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PARK CITY 2000 REVIEW: Tucci’s “Secret” Whispers Valentine to Lost Era

PARK CITY 2000 REVIEW: Tucci's "Secret" Whispers Valentine to Lost Era

PARK CITY 2000 REVIEW: Tucci's "Secret" Whispers Valentine to Lost Era

by Ray Pride


The New Yorker’s secrets are what the town of New York has been talking
about for a few weeks, with seven tell-some books hitting stores on the
publication’s seventy-fifth anniversary.

(l-r) Legendary New Yorker writer Joseph
Mitchell (director Stanley Tucci) and Greenwich
Village character Joe Gould (Ian Holm) strike up an
unlikely friendship in the Park City Opening Night
film ‘Joe Gould’s Secret‘.

Credit: Abbot Genser

Stanley Tucci’s third feature, “Joe Gould’s Secret” (from a script by
Howard Rodman), is the first to tread into the corridors of the
eccentric journal, and the results should be amusing to the followers of
its history. But it’s more intriguing in the development of Tucci’s
alternate history of New York City, one filled with pauses, hesitations
and a love for grand personalities. North Carolina-born Joseph Mitchell
(played by Tucci) was one of the publication’s best writers of profiles
in the 1940s and 1950s, and his life’s work was collated in the
bestseller “Up in the Old Hotel.” While Mitchell sometimes worked with
composites, his portraits have both literary zing and the sting of
authenticity in the voices he captured.

Mitchell was a walker of the city, taking notes across the island, from
Bowery flophouses to the denizens of the city’s oldest (and
still-standing bar), McSorley’s, which gave the title of his first book,
McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon.”

Tucci touches lightly on this history, soothing to the aficionado, and
not so distracting to the viewer unacquainted with it. Tucci’s version
of Mitchell finds himself caught in the maelstrom of a larger-than-life
personality, Joe Gould (the magnificent, mercurial Ian Holm). Gould’s
name pops up in the many histories and memoirs of Greenwich Village,
sometimes known as Professor Seagull, for his knack to recite poetry in
seagull cawing, but also as the author of “The Oral History of the
,” a vast opus he would talk up each day in barroom and diner in
search of contributions to “The Joe Gould Fund.” (A man needs whiskey,
beer and cigarettes if he is going to talk all night.) Gould was the
supreme, categorical blocked writer, spending his currency on strangers
like small change in a bar. Holm makes him Lear without daughters, but
with a lingering hangover. He carries the agony of being both large and
very small at the same time.

Director Stanley Tucci (The Imposters, Big
Night) returns to Sundance with ‘Joe Gould’s Secret‘.

Credit: Abbot Genser

A tormented, gifted, aggravated, aggravating soul, Gould is a marvel in
Holm’s hands. Tucci, as both director and as actor, is willing to stand
back, let his dark, fiery eyes hold on Gould/Holm, let Gould’s fit play
out, let pathos settle in without the abrupt lurches into sentimentality
a less patient director might indulge. It’s typical of the director’s
evolving style. Tucci’s Mitchell is a listener, and Tucci the director
likes to watch. His choice of scenes playing mostly in master shots and
wide frames capture performance and personality, and seem the product of
artistic choice rather than coping with economic limitations. Mitchell’s
wife (played by Hope Davis as a sweetly muttering wisecracker) was a
photographer, and Tucci also shoots his street scenes a little like the
great street photographers of the era.

The bits and pieces that comprise Tucci’s old New York are well-chosen,
and like the moments in Rodman’s script, add up to an unforced
acquaintance with a bittersweet moment in the past, as two Joes passed
in the night, and found they had much more in common than either would
ever be able to admit. A valentine to a lost era, “Joe Gould’s Secret”
is also a wistful mash note to both the garrulous talker and the sly

[Ray Pride is a contributing editor to FILMMAKER Magazine and longtime
film critic for Chicago’s Newcity. He writes about movies and the
business for a range of other publications including Playboy Online and He is also a screenwriter and filmmaker.]

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