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With: Mark Moskowitz, Dow Mossman, Carl Brandt, Frank Conroy, Bruce Dobler, Robert C.S. Downs, Robert Ellis, Leslie Fiedler, Ed Gorman, Robert Gottlieb, John Kashiwabara, William Cotter Murray, John Seelye
Written by: Mark Moskowitz
Directed by: Mark Moskowitz
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
Running Time: 127
Date: 01/01/2002
IMDB

Stone Reader (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Read All About It

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In 1986, filmmaker Ross McElwee raised money for a documentary about General Sherman, but just before he was to begin filming, his girlfriend dumped him. So he compromised: he followed Sherman's civil war route while taking a look back at his own life and his various relationships with women.

This was not objective journalism by any means, but it made for a great and entertaining film. Director Mark Moskowitz has now performed a similar trick with his new film "Stone Reader.

On the surface, Stone Reader is a pleasant, enjoyable documentary about a man in search of a lost writer. Author Dow Mossman published his first and only book, "The Stones of Summer," in 1972 and it fascinated filmmaker Mark Moskowitz enough to find out if Mossman ever wrote anything else, and what he might be up to today.

Over the course of two years, Moskowitz searched for Mossman, as well as for former colleagues, agents and publishers, and any other people who had read the book.

Moskowitz is an internet junkie who buys tons of books from both Amazon.com and ebay.com, where he finds perhaps the last remaining half-dozen copies of "The Stones of Summer."

Strangely, the friends he loans the book to don't seem to like it much. The standard report is that it's tough to get through.

For his day job, Moskowitz cranks out those famously sleazy political ads that smear negative accusations on the candidates' opponents. It makes you wonder if -- though Stone Reader looks authentic enough -- if Moskowitz isn't playing with us a little bit.

After all, it takes him two years to find Mossman, even though the author hadn't moved or changed addresses in three decades. Indeed, Moskowitz was living in the same house that "The Stones of Summer" was set in.

But what's really surprising about Stone Reader is that, whether or not the facts of the case are true, the film betrays a true love of books. Even if Moskowitz fudged his enthusiasm for "The Stones of Summer," he really does love books in general. That kind of thing can't be faked.

I was surprised how many books Moskowitz and I have in common in our respective libraries -- not just the same titles, but even the exact same printings with the same covers. It's almost like we were kindred reading spirits.

Moreover, Moskowitz has just as much fun discussing Hemingway or describing his first experience with Joseph Heller as he does searching for Mossman -- and the literary experts he finds during his search are just as happy to join him.

Even Mossman himself seems more content in discussing Shakespeare than his own work. And the movie's end credits provide a great reading list of every book that was discussed or shown during the course of the film. (Yes, even "Harry Potter" makes the list.)

"Stone Reader" belongs more in that specialized genre of "essay films" -- films like Sherman's March or some of Chris Marker or Jean-Luc Godard's films -- than it does with traditional documentaries. It promises one thing, delivers something entirely different and yet somehow finds the truth in the process.

DVD Details:New Yorker's beautiful new double-disc set is a must-have, with tons of extras all geared towards book lovers. Among them, an audio commentary track by Moskowitz, booklists, deleted scenes, footage from Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival, and information about the Lost Book Club, Moskowitz's new non-profit foundation dedicated to rediscovering other "lost books." A bonus coda shows how "The Stones of Summer" was eventually re-issued in a new hardcover edition, thanks to this film.

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