review by Elias
16 May 2003
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
NR - Not Rated.
This film has not