When Samuel Johnson said, "No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human hopes than a public library," he might have had Dow Mossman in mind. Despite a New York Times rave for his 1972 coming-of-age novel, The Stones of Summer, Mossman sank like a stone from the literary world, leaving only a few copies on dusty library shelves. Mark Moskowitz, a bibliobibulous TV ad maker for Al Gore and others, discovered Mossman's book and obsessively set out to find him in this documentary (on DVD Feb. 17). Moskowitz tracks down sources: the prof who wrote the Times review, Mossman's agent and Iowa Writers' Workshop cronies, editor Robert Gottlieb, lit-crit legend Leslie Fiedler, and sundry others. Most either don't remember Mossman or have no idea what became of him.
At last, Moskowitz bags his prey. Mossman turns out to be a shambling walrus of a recluse who lives in hislate father's detritus-strewn Cedar Rapids, Iowa, home—like a kindlier, non-crazy version of R. Crumb's big brother in Crumb. We learn with Moskowitz that the author went briefly nuts after his book flopped, then spent his days as a welder and, most recently, newspaper bundler on the graveyard shift at a local print shop. He's interesting but discursive and sad; it's like what you might hear from a talented grad student after he'd spent 30 years alone on a desert island.
But Mossman's not half as discursive as Moskowitz, a director with no sense of direction. His interviewing style is unfocused; his imagery is TV-ad glop. Why did Roger Ebert, Andrew Sarris, and Peter Rainer put Reader on their top 10 lists? Because, amateurish as it is, the film remains addictive—must viewing for book fans. And the extras on this two-disc set are to be cherished: Fiedler on William Buckley's show; Janet Maslin quizzing Moskowitz; Ebert quizzing Mossman at his Overlooked Film Festival; and A.S. Byatt quizzing Toni Morrison. Tim Appelo
Nobody quizzes writer-director PeterHedges about his Pieces of April (starring Oscar-nominated Patricia Clarkson), which arrives Feb. 24 along with Ron Howard's The Missing, Camp, and Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (with Robert Rodriguez commentary). Also out, the 2000 election doc Journeys With George is essential viewing during this campaign year. Matchstick Men is a pretty decent con-man flick with Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell. Eds.