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LOS ANGELES TIMES

At the Mercy of Men
by Kevin Thomas, LA Times Staff Writer

The American Cinematheque opens its two-day Best of the Slamdance 2002 Film Festival on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre with Mark Moskowitz's stunning "Stone Reader," which took the audience and special jury prizes.

Moskowitz is a commercials director specializing in political campaigns and works out of his beautiful old home in rural Pennsylvania. He explains that back in 1972 when he was 18 he tried to read "The Stones of Summer," a novel that a New York Times reviewer proclaimed defined his generation. At the time he only got to Page 20, but he recently came across it, couldn't put it down and felt that he had stumbled upon a truly great American novel.

Moskowitz's cross-country search for its virtually forgotten author, Dow Mossman, makes this documentary a literary suspense tale--will he find Mossman? Is the author alive? But "Stone Reader" is a lot more. It's a comment on the perils of publishing--of how a great novel can get so totally lost because its original publisher was not a powerhouse company. It's also a comment on the amount of hoopla it now takes for any work to get attention or appreciation. As for the gifted artist, if deserved fame eludes him or her, the consequence can be total oblivion.

"Stone Reader" is also a celebration of nature and of literature, and as such it is refreshing as a presentation of a wide array of American men, middle-aged and older, holding forth on the joys of literature with the passion and knowledge usually reserved for baseball. Some of these men are renowned, such as literary critic and historian Leslie Fielder; Frank Conroy, head of the Iowa Writers Workshop; and Robert Gottlieb, who edited "Catch-22" and other landmark works and is now editing President Clinton's memoirs. By the finish of this singularly resonant and beautiful film, Moskowitz has discovered the purpose of his odyssey: to drum up enough attention to get "The Stones of Summer" back into print.

 

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