arrested for something. Everybody’s ass is up for grabs, all the time.

But first, Big Bro has to find you. He can’t abide a shifting population. That’s why he wants everyone locked into “real” jobs, marriages, and mortgages. People are optimally kept track of when they are neatly lodged at permanent addresses. The next best thing, from the tyrant’s point of view, is to have people un-housed, but contained in certain areas of the urban complex: designated parks, or Skid Row, or maybe even shelters. In the first instance, cooperation is secured because you have too much to lose; in the other, submission is guaranteed because you have nothing to fight for, or with.

At either extreme, householder or homeless waif, the bottom line is: the government knows where to lay hands on you at 4 a.m. That’s what it’s all about. What really irritates authority are the loose people, the ones who might be here or could be there, the ones who flit around. Like the rubber tramp who says, “I’m not homeless – my home is homeless.” And the one who says, “Freedom fixes most anything.” To authoritarians, restless folk are anathema, especially when the wanderers don’t particularly care to be accepted as citizens by the larger society. They like being alienated and disaffiliated. It doesn’t mean they’re evil. It means they want to be left alone.

Like a rolling you know what

In our day and age, the “floating anarchy” subculture is one of the last minority groups it’s okay to openly, unblushingly hate. The bureaucratic persecution never lets up, and yabbos entertain themselves by committing arson and assault against the rubber tramps. The non-traditionally housed are loathed and feared as much as the homeless. Especially when they are vonu by choice. That’s a libertarian-coined term for a philosophy whose primary goal is to become invulnerable to coercion. There are real-world components, techniques of withdrawing or disappearing from society. There are mental and emotional components.

For every person who actually unleashes the inner gypsy, there are a hundred who wish they had the balls to give up all the illusions and follow their hearts. Some rig up a vehicle and a lifestyle for a couple weeks annually, and take off for Burning Man or a Rainbow Gathering. Others live on the edge 365 days a year. Some go for the completely unplugged “acoustic lifestyle;” some have electronic amenities. For true vonuists, it becomes ever more difficult to live under the radar – even when you do absolutely nothing deviant except live under the radar, which has to be defined as wrong, for control to be as tight as a paranoid government requires.

Moss needs love too

The Sixties was the epoch of the rolling stone meme, as seen in the Dylan song; the rock’n’roll magazine; the band. Even then, the quotation was ancient: “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” The trouble with the proverb is, it takes for granted that a question about the desirability of moss has been decided. But is moss bad? In a way, yes. It erodes a small rock just as surely as the roots of larger vegetation can erode a mountainside. Doesn’t sound good. On the other hand, moss is also part of nature’s grand design.

At any rate, a generation arose that avoided gathering moss, in the form of either belongings or obligations. One way to be invulnerable is to not have things that can be seized and forfeited, not have loved ones who can be used as leverage. Children are the most easily threatened hostages to fortune. One traveler in the movie is RomTom (that’s Rom as in Romany, or Gypsy), whose photographs validate the Phil Ochs line, “In such an ugly time the true protest is beauty.” RomTom and his wife Ellie were on the road for decades, repairing bicycles, transforming life into art, and generally upholding the tradition of the eternal wanderjahr – and enduring the ongoing horror of having lost their three daughters to the social services machine. It’s been said that you can do anything you want, as long as you’re willing to pay the price, and there is a hefty price tag attached to life on the road. Sometimes the cost is much higher than your worst nightmare.

Despite the hazards of camaraderie, wanderers still value it, and some prize it above all things. The difference is, they form chosen families and communities through voluntary association, rather than by blood kinship or other arbitrary standards. In the movie, four rubber tramps spend most of their time playing dominoes, digging each other’s company, tall tales, wisecracks, and survival skills. So what? The famous prime directive for doctors – “First, do no harm” – is a good rule for us all, and these guys follow it. Four misfits choose to spend their time on a game, they’re not hurting anyone, and in fact the world would be a better place if certain people followed their example.

In a big city, a hustler can knock down one mark after another and move on. But vonuans, whose relationships are necessarily few, must value their human connections and treat them with integrity. The road may seem like an easy place to be anonymous, but in a sense it is one big commune without borders, shared by people you tend to meet over and over again.

In the Sixties, Baba Ram Dass told us, “Your teachers are anybody or anything along the way that points the path…” In the nomad life, you might find yourself living serially with different sets of people, as either guest, host, or partner. One guy in this movie says, “You never know when you’re feeding an angel,” an echo of the Arlo Guthrie lyric, “Maybe your ticket on the last train to glory is the stranger who is sleeping on your floor.”

A nickel and a nail

Here’s a strange thing. A person who makes a few million bucks, and then discovers “voluntary simplicity,” gets his picture on a magazine cover, and pontificates about how the real values of existence include watching the sunrise and milking the goat. Money isn’t everything and now, in the rat race of life, he’s a true winner. Whereas a person who has always known that money isn’t everything, and who has conducted himself accordingly all along, is known in our society as a loser.

A condition of mobility is that you don’t have much stuff, and what you do have is likely to be previously owned. Expertise in dumpster diving is optional. Society should be grateful to a subculture dedicated to keeping old vans and buses and pots and pans out of the landfills. Yet the amount of official obstruction that befalls these wanderers is a damn shame. With homelessness so pervasive in our deceptively rich-looking society, why not let people who can manage at least a vehicle, have it? And quit hassling them.

From the perspective of the big picture, they are not the anomalous ones. On planet Earth, most families don’t own a four-bedroom house with a two-car garage, and for millions, having a rusty van to live in would be a definite upgrade. In a global context, America’s rubber tramps are rich. But here in their own land, they are poor and scorned.

And they are the future. In the vision of tomorrow glimpsed in William Gibson’s speculative fiction, people own the clothes they stand up, in plus a few gadgets. In a Norman Spinrad story, the only survivors of nuclear doomsday are a caravan of Gypsies. Our rubber tramps are practicing up to be the teachers and mentors of tomorrow, when the “long emergency” makes scarcity more and more the rule in America. Today’s hardy minimalists will soon be coaching the rest of us in the art of getting along with plenty of nothin’.

Freedom

Freedom

Manifest destiny and the cosmic messenger service

In our country’s infancy the urge to Go West, always in pursuit of the next frontier, was the foremost and proudest American trait. In the old days, the government lavishly rewarded this desire to cover new ground. The more people who moved, the better, because it helped fulfill the Manifest Destiny concept of an empire that stretched from sea to shining sea. Now, there’s no more west to go. But the urge still exists. It’s like the problem with soldiers who come home after the war with serious anger management issues. Once you wind people up and point them in a certain direction, how do you shut them off? A lot of Americans really do have perpetual motion in their blood. Problem is, now the government finds it more useful to reward only those who stake out a little piece of ground and stay put.

Cosmo says he left home a long time ago because “My folks didn’t have no understandin'”: a summing-up that could be echoed by many of his road brethren. Cosmo and his arthritis share a leaky van, but he says living in a house would make him old before his time (he’s over 70). The prospect of being elderly, sick, in pain, and poor is what keeps most citizens in line, doing the 9-to-5 thing to assure future comfort. Cosmo would rather take the poverty and pain, than be confined. There are retirement home inhabitants who wish they could change places with him. When vonu works like it ought to, as another rubber tramp puts it, “You don’t get Christmas, you don’t get Thanksgiving …What you do get is every other day of the year.”

Without over-romanticizing, one can still recognize a lot of value in the mobile lifestyle. It’s a life that calls for great courage and resourcefulness. Constant motion is the ultimate transition, and the thing about transition time is, you can’t be on automatic pilot. You have to always be thinking: What’s needed right now, in this moment? As Kesey points out, it’s all about being here now. In the best case, having no home is synonymous with being at home everywhere. The ability to be at home anywhere is a great gift. Your center is internalized and travels with you. Imagine that: the whole world is your comfort zone.

Another maverick explains the importance of making time to “sit like a Buddha in the sand dunes and see if there’s any messages on our e-mail through the cosmic messenger service.” This is the bottom line, really: to create a life that encompasses the willingness and ability to listen for communiqués from the Great Spirit, and allows time to do so. Because if you let go of your soul, none of the rest is worth a hill of beans. That was the great message of the Sixties, and it goes a long way toward explaining why the era is so maligned.

“We are mobile beings,” says one of the rubber tramps. “We were meant to move.” Some of us, anyhow. Not everyone likes to move, but everyone should be able to. Whether or not the argument of a biological imperative is valid, the nomadically-inclined shouldn’t need it to back them up. When folks want to go, the fact that they are free people living in the free land of America ought to be all the justification anybody needs.

————————————————-
directed and edited by Max Koetter, produced by Kenny Rosen

RELATED: Rubber Tramps trailer, Rubber Tramps the Movie MySpace page, Rubber Tramps of Venice CA, Rubber Tramps-inspired designs

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Ostensibly, Echo Park is about the difficulties of living and working in LA, as experienced by aspiring showbiz types. In a city where every dog groomer or cop is really an actor or a writer, with their minds on something else, a lot of things are done differently than in someplace normal. Also, of course, the movie is about how your family is the people you find.

May (Susan Dey) and her son live in a rickety old house that’s been divided into apartments. So much of this is familiar to anyone who has been forced by economic necessity to find a housemate to share the rent. Who can forget the sinking sensation when you open the door to the first of a dismal parade of interviewees?

Eventually, Jonathan (Tom Hulce) shows up. May says, “I thought you were somebody else.” He says, “Even I think I’m somebody else sometimes.”

Michael Ventura wrote this movie, and that’s why it’s so good. It really is, though of course not everything is due to the genius of the script. Hulce, for instance. It pains me to bring in this cliché but he has quirky charm and to spare. Plus, he gets to do his maniacal laugh. This is a very funny movie with as much physical humor as great dialogue. Without being corny, it has a lot of heart. For instance, the easy way in which Jonathan befriends the boy Henry, by giving him a new name: Hank. What eight-year-old could resist?

May, unfortunately, has issues. She tells her girlfriend that Jonathan is “not the kind of guy I do it with. He’s nice.” The kind of guy she does it with is August (pronounced ow-goost) the body sculptor from Austria who already lives in the adjoining apartment.

Jonathan moves in with May and her son. August helps carry Jonathan’s stuff inside. At night, they’re all out on the steps, and May and August are playing footsie. To have sex, she brings him to her place. He mauls her around like a rag doll and my question is, after all that booze, why isn’t she throwing up? Meanwhile, poor Jonathan has to listen to this raucous carnival of carnality.

Jobwise, Jonathan ( who is actually a writer) drives a ridiculous pizza-mobile. His boss is cadaverously fearsome Vinnie, as portrayed by Timothy Carey. Although I always think he’s Harry Dean Stanton. Separated at birth? Check it out:


August has invented a device that taps the energy created by people working out at the gym, and stores it in batteries. He has kind of an orgone-ish theory of body building, A proponent of the “holy act of masturbation,” he discusses his philosophy unrestrainedly.

May finally gets an audition, which turns out to be for strip-o-gram dancers. Convincing herself that it will be a steppingstone to Hollywood recognition, she takes the job, and I’m not going to tell you any more than that. Except that my favorite scene is her audition, when the strip-o-gram entrepreneur (John Paragon) teaches her how to strip. It’s one of those immortal movie moments.

Related: Michael Ventura: An Appreciation
by Pat Hartman, first published in Salon: A Journal of Aesthetics

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Eric Luke was (and probably still is) a tallish person with pleasant manners. This interview took place at A Change of Hobbit, the world’s largest speculative fiction bookstore. The time was somewhere around 1982-84. And then more was added some time in the ’90s.

In the back room among stacks of paperbacks, Luke said he had been there since January of 1981. “There was a sign on the window so I went in and applied. Sherry called me up almost the next day and said, ‘It looks like you’ve got the qualifications.’ They needed someone to take over the back room. She said, ‘Your new title is Head Stock Clerk.’ At the time there wasn’t really anybody else, so I was head stock clerk of nothing.”

I asked Eric Luke about Sherry Gottlieb, founder and owner of the unique emporium.

“She’s very disciplined where she has to be and very loose where she can be. It’s nice to work for her. Practically all my jobs have been for a combination of men and women bosses or a woman boss. A lot of my film work was done as a production assistant, and that’s always done for the production coordinator, who’s usually a woman.”

Luke elaborated on the positive aspects of working in a bookstore. “I get a real personal sense of satisfaction when someone comes in looking for something they read when they were a kid, and they don’t know the name, don’t know the title or the author. But they know there was a boy who found a stone and wished on it, and he went into this other world, and such and such happened…and you go, ‘Yep, I know what that is,’ and their face just lights up. When you help somebody find something that’s real satisfying, ’cause they’re so happy…. If more people read science fiction there would be more imagination. People wouldn’t be rotting in front of their TV sets. They’d be expanding their minds.”

This Dungeons and Dragons aficionado had already made an 8mm film called The Farmer and the Wise Man, gained an agent through his short feature Dark Ages, and had a number of scripts making the rounds including one he described as “an amalgam of all the 1950’s science fiction movies.” This project had attracted the interest of some backers “who wanted to do a post-holocaust film with barbarians running around hacking each other up,” a project Luke declined.

Dark Ages is a clever and amusing exercise in science fiction comedy. The hero, Jack, is accompanied on his picaresque adventures by a personal computer which resembles an edematous golf club, provides advice (‘You might want to get behind something, if you had any brains’) and plays a lullaby at bedtime. When chivalrous Jack and his yenta-stick set out to rescue a fair maiden, the cyber-counselor is annihilated and Jack’s encounter with his archenemy is resolved in a quite original manner.

In the review I quoted the maxim ‘Money is what you use when you run out of imagination,’ and pointed out how brilliantly this low-budget, high-quality independent work proved it. Still, I expressed the fervent hope that the future projects of Eric Luke would find the financing his talent clearly deserved. And it came to pass. Before long his screenplay Explorers was bought by a studio and made into a feature film, released in 1985.

Today, Luke says, “If you keep slugging away, hold on to what it is that you enjoy about creating, try to be true to that, you can make a living at it.” Since Explorers, he has written and directed Not Quite Human II (1989) and written Still Not Quite Human (1991), a Disney Movie of the Week. He has written the four-part movie Gargoyles that has since become a series, been interviewed on Hour 25, and had various projects in development at Paramount that, for one reason or another, didn’t get produced.

Lately, Luke has been writing a comic called Ghost, published by Dark Horse, whose heroine is a crime fighting paranormal. (According to an expert in the field, the series is one of the more intelligent of the “battle babe” genre.) Ghost is also in development at Universal, on its way to becoming a live-action feature. Dark Ages may also become a series or feature.

Sometimes there is justice, even in Hollywood. Nice guys don’t always finish last. It’s enough to make you believe in good karma.

“When you help somebody find something, that’s real satisfying, ’cause they’re so happy…….”

Eric Luke at Internet Movie Database

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Under the credits, it’s a day in the life of a street kid – sleeping, eating, panhandling, running away with something he stole.

Michael Pitt is Toby, self-described as not as homeless, but “moving around right now.” Steve Buscemi is Les, self-described as a “licensed professional photojournalist,” or what most people would call a paparazzo. He accepts Toby as an unpaid gofer in return for a place to crash. Toby can not only fix things, but take notes and elbow rival paparazzi out of the way. He makes himself nearly indispensable.

The photographer and his assistant go to a wickedly satirical benefit for STD sufferers, where Toby meets a soap opera casting director, and things are set in motion for his apotheosis. They visit Les’s parents, who are archetypal “get a real job” old folks at home, only nastier than some. You see why Les became how he is. In fact, you see a lot of things. It’s funny, how much can be illuminated by “black humor.”

There are plenty of synopses of Delirious available online, including writer/director Tom DiCillo’s own. He’s an independent who has not only made other films of his own, but filled such noteworthy roles as cinematographer for Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise.

Delirious was shot in only 25 days and has won a bunch of awards, and some viewers find it funnier than others. Stephen Holden, for instance says,

…you leave the movie feeling as though you have gazed into a closed circle of hell where everybody feeds off everyone else until there is nothing left.

Toby gets famous overnight, acting the part of a homeless serial killer (who, presumably, only kills really scummy bad guys.) In one scene he dallies in a sylvan setting with a lovely young thing who says, “You’ve taught me so much about being homeless….” which is a priceless line.

The beating heart of this film is the relationship between the two men. They are mentor and protégé, master and novice, benefactor and charity-seeker, but they are also friends. The big irony is, when Toby first moves in, Les keeps wanting reassurance that his house guest isn’t gay. And he isn’t. But by the end, Les is feeling, thinking, and acting like a jealous lover. His elaborate, handcrafted revenge plot is pure hysterical over-wrought stagy queen – only he doesn’t know it.

In an interview conducted by Paulington James Christensen III, DiCillo said this about Les:

I just wanted to make this about a guy who is so isolated as a human being. He is so twisted, so crippled by what his life had done to him.

In an interview with Gary Goldstein, he said:

I love characters that have desperate qualities about them, but then other things that make them human…. I wanted people to see that Les was damaged–and that every one of us, in our own way, has some form of that damage.

Don’t miss the short scene after the end credits.


RECOMMENDED: great satirical videos about marketing, etc. – start at #2

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I obviously haven’t been paying enough attention. Here’s the story:

By a strange coincidence, the last two movies I saw featured the same actor. This lad looked vaguely familiar, but that’s not surprising, because he has the tabula rasa quality that lets him be anybody. Michael Pitt isn’t exactly the most memorable name, either.

Why did I order these two movies, anyway? Funny Games, I forget where the recommendation came from, but I saw it first, and thought the Paul character was plenty creepy; reminiscent, in fact, of certain over-entitled youth who tend to show up in a college town like the one I live in. A 2007 Choire Sicha piece described him as “the cheeriest, cleanest, shiniest sadist ever” and Pitt told the interviewer,

In a lot of ways I had the easiest role. The straighter I played it, the sicker it’d be.

For Delirious, the “why” is easy: I’ll watch anything Steve Buscemi is in. What a great movie. As it turned out, this was when I really started to wonder, “Who is this Michael Pitt?” and looked up the filmography – DUH, of course I’ve seen him before. In the movie I adore, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I hadn’t really paid attention to the actor’s name, just accepted him as Tommy Gnosis and thought no more about it. It was more important to know that Stephen Trask did the vocals in the movie, so that was the name I associated with the character.

Well, the veils of ignorance are cast aside, and now I know exactly who Michael Pitt is.

It’s like Mickey Rourke’s early days. I’m thinking of Teddy the arsonist in Body Heat – he was so compelling, and much hotter than anything else in the movie. I’m thinking of Rourke in Diner. And mostly I’m thinking of him in Francesco. He was incandescent.

Michael Pitt is the same way. This guy has got it, got it, got it. It’s more than erotic appeal, although plenty of that is present and accounted for. The sexiness isn’t in his body (there are a million just as nice), it’s in how he talks and mostly in the kinetic dimension of catlike grace when he puts his arms around a girl. Something in the way he moves, indeed.

The Delirious script was written years before Pitt joined the project, but there are eerie parallels between Toby the character and Michael, the aspiring actor and emancipated youth who panhandled and slept outside. The real-life Michael Pitt then, for a couple of years, shared a one-bedroom Chinatown apartment with several other struggling kids.

Pitt worked as a bike messenger, which is a hella rough life, whose awfulness is depicted in Tami Hoag’s terrific novel Kill the Messenger. Whoever owns the option on that book, take note: Michael Pitt would be great in the lead. I’m available to write the screenplay.

Apparently in the Cobain-based Last Days, Pitt does his own singing. He also plays guitar and sings in a band called Pagoda, which played at SXSW 2007. In an interview, he talked about finding somebody to play cello like it’s never been played before, which is a noble ambition. Pagoda’s rendition of “Hey Joe” is worthy. In their “Happy Song,” you can see where Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome influenced music videos.

For Delirious, writer/director Tom DiCillo wanted an actor who would be equally plausible climbing out of a dumpster or a limo. Here’s how he describes the character he chose Michael Pitt to play:

There are some people born in this world that are truly innocent. These strange and blessed people somehow keep going, keep the light of hope and trust in their hearts despite the fiercest disappointments. I believe the world is drawn instinctively to these people, partly out of joy and partly out of a desperate longing to somehow consume their beauty and their power.

That paragraph came from DiCillo’s production notes, which are well worth checking out.

——

Photo: courtesy of
icanteachyouhowtodoit
via this Creative Commons license.

RECOMMENDED: 2002 Michael Pitt interview in Movement

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I got this video called Book Wars from the library, it’s a documentary made by a bookseller/filmmaker named Jason Rosette.

There are sidewalk booksellers in many parts of New York City, but they tend to congregate on West 4th Street. It’s a whole area, like the quayside bookstalls of Paris.

One of them claims he can make several hundred dollars on a good day. Another says he cleared 185 on a day when the temperature was freezing.

But there are plenty of bad days, and even the most hardy can’t stay out there all year. In the winter, some go to more clement climes and others improvise. One multifaceted guy is also a cat shampooer who makes house calls. (He also keeps toads in a terrarium. And tears pages out of National Geographic to use in making collages – it was like watching myself. The tearing out pictures, not the toads.) Another of the booksellers moonlights as a magician, and ends up getting married with all the traditional trimmings. One dude is crazy as a junkyard dog. (Or what the Brits would call barking mad. Same-same.) It amazes me that anyone would get close enough to buy a book from him.

Among those who do well, one of the secrets is to wrap the book in plastic. This adds a certain cachet, a couple of dollars worth of cachet in fact.

Of course all good things must end. The mayor gets behind a clean-up campaign that’s all about “Quality of Life.” Tax ID numbers are instituted. The word is passed to the press: all the books offered for sale on the sidewalk are stolen. The city administration is joined by the university officials. Their unique contribution is to install huge concrete planters on the sidewalk at intervals, to screw up the setups the booksellers have established. The police confiscate books, then give the vendors a ration of shit, making them jump through plenty of hoops, interspersed with doses of waiting room therapy.
Oppression becomes part of the landscape.

I understand that the title Book Wars has useful associations in people’s minds, but it is misleading. There isn’t any war. The booksellers hold meetings and get organized. As usual, the idealists see it primarily as a free speech issue. (As Lenny Bruce said when lawyer-shopping: “Get me somebody who swings with the First Amendment.”) Eventually an uneasy truce comes about, although it will never be like it was, and some of the bookmen decide to get out of the field.

My three favorite quotations from the film:

“Emil told me he’d escaped, but he never said from where.”

[Book selling is] “somewhere between a passion and a compulsion.”

“…New Jersey, land of the ten-cent book….”

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