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Judy Stone: Not Quite a Memoir: Of Films, Books, the World

Stone Reader

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Not Quite a Memoir, by Judy Stone

In 1997, Judy Stone published Eye on the World, which is just about the most astonishing collection of interviews with filmmakers ever assembled. It contained dozens of directors from all over the world, ranging from household names (Fellini, Woody Allen, George Lucas, etc.) to unknown European filmmakers making their debuts. At around the same time, Stone retired from her staff job as film critic with the San Francisco Chronicle.

One would think she'd take a rest, but she has given up reviewing films and has spent the subsequent years conducting more interviews, and has now assembled enough for a second book, including some of her older stories that didn't quite fit thematically into the first book.

The new collection, Not Quite a Memoir: Of Films, Books, the World (Silman-James) may sound like a bunch of outtakes, but rather, as the title suggests, it comes quite a bit closer to capturing Stone's personality, her passions and her voice.

Not Quite a Memoir has more writers interspersed throughout its pages: E.L. Doctorow, Thomas Keneally, Meyer Levin, Geling Yan, Maya Angelou, Jean Genet, Isabelle Allende, Hanif Kureishi, Diane Johnson, Michael Tolkin and many others, from many countries, each full of wise things to say about politics, religion or philosophy.

She also interviews film-centered writers like Donald Richie, who has devoted his life to writing about Japan, and specifically Japanese filmmakers such as Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu, as well as screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz, who co-wrote Krzysztof Kieslowski's most acclaimed films.

Stone's previous book was divided up into sections by country, but now the divisions are a little less clear-cut; she has sections dedicated to Jewish, Asian, Latin, Arabic and Iranian artists -- but not necessarily people born into those races and/or faiths -- as well as other sections on subjects as wide-open as history, family, war, "transitions" and "journeys."

For movie buffs, Stone gets in a few familiar names, such as Alexander Payne, Jia Zhang-ke, Amos Gitai, Edward Yang, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Guillermo Del Toro, Walter Salles, Abbas Kiarostami, Todd Field, Jeremy Irons, Gus Van Sant, Satyajit Ray, Julie Taymor and Salma Hayek.

Even Anne-Marie Miéville, the unknown, unsung Swiss-born director who collaborates regularly with Jean-Luc Godard, gets a chapter.

There's also an amusing "interview" with Alfred Hitchcock conducted at a problematic closed-circuit television press conference in 1976 for the master's final film, Family Plot.

But Stone is not particularly interested in big names, more in experiences and knowledge. So she turns her interviewer's notepad toward not just Kiarostami, but to every Iranian director she can get her hands on. There's Mohsen Makhmalbaf's daughter, Samira, who made her feature debut at age 19; Oscar-nominated Majid Majidi; Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi; Bahman Farmanara, who waited two decades before getting a a script approved; and Tamineh Milani, who was arrested over the subversive content of one of her films.

Stone also has a vested interest in the turmoil over Israel, and devotes a large section to artists such as director Dover Koshashvili (Late Marriage) and Elia Suleiman (Chronicle of a Disappearance), chronicling their unique opinions and ideas.

And one startling interview combines thoughts from four Irish film directors (Neil Jordan, Jim Sheridan, Terry George and Thaddeus O'Sullivan) into a treatise on the violence and potential solutions in Ireland.

It's fair to say that Stone's book represents the most intelligent and creative members of communities and cultures from all over the world; Americans only make up a small percentage of these thought-provoking interviews.

In fact, Not Quite a Memoir is probably the printed equivalent of one of those late-night pub conversations in which the world's great thinkers get together and come up with viable solutions for all the world's problems.

And right there in the middle is Stone's unflappable voice, asking the hard questions.

August 25, 2006

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