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Joe Gould's Secret

1 rating: 3.0
A movie directed by Stanley Tucci

This immensely entertaining drama, based on a true story, concerns Joseph Ferdinand Gould, an eccentric who lived in Manhattan in the 1940s and professed to be writing an enormous work entitled THE ORAL HISTORY OF OUR TIME. The story, based on two articles … see full wiki

Cast: Ben Shenkman
Director: Stanley Tucci
Release Date: 2000
MPAA Rating: R
1 review about Joe Gould's Secret

Joe Gould’s Secret, it lives in all of us

  • Feb 8, 2004
Pros: ..

Cons: ..

The Bottom Line: __________

Joseph Ferdinand Gould was a Harvard graduate. To pass him on the street you would give him a wide berth, his appearance was unkept and he looked like he would exude an offensive odor. He looked like one of the many homeless street people you see sleeping in doorways and begging on the corner. Joe Gould’s secret was that he was undeniably intelligent and perhaps a bit schizophrenic, certainly a tad bit insane. But Joe Gould saw the world the way few others do and appreciated what he saw in a way that made others step back and take notice.

With his oracle “The History of the World”, something that would never and could never be completed, Joe saw life as the common man saw it. Rather than recite and chronicle the headline worthy news, he listened to what the everyday person had to say about life and how it affected them and put those words to paper. To Joe Gould it was the common man, the everyday life, that would tell the true history of the world - not the bombings and wars and stockmarket changes.

Joseph Mitchell was a kindly and complacent Southern man. Moving to the big city, he garnered a position on the New Yorker and started making written history himself. Painfully shy in life, he found it difficult to express himself verbally, but his pen was a different story. In a way, he was much like Joe Gould as he chronicled the everyday life of humans. His stories in the New Yorker were renowned for finding the nuances of people that inhabited the streets of New York and Greenwich Village.

It’s difficult to imagine the impact of these two gentlemen when they met. Certainly a merging of intelligence and understanding, growing into almost a type of hero worship on both sides. Joe Gould formed a friendship with Joe Mitchell that often became suffocating, however he imparted so much more to Mitchell than even he would comprehend. In the end it was Mitchell that told the secret of Joe Gould.

Stanley Tucci directed this wonderful piece as well as playing the part of the plodding Joe Mitchell. This work was brilliant on both parts, director and actor. The film was adapted from Joseph Mitchell’s book by Howard Rodman. Hope Davis played the part of his patient and understanding wife, Therese. I believe it was her hope and understanding that made Mitchell become the man he was. She showed dedication to his work that perhaps even he did not understand.

Ian Holm was the irascible Joe Gould. He certainly had to have researched this part before delving into the character because he seemed to actually become the part. And frankly, I would have given to the scheming Joe Gould Fund anytime he asked. Susan Sarandon stepped in as Alice Neel who seemed to have a great love and understanding of Gould.

Two things were brought to my attention while viewing this movie. First, I felt I was painfully ignorant of the Who’s Who because many of the names they referred to I assumed were famous since they dropped them like hot potatoes. I felt I really should know who Alice Neel is and I will admit my ignorance. Cummings I knew but some of the other names I thought, man I really have lead quite a sheltered and closed life to not recognize these famous people because I really enjoy the arts in all forms.

The second thing the movie taught me is that I believed in Joe Gould. I believed that such a work should be written and the chronicles of everyday life become the true history of the world. It is true, the humans that make up the planet are the core of life, not the goals when we reach them, not the big cars and houses and millions in the bank. It is the road we travel on our way to the goal that is real life. Joe Gould really had a secret, never to be disclosed.

It took a while to get into the cadence of this movie. At first I was put off by Gould and even by Mitchell. I pictured Ozzie & Harriet meets ... uh, Joe Gould I guess. Then I started really listening to his mumblings and I realized what was being said. I watched Therese edge on Mitchell and push him just a little harder than he would have gone. In the end I became a Gouldhead, what can I say?

As noted at the end of the DVD, Joseph Mitchell published the work ‘Joe Gould’s Secret’ in the late 60's. From that day forward he went to his office every day until his death, 20 years later, yet never wrote another word for the New Yorker. This is a huge case of writers block or complete reverence to Joe Gould.

Joseph Gould 1889-1957
Joseph Mitchell 1908-1996
“The story doesn’t end just because the writer has finished writing”**


**Therese Mitchell to Joe Mitchell, from the movie Joe Gould’s Secret


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