the stone reader

I just learned from an entry in Heidi’s blog that at 7:30 tonight the Tivoli Theatre will show The Stone Reader, a film by Mark Moskowitz in which he tries to track down Dow Mossman, who published a critically praised first novel in 1972 and then all but disappeared. KC’s alternative newsweekly, The Pitch, recently published an article about the film. And there was (is?) an oh-so-brief exchange regarding the film on the SHARP-L list. The director will be at the Westport Coffeehouse for a discussion starting at 6:15.

Update, 11:00 p.m.: I got home from the film a little while ago, which I enjoyed it very much, and L and I discussed it at some length, leading to the following thoughts. The director was at the screening and answered questions for about twenty minutes afterwards. It’s certainly a movie for people who like to read, and for people who like documentaries. That said, however, there isn’t really much discussion in the film about what it is that’s in books that make them so compelling, as L pointed out. I don’t even really know what Mossman’s novel is about or much about his prose style. There are a few places towards the end where Mossman talks a bit about Shakespeare, but not too many long conversations about what makes Faulkner, or Heller, or Vonnegut, or Dreiser, or any of the other white male authors that the filmmaker admires, so admirable. Okay, so as this last sentence implies, I did leave the theater wondering, along with Robin Bledsoe, where all the women were. One man talks about the importance of his mother’s influence on his learning to read, and Harper Lee and Flannery O’Connor come up, but I kid you not when I say that not one woman is featured speaking in this movie. In a way, this fits the film’s valorization of the masculine literary culture of late ’60s and early ’70s America. I mean, that culture is an example of why feminist literary criticism developed in the first place, right?

In the Q&A Moskowitz said that the film started as a documentary on the creative process, what fuels it and what might bring it to a halt, and the Mossman story was only going to be one part of it. But he couldn’t find Mossman, so that part just kept growing and growing. Still, the finished product focuses a great deal on the other side of the creative process: those who receive what the artist creates. There’s a great deal about learning to love to read, and the experience of reading. Some very eloquent things are said by a variety of people. At one point, Mossman says to him “You’re way beyond the ideal reader. You’re, I don’t know, you’re something else” and it’s a great moment.

Yes, I did like the film, even as I point to what might be called omissions or blind spots. The novel at the heart of the movie, The Stones of Summer, is being re-published by Barnes & Noble this fall, but you can pre-order it now, if you are so inclined.

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4 thoughts on “the stone reader

  1. I’ve heard really good things about that film. It played in Atlanta for about a week, and I missed the opportunity to see it (I think my car was in the shop). Hope you get a chance to see it.

  2. Interesting reading, George. It certainly sounds like the film is somewhat nostalgic for that 70s culture. I’m also struck by the fact that the documentary ends up becoming more about *reading* than the book itself. To what extent is the film “autobiographical” or focusing on the director’s own experiences? In other words, I’m wondering if some of those blind spots come from the filmmakers’ inability to “criticize” himself.

  3. That’s a good call, Chuck. During the Q&A, Moskowitz said that although he could have edited himself out of all the scenes where he is interviewing people he decided not to because he recognized that this was a very personal project for him.
    And the start of the film shows him talking to a potential director of photography, features shots of his young son holding a boom mike, etc, which I think contributes to the self-consciousness of the enterprise. Additionally, there are a number of long scenes that are narrated by the director where he reflects on his adolescence, or discusses where he is at point in the making of the film.
    I don’t think Moskowitz is unable to criticize himself (he does so frequently throughout the film — or at least doubts himself), but this is one area (the boys club) about which he is unselfconscious.

  4. The Stone Reader

    After reading George’s entry on Mark Moskowitz’s fascinating literary quest documentary, The Stone Reader, I’ve been waiting for some time to actually see the film for myself. The doucmentary focuses on Moskowitz’s appreciation for Dow Mossman’s 1972 n…

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