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Joe Gould's Secret

4.4 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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(Sep 26, 2000)
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Editorial Reviews

Around 1940, New Yorker staff writer Joe Mitchell meets Joe Gould, a Greenwich Village character who cadges meals, drinks, and contributions to the Joe Gould Fund and who is writing a voluminous Oral History of the World, a record of 20,000 conversations he's overheard. Mitchell is fascinated with this Harvard grad and writes a 1942 piece about him, "Professor Seagull," bringing Gould some celebrity and an invitation to join the Greenwich Village Ravens, a poetry club he's often crashed. Gould's touchy, querulous personality and his frequent dropping in on Mitchell for hours of chat lead to a breakup, but the two Joes stay in touch until Gould's death and Mitchell's unveiling of the secret.

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Nell Campbell, Patricia Clarkson, Allan Corduner, Hope Davis, Merwin Goldsmith
  • Format: Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
  • Studio: Alliance
  • DVD Release Date: September 26, 2000
  • Run Time: 104 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: 6306011013
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #131,745 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Joe Gould's Secret" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Roland E. Zwick on June 10, 2001
Format: DVD
What is history? Is it nothing more than the accounts we read in books of the exploits of various kings, queens, generals, armies, nations etc. as they wage war or deliberate peace throughout the endless millennia? Or is it - as Tolstoy implied - the sum total of the day-to-day actions of ordinary human beings eking out an existence on this unique little planet we call Earth?
These are the questions posed by Stanley Tucci's "Joe Gould's Secret," an intriguing little film based on the true story of a well-known eccentric who lived amongst and associated with the New York literati of the 1940's. This tale is really about two "Joes" - Joe Mitchell, a highly successful writer at "The New Yorker," and Joe Gould, a strange but alluring figure who shuffles his way around town begging for handouts, yet who claims to be a writer currently involved in authoring a monumental "oral history" of the world around him. Intrigued by this true eccentric, Mitchell decides to feature Gould in one of his magazine pieces. Thus, the two Joes spend countless hours together as Mitchell examines, records and tries to understand the lifestyle and thoughts of this most unique and extraordinary of individuals.
The best part about "Joe Gould's Secret" is that it allows the title character to remain something of an enigma throughout. It doesn't try to "explain" him or rob him of the ambiguity that makes him so fascinating a figure. In many ways, Gould fits perfectly the image of the artist we have come to romanticize and even glorify in our minds over the years.
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Format: VHS Tape
This historical comedy-drama is based on the true story of Joe Gould, a bohemian eccentric who was a fixture in New York's Greenwich Village from his arrival in 1916 to his death in 1964. Gould, who claimed to be a graduate of Harvard, would cadge drinks and subsist on catsup as he regaled patrons of neighborhood saloons with stories, poems, opinions, and his imitation of a seagull. In a 1942 New Yorker profile by journalist Joseph Mitchell, Gould spoke of his life's work, a book entitled An Oral History of Our Times, which he claimed would be eleven times longer than the Bible, contain a variety of overheard conversations from throughout the years, and document the decline of 20th century culture. Mitchell kept tabs on Gould, and tried to introduce him to publishers who might put his work into print, but nothing ever came of it, and it wasn't until Gould's death that Mitchell discovered the surprising truth about his friend.
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Format: VHS Tape Verified Purchase
Based on a true story, "Joe Gould's Secret" could well remain a secret, despite its stellar cast and story. Ian Holm plays Joe Gould, a Harvard graduate turned street-person eccentric whom the film portrays living in 1940s New York. Stanley Tucci delivers a brilliant perforance as the real-life Joe Mitchell, a writer for The New Yorker magazine, who stumbles into Gould and his vision of the magnum opus "oral history" he has been writing through his life. Susan Sarandon plays a magnificent role as one of Gould's contemporaries, an avant-garde painter in that fabulous nascent period between The Bohemians and The Beatniks. And Patricia Clarkson, in a role consisting of a little more than a couple of cameos, acts the role of one of Gould's most generous patrons.
It starts out easy enough -- with Mitchell, the New Yorker writer, finding Gould at a lunch counter. Gradually a friendship is started between the two men. Mitchell eventually writes an article called "Professor Sea Gull" and fan letters containing a few dollars for the "Joe Gould Fund" start to arrive at Mitchell's office. Meanwhile, Mitchell is trying to get his hands on what he thinks might be a Holy Grail of sorts -- Gould's opus "Oral History" in notebooks stashed a half-dozen at a time at various patrons' and friends' houses through New York. The actual treasure trove of the 9-million word History, consisting of 20,000 interviews, remains elusive and out of Mitchell's reach. Even after Gould's death, Mitchell keeps trying to find the farmhouse, where, wrapped in oilcloth, lie the rest of Gould's notebooks and the Great Oral History. Many years later, Mitchell writes his last New Yorker piece on what he has learned about the story.
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Format: DVD
Thematically rich film even though it has trouble juggling everything smoothly. Tucci never really prioritizes his themes and as a result, the profoundness of the "secret" is obscured. I was still won over however because, well, because these topics are just not given enough attention in mainstream films. On the surface, it appears that Tucci is examining the tumultuous relationship between the two Joes, but the real subject is the equally chaotic relationship between artists and their artistic endeavours. Tucci examines how artists endure much suffering for their work and as a result, they tread a fine line between genius and madness. He also seems to be saying that if the artistic impulse is not reined in, it can potentially become destructive because the truth that artists feel compelled to convey is much too complex and diverse to be expressed merely by the simple tools at the artists' disposal. In fact, Gould's oral history reminded me of the director's rushes at the end of Assayas' "Irma Vep" -- an unrestrained vision gone haywire, short circuited by the futile attempt to express grand and divine ideas in a conventional format. Tucci touches upon other themes as well, such as the difference between patronage and commercialism, the root of artistic inspiration, the responsibility of journalists for their subjects, etc. but they do not really go anywhere. When the "secret" is revealed, in a most nonchalant manner, by the closing captions of the film (the "secret" is actually multi-layered -- there is another "secret" on the story surface, readily apparent just from the plot), a chill went down my spine.Read more ›
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