Small Screen Berkeley: ‘The Booksellers,’ ‘Other Music,’ and ‘Beyond the Visible’

Viewers can stream some incredible documentaries about the high-stakes of rare book dealing, a specialty music store, and the Swedish artist who invented abstract art

‘The Booksellers’ Photo: Greenwich Entertainment

You like to read, don’t you? Of course you do – you live in Berkeley! Even I, a humble Oaklander, am a huge fan of the printed word – and anyone enamored with books is likely to adore The Booksellers, a documentary playing virtually at San Francisco’s Vogue and Balboa Theaters.

Focusing on the symbiotic relationship between rare book dealers and collectors, The Booksellers is manna from heaven for those who appreciate the art of the book and have also been bitten by the collecting bug. Though a few popular shops are featured in the film (including New York’s legendary and wonderful Strand), director D.W Young is much more interested in the highly specialized and rarefied antiquarian trade that Joe and Jane Lunchpail generally don’t frequent.

And rarefied it is. We see auction footage of books going under the hammer for millions; one seller laments how a 1611 edition of Don Quixote sold for a mere $120,000 while a first edition of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale went for $130,000. Even book collecting, it seems, has its share of philistines.

The film frustratingly fails to identify its interview subjects, but you’ll probably recognize Fran Liebowitz. And while the film’s humans remain resolutely anonymous, you’ll recognize most of the famous volumes on display on The Booksellers’ shelves – including that Gutenberg Bible you’ve been looking for.


Book shops, of course, aren’t the only retail outlets under increasing threat during the COVID-19 era: record stores are also suffering. There’s a unique fundraiser underway to support your local independent music emporium in the shape of Other Music, a recent documentary celebrating the legendary New York City store of the same name.

Other Music specialized in the esoteric, experimental, and unusual, plying its trade in the Big Apple’s Noho neighborhood for twenty years until the changing realities of retail forced it to close its doors in 2016. The film is streaming here, and you can select the store that will benefit from your $11.50 donation: Oakland’s Stranded Records, San Francisco’s Streetlight, or even Denver’s estimable Twist & Shout, amongst many others.

Compared to books and records, I know relatively little about fine art – but even serious art enthusiasts may not be familiar with the subject of Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klimt, now streaming at the virtual Roxie.

Af Klimt was a Swedish artist who, it turns out, invented abstract art years before Wassily Kandinsky — the man deemed the father of the style by generations of art historians — got around to it. Her works were never shown during her lifetime: Hilma died in October 1944 (again beating Kandinsky, who followed her to the grave two months later), but the first af Klimt exhibit didn’t take place until 1980.

The af Klimt style features spheres, ovals, and circles frequently assembled in symmetrical patterns and sprang from her dedication to the theosophical teachings of Madame Helena Blavatsky. Her work is distinctive, attractive and interesting; her spiritual beliefs less so, but many readers will disagree with my assessment on that point. Regardless, this is a valuable film that documents a much-needed revision in art history.