Stone Reader
review by Elias Savada, 16 May 2003

Mark Moskowitz, a political adster in Philadelphia, has made a quaintly interesting, but too long (at 128 minutes), self-involved docu-mystery for the literary-minded. If this was an E! Mysteries & Scandals episode of Survivor, there'd be just one winner (natch), but you wouldn’t be able to find him and hand over the million bucks. The filmmaker, having discovered a ragged paperback that he bought decades earlier and left it unread until 1998, has oddly allowed the book to take over his life after a revelatory reading or two or more. (The binding on that volume has shattered under heavy use.) He went off in search of the author and made a movie about his quest.

Constantly positioning himself in front of his own camera, à la Michael Moore, Moskowitz may share the same initials as last year's bulls-eye for the National Rifle Association and Charlton Heston Fan Club, but there's not a smidgeon of muckraking in sight in Stone Reader. Too bad; it could use some yellow journalism to liven it up. Or a little more comedy. It could also use a good editorial whacking, to eliminate a great deal of the banal, tangential linkage the filmmaker insists on using to flesh out his personal statement. While Moore populates his films with acerbic wit and sarcasm, Moskowitz goes for an uncomplicated proselytizing to the unknowing masses that one of America's greatest authors, one Dow Mossman, wrote one heck of a 552-page novel, The Stones of Summer, thirty-plus years ago. The director embarks on a two-year expedition for his holy grail, i.e. Looking for Mr. Mossman, a one-shot wonder who disappeared off the face of the earth, as the filmmaker tells us.

Thankfully, what's left at the core of Stone Reader is generally choice stuff, interviews with people—friends of the director, New York Times book critic, former editor-in-chief, literary agent, several authors and college professors—that all too often bear out 1) that they have no idea where Mossman is (i.e., a running gag), 2) that this is a strange, obsessive way to behave (is there a doctor in the house?), and/or 3) call me if you find him.  Translation: you do the legwork, I'll help cut the cake, but I probably won't reprint the book.

As a profession film and copyright researcher (and obsessive genealogist who knows how to find more than a few cousins), I immediately began to wonder why, once I became aware of the film's premise, it took so long for Moskowitz to seek out the illusive one-hit author, akin to locating other such singular-work novelists, including Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird). Mentioning Lee gave me a chill, as I had researched his book for several clients through the years, on the basis that its filmed adaptation had fallen into the public domain. It hadn't been terribly difficult for me to locate Lee's agent. Could I accomplish the same thing Moskowitz spent two years sleuthing for and over two hours recounting said search? Well, the day after I saw this film I visited the Copyright Office and photocopied the registration that the Bobbs-Merrill Company, the book's publisher, filed on June 13, 1972. Registration A339808 was made for The Stones of Summer: A Yeoman's Notes 1942-1969 as published on April 28, 1972. It gave Dow Mossman's address in Cedar Rapids at that time. A plane ride to Iowa and a knock on a door could have staved off long nights away from the family and perhaps a quicker denouement. Moskowitz might have spent more time helping his kids rake the leaves in the interim.

Now, you might be saying I'm picky. So what if the director fell asleep in class? He turned in his final project and made a decent go of it. In a way, there's a certain lyrical charm about the piece, no doubt because of his absorption of hundreds of literary works, classic and obscure, and how he paints this fixation for all to see. His meandering road trips allow him to spend hours with those who share his passion for the printed word. Most of us pack clothes, sundries, a book, a magazine, a laptop, and other light items when we travel. Moskowitz picks from a litter of literature and a bevy of critical analyses, many hardcover, and blissfully packs up a box of fifteen to twenty books to delightfully share with his next interviewee.

Cinematically, it's a rather ordinary sketch of cinema vanité. Moskowitz is definitely wearing this book on his self-indulgent sleeve. Make that books, as he has a penchant for purchasing every copy of the book that still exists and is for sale. A friend notes. "Nobody else can read this book because you have every copy." Long out of print, there's no guarantee any of us will have the chance at reading The Stones of Summer. Or finding a copy. My wife couldn't find either of the two editions that are supposed to be at the Library of Congress.

It's the perfect film (complemented by Cet Amour-La, the dramatic retelling of Yann Andréa's novel about French author Marguerite Duras and her relationship with a younger, literary muse) to re-open Washington's Avalon Theatre, the area's latest arthouse reborn, following last month's opening of The American Film Institute's state-of-the-art triplex (one screen occupying the former K-B Silver, an art deco palace meticulously restored) in nearby Silver Spring, Maryland.

The Avalon, which first opened back in 1923 on the upper north western edge of the District of Columbia, has been a longtime family gathering place ever since. Its balcony was replaced in 1970 with a second, smaller screen. In 1985, then owners Ted and Jim Pedas renovated again, adding an amusing mural on the main auditorium done, featuring Mercury tossing a reel of film to a cherub across a cloud-filled sky. Two years ago Cineplex Odeon closed and ransacked the venue, removing everything but the artwork and the will of the upper-middle class, highly-educated community. It reopened May 9th as a non-profit, locally-run theatre.

Patrons who find Stone Reader not up to their liking can find solace across the street. At the library.

Written and
Directed by:

Mark Moskowitz

Mark Moskowitz
Robert Gottlieb
Dow Mossman
Min Byung-sam
Frank Conroy
Leslie Fiedler

NR - Not Rated.
This film has not
been rated.






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