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Joe Gould's Secret

Rated [R], 108 minutes
Starring Ian Holm and Stanley Tucci
Screenplay by Howard A. Rodman
Based on New Yorker articles by Joseph Mitchell
Directed by Stanley Tucci

IN SHORT: One good one for us grownups.

There should be no secrets kept about Stanley Tucci's third outing as a director. Joe Gould's Secret is an intelligent, touching, beautifully written and acted film. A flat out fine film for those of us who don't require explosions, foul mouthed rap music, gratuitous sex or violence from our movies. [Not that there's anything wrong with that, but . . . <g>]

Writing from the experience of a life-long New Yorker, I can honestly report that in the decades while the homeless were anonymous, this city had what we called "characters". Some may or may not have been homeless or living in shelters, some may or may not have been addicts of any kind, but they all stood out from the average bum in the gutter. In the last twenty years, two come to mind. One, a very tall, blind poet, used to stand on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 53rd street in full Viking Warrior gear, spear and all, and recite for spare change. When he died last year, after a number of years in Europe, he got a full write-up in the New York Times. The second, Adam Purple (as in dressed head to foot in) squatted in an abandoned tenement downtown and built, over the course of a decade or two, an astounding garden on an abandoned plot of land. When the City trashed it to build low cost housing not only was it news, it broke our hearts.

Which brings us to the subject of Stanley Tucci's third feature as a director, Joe Gould's Secret. Joe Gould (Ian Holm) was, thanks to an article by Joseph Mitchell (Tucci) in The New Yorker, such a character. Initially known as Professor Sea Gull, because of his self proclaimed ability to converse in the language of the gull, the article made Gould a minor celebrity in the growing bohemian counterculture down in the Greenwich Village of 1942 or so. Planted in a window table at the Minetta Tavern, scribbling in a school composition notebook and/or reciting poetry or speaking the language of the gulls, Gould would solicit contributions to the "Joe Gould Fund" all of which was to support his massive written work in progress, "An Oral History of Our Time". Every conversation with every person Gould has met is written down and, he claims, stored in a lockbox of a memory that recalls every word.

Among Gould's famed contributors and supporters are Ezra Pound and e.e. cummings, neither of whom appear in the flick. We do get to meet artist Alice Neel (Susan Sarandon) and publisher Charlie Duell (Steve Martin) who do their best to try and give Joe the exposure they think he deserves. We do see his acceptance in The Raven Poetry Society, a group of snobs who, after ten years tolerating Joe's mooching at their buffet, allow him entry after fame strikes.

What we see best is a pair of great character performances by Tucci and Holm. Joe Mitchell's family life is rounded out by Hope Davis, as his photographer wife Therese and two kidlets (of whom one real life surviving kidlet consulted on the film) and it is a fully formed picture. We see a working guy do his story and try to move on -- except for the fact that the story keeps coming back. In this case, Gould camps out in the lobby of The New Yorker, waiting for Mitchell. And waiting. And waiting.

Joe Gould's "secret" is revealed in the film. What is more interesting is an even darker secret that pops up in the middle of the film and promptly disappears. You'll know it when you see it. Unless, of course, I'm suffering from an overactive imagination.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Joe Gould's Secret, he would have paid . . .


Much better than the average arthouse fare and, IMO, a return to the solid film-making talent Stanley Tucci showed in Big Night.

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