A film for those who read
August 13, 2004 9:56 PM   Subscribe

"Stone Reader makes you want to pick up a great novel and consume it in one long gulp. It’s a love letter to literature and literacy, a bibliophile’s dream film, dedicated to the joys of fiction and the passions of those who need books like they need food, water and air." (The Dallas Morning News)
posted by rushmc (17 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
So where can I download it? Interesting plot.
posted by Keyser Soze at 10:14 PM on August 13, 2004

After its 1972 publication, this sprawling, modernist Great American Novel-style epic garnered its author critical comparison to Faulkner, for its saga of rural dynastic decline; Salinger, for its mood of youthful alienation; and Joyce, for its labyrinthine, cryptically allusive, stream-of-consciousness renditions of the private psyche. The episodic coming-of-age narrative follows budding writer Dawes Williams from boyhood on his grandfather's greyhound ranch, through a feckless Iowa adolescence of drinking and joyriding, to a mentally unstable adulthood in which, through rants against propriety, positivism and the establishment and a terminal bout of countercultural dissoluteness in Mexico, he becomes the voice of the 1960s' lost generation. The real action, though, is the development of Dawes's writerly sensibility, his-i.e., the author's-knack for transmuting the dross of reality into the gold of literary metaphor. But Mossman's own lyrical, metaphorical sensibility tends toward pseudo-profundities ("[h]er body was an inward fall, a deep spiral of musky sea lying easily within itself"), abstractions ("[s]he had a metaphysical eye, as blue as perfect nightmares"), and a synesthetic scrambling of sensory categories ("[h]e felt he could not listen to the light anymore, that it stood off in the distance, wordless with impossible opinion"). Long out of print before this reissue, the novel has generated a cult following among those who find in its inchoate but intense imagery the very portrait of the young artist's soul. But many readers may find the book's hallucinatory prose-"In the beginning there was me, green smoke and oatmeal, conscious light, all looking for a shoe to rise from"-interesting but self-indulgent, and the plot insufficiently gripping.

It sounds absolutely awful. Sorry.
posted by jokeefe at 10:25 PM on August 13, 2004

To clarify: I meant the book itself. The movie looks like it could be wonderful.
posted by jokeefe at 10:28 PM on August 13, 2004

The movie is amazing. Haven't finished the book. It's good, but in an odd sort of way.

One thing I will say though. Moskowitz seems to kind of overlook many Southern authors. Just kind of annoyed me.

The film is definitely worth renting though.
posted by geekhorde at 10:38 PM on August 13, 2004

And further to that: I just watched the trailer and I cannot tell you how much I now want to see this movie. Thanks so much, rushmc.
posted by jokeefe at 10:41 PM on August 13, 2004

I thought this film was amazing, especially coming from a man that made his career creating doing commercials and political ads . . . to come out with something like this was a real surprise. A great film experience and one of the first for me that truly made literature and written word something exciting. Thanks for reminding me of this rushmc, I think I'll go out and grab a copy tomorrow.
posted by velacroix at 10:42 PM on August 13, 2004

about a year or so, on a whim I went to the premiere screening of this film with a Q+A from the director afterward. I was gobsmacked. truly a great love letter to the passion of reading. Afterward, Moskowitz passed around his sole weatherbeaten copy of Mossman's book, (although, he said that he had been loaned another copy by critic Janet Maslin after she had seen the film).

Never would I have expected film to make me re-discover writing. I have yet to read the book, but I recommend this film to anyone who ever picked up a book, and had that special relationship with the text as if it were written exclusively for you.
posted by Duck_Lips at 10:56 PM on August 13, 2004

In the past 3 years or so I've become rather intrigued and fascinated with what people will do to find out about an writer they're a fan of--the bizarre lengths they will go to connect with someone they really don't know. That, combined with the qualities one seems to attach to people they've never met just because they've enjoyed (or hated, I guess) something they've written.

This movie definitely sounds up my alley but us$40! Jeepers that's steep and no doubt I'll get hit with customs and shit when it crosses the border. (In one of the reviews it's mentioned that the director brings up Exley's A Fan's Notes, which is aces so that's another reason I'm interested. He's got taste.)

For those that have seen this film, how does it compare with, say, Ross McElwee's Time Indefinite, probably my favorite "personal" documentary? Or other great docus like those by the Maysles, Wiseman, or ... ? Where does it fall?
posted by dobbs at 11:01 PM on August 13, 2004

I had the pleasure of nearly knocking down the other of Stones of Summer when he did a reading at the store I work with. Mossman was awesome because he was extemely humble and marveled over the deals on our classics display. Still haven't read the book yet though.
posted by drezdn at 11:14 PM on August 13, 2004

other = author
posted by drezdn at 11:16 PM on August 13, 2004

I hate to be contrary, but I gotta say, that Stone Reader bored me a little. If you love books or are interested in the profession of authorship, as they say, it's a movie worth seeing--there are some very lovely bits in it--but on the whole, to me, it seemed a little contrived. Throughout the movie, I kept asking myself why Moskowitz was taking the long way around at every point in his search. For example, fairly early on Moskowitz learns that Stones of Summer is dedicated to one of Mossman's Iowa professors. But instead of going directly to U of I, he dawdles around his home and Maine, talking to the man who reviewed the book. He could have asked any librarian for advice and cut an hour out of the movie. Two, I think Moskowitz reifies the book as "great literature" a little too much. He never really explains to my satisfaction just why the book appeals to him so much. He just asserts that it's a forgotten masterpiece. He sort of hints at one point that his fondness for the book--a fondness his friends don't share--might be part of a search for lost youth, but he never really expands on that idea, interesting as it might have been. (I haven't given the book the time it deserves, but it hasn't appealed to me immediately. The prose reminds me of Cormac McCarthy a little--so if you're a big McCarthy fan, you might like it.) Three, for a movie about the joy of literature in general, women authors are awfully absent from the movie. With the exception of a mention of Flannery O'Connor, Stone Reader's view of reading seems a very 1960's Hemingway-Fitzgerald-Faulkner world dominated by brilliant (male) authors who go nutty if they don't receive enough attention. That put me off just a little.

All that said, Stone Reader is still worth watching if just for the pretty sky shots and to watch Moskowitz's own enthusiam. (Think Dr. Phill, excited.) And also to see Leslie Fiedler (if you ever had to read Love and Death in the American Novel).
posted by octobersurprise at 11:34 PM on August 13, 2004 [1 favorite]

It's a great film and I've been waiting to read the book (the backlog grows ever higher). Here is a mini-site from when the film appeared on BBC Four, including an interview with the director. On reading:

"They have become more eccentric since I turned 40. At some point I think you realise that you're not going to read all these books so you become more selective. I stopped finishing things if I wasn't totally compelled to finish them. I can be reading four or five books at a time, some I'll read right to the end and ignore the others, other times I'll just read bits and pieces of each one. I like starting new things. It's like a mid-life crisis when people have affairs - it's the falling in love that's fun. It used to be that if I liked the writer I would try to read everything by them. Now I don't do that."

Yes. Absolutely.
posted by feelinglistless at 12:26 AM on August 14, 2004

"Stone Reader" is an amateurish documentary that tries to take advantage of the old "Roger & Me" trick of making a movie out of your long, meandering path toward getting to your subject. But unlike "Roger & Me," the steps along the path aren't funny. "Roger & Me" has well-chosen clips, well edited into a good shape. "Stone Reader" uses long clips of whatever the filmmaker was able to to get to extend the search. It endlessly repeats the banality that people who read enjoy reading. A film doesn't have to be two hours long, but the filmmaker seems to think it has to be long to illustrate how long it took him to find the author. This becomes laughable, as long shots of raking leaves, for example, are used to show the passage of time. The long section of the filmmaker's son getting excited about opening the new Harry Potter book is typical of the self-indulgence and amateurism of the project. I simply can't understand the praise lavished on this film. It struck me as a sequence of smart by not particularly interesting or articulate people flattering themselves at length about how wonderful it is to be a reader. I get the uncharitable feeling that people who like this film are vicariously experiencing this flattery, thinking: yes, I too am a reader!
posted by Alizaria at 4:15 AM on August 14, 2004 [2 favorites]

I agree with you octobersuprise. I was so looking forward to this film - and yes it did have good moments - but it was simply too contrived.
posted by meech at 5:21 AM on August 14, 2004 [1 favorite]

Well, opinion about the film certainly seems to be divided into two camps! Certainly it meanders more than it needs to, but to me, that was sort of the point, that Moskowitz's search for Mossman was not only a meditation upon identity and an attempt to recapture the past, but a metaphor for the endless, unmapped investigations of a reader discovering himself with every book that he reads. Certain scenes, like certain books one has read, while not perhaps essential nevertheless contribute—or evoke—something rewarding.

I can't comment on the book, as it is still winging its way to me from Amazon.com, but I really enjoyed this film. And the dvd comes with a second disc of additional interviews and material.
posted by rushmc at 7:07 AM on August 14, 2004

I found the movie to be somewhat long and repetitive. It probably could have been trimmed down into an hour-long PBS special and benefitted. I understand where you're coming from, rushmc, but feel that your reading of the unessential scenes as metaphoric is quite generous.

Although about a completely different subject, I saw My Architect a few days before renting Stone Reader and found it to be much more engaging and, basically, better made. I highly recommend it.
posted by papercake at 9:58 AM on August 14, 2004 [1 favorite]

Another side effect of this documentary is that the CEO of Barnes & Noble saw the film, fell in love with it, and decided to republish Stones of Summer.

Whatever you may think about the merits of the film as a film, you must admit, that that is a remarkable result. Thanks to this film, Stones of Summer is no longer out of print.

And maybe that's what Moskowitz had in mind the whole time. Maybe not. But it's kind of cool, anyway.
posted by geekhorde at 1:45 PM on August 15, 2004

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