Stone Reader (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

"When August came, thick as a dream of falling timbers, Dawes Williams and his mother would pick Simpson up at his office, and then they would all drive west, all evening, the sun before them dying like the insides of a stone melon, split and watery, halving with blood. August was always an endless day, he felt, white as wood, slow as light. Dawes shifted about in his seat, uncomfortable, watching the land slide past. It was late, a steady progression of night; the conversations inside the car were like great wood eyes and, driving west over Iowa, the evening was always air vague with towns, blue fences, and crossroads vacant of cars. He watched the deserted country porches slide by like lonely pickets guarding the gray, outbreaking storm of sky; like juts of rock."

Dow Mossman - The Stones of Summer


The most important thing we try to accomplish on this site, possibly excepting the nudity report, is to put our readers in touch with films they might like. When we created this site we resolved to try to write reviews that would not be like most reviews, which are recitations of the likes and dislikes of the reviewers. Instead of telling you whether WE liked it, we wanted to try to tell you if YOU would like it.

We hope to address such questions as "Will you like such and such a slasher movie if you like slasher movies?" and "What if you hate slasher movies?"

As an important component of our evaluations, we created a non-linear rating system. In our system, if you like slasher movies, there is no difference between a slasher movie rated C+ and one rated A. Both represent the top of the line for that kind of movie. The only difference is that the A film, in our opinion, will also appeal to those who hate slasher movies. Of course, you slasher lovers don't really care about that, anyway, so an A and a C+ are the same to you. Indeed, you will probably like a C+ better than a B, because the C+ slasher movie includes some elements that you may love, but that slasher haters may find repugnant. Because a B film is designed to have wider appeal, it may not have as much appeal to somebody who really wants to see all the blood and guts.

Remaining faithful to this system, I have to say that Stone Reader is probably a C++++++++++++++++++++++++++. 999 people in a thousand will find it tedious as well as amateurish, but the one person who likes it will be completely involved and deeply touched by it. I am one of those people. I watched it enrapt. I watched every minute of every special feature on the two disks. When it was over, I went to and ordered several books based upon what I had seen in this film.

How do you know if you are the one in a thousand?

We are a special club. To begin with, we love books, but that is only the first prerequisite for membership in the club. It is not enough simply to love books. I'm not talking about books written by Steven King or Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlam or John LeCarre or Philip K Dick. Yes, I love those books as well, but those authors illustrate how you can love books without loving writing. You people who enjoy reading because of the special contact you make with the author, or because you love the depth, or the stories, or the ideas, or the thrills, or the mystery, or the information you can glean - you may or may not be in our club. There is only one way to find out for sure. Pick up the best piece of writing you can think of. The best passages of Faulkner, the Crispian Day soliloquy from Henry V, the "Cry, the Beloved Country ... for the unborn child who is the inheritor of our fears" monologue, the last two pages of The Great Gatsby - whatever it happens to be for you - and read it out loud. If it moves you so deeply that you can't read it without your voice cracking, then you are a member of our club. If you can be moved by great writing even when the subject matter is trivial, just moved by the sheer eloquence of the words themselves, then Stone Reader may become your favorite documentary film.

Yes, it is a documentary.

The filmmaker, Mark Moskowitz, is a member of the club. In 1972, when he wore a much younger man's clothes, he read a book review in the New York Times, and immediately bought the book. He didn't get into the book right away, and it sat on his bookshelves for three decades. He finally got around to reading the book in recent years, and was blown away by its eloquence. Like almost all members of our club, when he finds a book he really loves, he immediately has to read or acquire every word ever written by that author, so he went online to do just that. He found out that he already owned every word ever written by that author. He found that Dow Mossman wrote The Stones of Summer, the book once trumpeted enthusiastically by the New York Times, and apparently never published another word. Mossman also seemed to have disappeared from the earth without a trace. Searches at Google produced zero responses for Mossman or for his book.

Mark Moskowitz decided that he had to solve the mystery if it could be solved. He resolved to find out what had happened to Mossman, and why he had never written again. He contacted the Times reviewer, Mossman's former agent, literary experts, Mossman's former professors, and others. He filmed his peregrinations and his conversations with these gurus. These discussions were not really very helpful in tracking Mossman down, but they led into some fascinating dinner table and barroom discussions about Mossman, and about "one book wonders" in general.

Moskowitz did eventually find Dow Mossman.

Mossman is still living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the same house where he grew up. After he failed to support himself as a writer, he worked 19 years as a welder. By the time the filmmaker found him, Dow had left welding and was working on a newspaper, not as a writer, but as the guy who bundles the papers together at three in the morning. In the house in which his parents raised him, now a crumbling and disorganized physical plant, the would-be literary genius was living out an unrecognized and hardscrabble existence. Mossman himself turned out to be a clone of Wilford Brimley twenty years ago. Same voice, same accent, same intonations, even a vaguely similar face.

How did Mossman feel about writing a great book and having nobody notice? Why did he stop writing altogether? Did he ever start writing again?  All those questions are asked and answered, at least to the extent such answers are possible. I'm not going to tell you any more. If you are a member of our club, you are already making plans to see or acquire the movie, and you want the pleasure of discovering the rest of the story on your own. If you are not a member, you think I'm a fucking looney tune for liking such a bullshit movie, and are moving on with your life.



I could have made this movie myself, or a very similar one, if I had been as interested in films thirty years ago as I am today.

I am still in touch with a literature lover who did summer stock with me 35 years ago. He even writes an occasional movie review for this site, under the pseudonym of Mick Locke. Among our common interests is a writer from upstate New York named Fred Exley. Decades ago, Mick Locke introduced me to Exley's A Fan's Notes. It became, and has remained, one of my ten favorite books. I like it as much as I do because it is a lot like my own life story, but that's not the only reason. It is a brilliant, sardonic, passionate, witty book about coming to grips with being in the audience instead of on the field or the stage. After all, fewer than ten thousand people in the United States are generally recognized national "stars" in entertainment, politics, or sports. Maybe 90,000 more are local stars, or stars in special interest fields. The rest of us, more than 99% of us, are fans. It's not always easy to accept the fact that they are in and we are out. That's the essence of the book.

A Fan's Notes is undoubtedly fictionalized and embellished, but it's fundamentally autobiographical. Exley wrote about himself, and some major stars that he came across in his life, notably Frank Gifford and Steve McQueen, as well as a brilliant local sports legend from Upstate New York, who happened to be Exley's own father, Earl.

Tremendous book. Possibly one of the ten best "first books" ever.

Exley himself, like Dow Mossman, was essentially a one book wonder. He did write more, and I've read every word, but he didn't write much, and the rest of his work is unimportant, containing only scattered and fleeting pleasures. He told the best stories from his own life in A Fan's Notes, and then he had nothing else to say.

Mick Locke once made a pilgrimage to meet Exley, to talk to him about A Fan's Notes and his life after that book. Mick wrote an account of his trip in an unpublished manuscript. I don't know how many people ever read it. Maybe it was just for me and Mick.

When I saw Stone Reader, I realized that if the Exley pilgrimage could have happened today, I would have been along, to record it with a camera.

I guess you can see why I liked Stone Reader.

So if I loved it so goddamned much, why did I give it a mere C+? Why not an A?

If you are not a member of our club, this film will not recruit you. It's only for club members. It's rambling, it's coy, it's not cinematic, the camera work is poor, it's sloppy, and it spends way too much time revealing Mark Moskowitz, therefore not enough on Dow Mossman himself. After watching the movie proper, you will not even feel that you really have any sense for why the intrusive Moskowitz thinks Mossman's book is so great. I kept waiting to hear Dow read his favorite passages over the visuals of some of his childhood photographs, or maybe over newly filmed looks at the places where the stories took place. Nothing so incisive or moving ever happened. In fact, I got so frustrated at one point that I paused the film and magnified a frame so I could read a decent excerpt from The Stones of Summer.

I'm afraid ol' Moskowitz is no Ken Burns. If Moskowitz had made the Civil War documentary, it would have consisted of pictures of Moskowitz sitting in his easy chair reading Civil War books, Moskowitz showing us pictures of his Civil War bookshelves, and Moskowitz talking to his buddies who are also into the Civil War.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Commentary by director Mark Moskowitz and Dow Mossman himself. I haven't listened to it yet.

  • Theatrical trailers

  • Photo gallery

  • Book lists

  • Writer panel

  • Betty Kelly interview

  • Leslie Fiedler: More from the Stone Reader

  • Leslie Fiedler: From the Firing Line

  • A.S. Byatt with Toni Morrison

  • Furthur conversations

  • Deleted scenes

  • Connection across time

  • Janet Maslin with Mark Moskowitz

  • Featurette on what happened next

  • Roger Ebert's overlooked film festival

  • Widescreen anamorphic format

  • Number of discs: 2

Don't be fooled by the great reviews. Frankly, this movie isn't any good at all as a movie. Look, don't get me wrong. I don't want to bad-mouth it, because I did love it, but I loved it because the idea was so appealing to me. That's why Roger Ebert loved it and gave it a 3.5/4. That's why so many critics with a similar love for writing loved this film. But those critics have the luxury of being subjective, and I do not, because their job is different from mine. Their job is to tell you that they loved it. My job is to tell you whether you would love it.

The Oregonian hit the nail on the head:

"The film is so tied to its maker's personality that we grow weary of it in proportion to the degree to which we grow weary of him. There's a lot of fascinating talk here and a genuine passion for ideas and words. But it's also a case where the messenger is so grating that we feel the perverse urge to kill the message that he carries just to spite him."

In short, it is a great story poorly told.

But what a great story!

The Critics Vote ...

  • Roger Ebert 3.5/4

The People Vote ...

Miscellaneous ...


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C++++++++++++. If you're a member of the club, you have to see it. See the main commentary for an explanation.

Return to the Movie House home page