By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
The only other place where, to date, Dow Mossman appears in print is as the co-author (with mystery novelist Ed Gorman) of the foreword to Barry Gifford's superb 1988 film noir companion, The Devil Thumbs a Ride (recently republished as Out of the Past). Gifford has never met — and, until just recently, had never spoken to — Mossman. Yet, like so many others touched by the film, he has become a supporting character in its ongoing story, and, on the day of Stone Reader's Northern California opening, he welcomed Moskowitz and me into his cramped Berkeley studio. Looking around Gifford's highly autobiographical workspace — books stacked ceiling-high, then stuffed under ceiling tiles after that; decades of family photographs and drawings lining the walls; a turned-down bed, suggestive of all-night writing sessions past and still to come — I'm reminded of a line from Moskowitz's film: "The place becomes the book; the book a place within the place."
Indeed, places like Gifford's provide further evidence of the world that Stone Reader both celebrates and mourns — the world of manually typewritten manuscripts, of documentaries shot on 16mm and, to an extent, of reading itself. "People my age and people who grew up on book culture are still readers, and are the preponderance of readers," Moskowitz laments in the car on our way back from Gifford's, "but even some of them can't find time to read. They've given it up, and the film makes them remember how great it was to read. The problem is that as younger people mature, kids who didn't grow up with books and the whole sense of storytelling, they won't treasure it in the same way. It'll go away. It'll become, like Norman Mailer says, an occasional, oddball thing, like going to a classical-music concert. 'Oh yeah, I think I'll read a novel this year.'"
Still, there are hopeful signs. As I am finishing this article, Moskowitz phones me excitedly, newly invigorated after a week of sold-out screenings in Mossman territory, in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. What's more, there are indications that Mossman himself may be writing new fiction for the first time in three decades. Best, though, is Moskowitz's enthusiastic recounting of an impromptu, all-night housecleaning session with Mossman on the final night of his Iowa visit. As the two pored, in tandem, through the contents of box upon box of long-stored mementos, unearthing decades of faded clippings and correspondence, eventually one letter remained — airmailed from Greece in 1974 and forwarded to Mossman by his publisher, the now-defunct Bobbs Merrill. Carefully unfolding it, Mossman and Moskowitz discovered a single line written in blue ink across the center of the tissue-thin page: "Thank you for writing The Stones of Summer."
Doubtless Mark Moskowitz has by now received — or will soon — one or more such understated yet beautiful notes of appreciation. As former New Yorker editor in chief Bob Gottlieb suggests in a scene since cut from the film, a book may be the most intimate gift one person can give to another. A film like Stone Reader can be such a gift, too.
Stone Reader will screen on Saturday, April 26, at 11 a.m. at UCLA as part of theLos Angeles Times Festival of Books, followed at 2 p.m. by a panel discussion titled "The Stones of Summer and the Curious Tale of Dow Mossman," featuring Mark Moskowitz, Thomas Sanchez, Daniel Halpern and Susan Salter Reynolds, moderated by Thomas Curwen. The film opens Friday, May 2 at the Nuart.