Joe Gould's Secret
There was a fascinating story that New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell wanted to tell, and when he finally told it he never wrote again, even though he still went into the office every day. A person of rectitude, Mitchell was widely respected, and the magazine as was its wont in those days never pressured him to contribute (Mitchell figures in the novel and film Bright Lights, Big City as a mysterious wraith who creeps about the office at night). What was the reason for his silence? Part of the answer is found in his last book, from which Stanley Tucci made Joe Gould's Secret. Set in the late '40s - early '50s, the film more or less follows the trajectory of the original story, in which Mitchell (Tucci), a happily married southerner who relocated to New York, encounters an eccentric bohemian figure named Joe Gould (Ian Holm). Garbed in shabby clothes and floppy hat, Gould ekes out a living by entertaining the patrons of various notable eating establishments, demanding contributions to the "Joe Gould Fund." Gould sponges off of Mitchell too, of course, but Mitchell uses him as well, profiling him in the magazine as a way to capture the flavor of Greenwich Village at the time. Once the article appears, Gould enjoys a certain amount of roguish fame, but he is more or less an alcoholic destroying himself and quickly slips back into despair when he fails to sustain his popularity. Gould claims to be writing a history of the world, a massive book that he says he has been working on for years. Gould's secret, however, is that he hasn't written much of anything. As it happens, Mitchell is amused by Gould for a while, but then he feels the weight of Gould's neediness and tries to get him out of his life. It's a sad ending to an impossible, and essentially false, friendship. Joe Gould's Secret is Tucci's third film, and though it seems like a good idea for a movie, in the end there isn't much of a movie there. It's a wisp of a story that lacks tension and movement. The two stars do an adequate job in their roles, but Holm is miscast as Gould: he comes across more like a beefy Irish saloon philosopher than a gaunt ur-hipster. Like many low-budget independent releases, Joe Gould's Secret also feels underpopulated, despite the fact that it's set in the bustle of Manhattan. A disappointing film, this should have had a lot more zest and less brooding and distance from its characters. USA's DVD edition comes in a good anamorphic widescreen transfer (1.85:1), with audio in either Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 Surround. Also includes a Sundance Channel promotional featurette, a trailer, and the usual talent files. Keep-case.