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USA Home Video presents

Joe Gould's Secret (2000)

"Take care of those composition books, Joe. The oral history is my rope, my scaffold, my bed, my board, my wife, my floozy, my wound and the salt on it, my whiskey, my aspirin, my rock and my salvation. It's the only thing that matters a damn to me. All else is dross."- Joe Gould (Ian Holm)

Stars: Ian Holm, Stanley Tucci
Other Stars: Hope Davis, Susan Sarandon, Patricia Clarkson, Celia Weston, Patrick Tovatt, Steve Martin
Director: Stanley Tucci

Manufacturer: PDSC
MPAA Rating: R for some language and brief nudity.
Run Time: 01h:47m:51s
Release Date: 2000-09-26
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+BB- C-


DVD Review

In 1942, Joe Mitchell, a staff writer for The New Yorker who specialized in stories about the city's most interesting and eccentric characters, met Joe Gould. Gould was a vagabond, ragged in appearance but loquacious and brilliant. "Please don't think me stupid just because I'm unclean," he instructs a restauranteur who belittles him early in the film. Gould claims an Ivy League education and most who get to know him well wouldn't doubt his assertions. He is astoundingly perceptive and clearly brilliant, but often prone to insane and violent outbursts when he is vexed or agitated. Content to live on the streets, Joe Gould shuffles from place to place, receiving charity, brashly importuning friends and strangers alike for cash contributions to the "Joe Gould Fund", offering humorous and philosophical mutterings to listeners both willing and not.

When Mitchell first observes Gould, he is initially put off by his impolitic manner and unkempt appearance, chalking him up as yet another filthy bohemian walking the streets of New York City. Yet, the professional writer in him sniffs something more and he starts to ask around about the notorious Mr. Gould. What he discovers is quite remarkable. Gould is a well-regarded character throughout Greenwich Village, often entertained by some of the more prominent names in the city's artistic and literary circles, and supported out-of-pocket by many. Some claim that Gould can actually speak "seagull", or at least understand it. Mitchell arranges a meeting with Gould and finds him to be just as fascinating and bizarre up close as he was from a distance. Gould tells him about his grand literary achievement, The Oral History of the World. Based on conversations and utterances Gould has witnessed in his many years, the oral history is 1.2 million words in length, "three times the length of The Bible," he brags. Mitchell asks if he can read some of the history and Gould complies, gathering for him several battered composition books filled with his even handwriting. Gould later claims that the bulk of the work is stored in the cellar of a poultry farm on Long Island and that he has been unable to retrieve it from the farm's occupants.

Going on what he has, Mitchell pens an article entitled "Professor Seagull" for The New Yorker. Immediately, Gould's fame and stature among the Greenwich Village elite raises several notches. He receives piles of fan mail, sent care/of the magazine, most of which contain small contributions to the "Joe Gould Fund." He acquires an anonymous benefactor, who gives him a monthly allowance and pays for a room in a boarding house so that he can sleep indoors with some consistency. Mitchell moves on with his career, spending less time with Gould so that he can work on his next article for the magazine, but Gould is very reluctant to see less of his "biographer." He begins dropping by Mitchell's office unannounced, calling him at home, reeking havoc with Mitchell's professional and private life. An eventual blowout between the two becomes inevitable. Gould's other good fortunes evaporate as quickly as they came, leaving him a somewhat bitter and less physically healthy shell of the man he once was.

Stanley Tucci, a relatively prolific film actor since 1985, co-directed (with fellow actor Campbell Scott) and co-wrote his first feature film, the delightful light-hearted drama Big Night, in 1996. His next effort, 1998's The Imposters was his moderately successful attempt at a slapstick comedy. Joe Gould's Secret represents his third stint behind the camera, this time choosing pure drama to round out his developing œuvre. As in his two previous films, Tucci also plays one of the main characters. Here, he adopts a questionable Southern accent for his competent but unexceptional portrayal of Joe Mitchell. The real gem here is screen veteran Ian Holm, who immerses himself very well, breathing real life into the eccentric, doddering Gould. Susan Sarandon, Hope Davis(Arlington Road, Mumford), Patricia Clarkson (Jumanji, The Green Mile), and Steve Martin fill out a cast replete with prominent names.

In 1964, Joe Mitchell, in his last article for The New Yorker, penned a follow-up tribute to Joe Gould (who died in 1957) entitled "Joe Gould's Secret". This, and the original "Professor Seagull" served as the basis for Howard Rodman's screenplay. Joe Gould's Secret is a touching film with fine performances, especially from Holm. Tucci has proven in the past his acumen for highlighting the intricacies of human nature and he does it again here. Andrew Jackness' production design is absolutely first rate, capturing very well the look of 1940's New York. The film's one major fault is in its pacing; Joe Gould's Secret does tend to meander a bit, especially in its latter half, and ultimately seems like a longer film than it really is. If you're like me, you'll find yourself enjoying it and checking your watch simultaneously.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Joe Gould's Secret features a solid, but unexceptional anamorphic transfer in the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The print is remarkably clean, with only sporadic dirt and blemishing. Colors are slightly muted, perhaps intentionally to enhance the sixty-year-old setting of the film. Some faint graininess is present in a few scenes but nothing likely to distract terribly from the visual presentation. The transfer's biggest weakness is in its rather soft picture, lacking remarkable clarity.

Image Transfer Grade: B

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Joe Gould's Secret features both a Dolby Surround and 5.1 audio track. The surround use for both was rather disappointing, being utilized almost exclusively to bolster Evan Lurie's original music. Missed opportunities abound in this presentation to more effectively capture the feel of the big city, its traffic and incessant background noise, in the surround channels. LFE is almost nil but that is to be expected considering the content. I found the sound to be a bit awkward and unwieldy in places, with dialogue occasionally getting muddled in with the rest of the sound. Because of this, I actually found the 2.0 Surround track to be the more pleasing audio experience of the two.

Audio Transfer Grade: B- 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01h:05m:36s

Extra Extras:
  1. Collectible booklet
Extras Review: While Joe Gould's Secret can rightly claim to offer a featurette, trailer, and cast/crew bios as extras, two of the three were very disappointing. The featurette is, in actuality, a re-presentation of the "On Screen Extra" segment done on this film by The Sundance Channel and has a complete runtime of less than two minutes (just 10 seconds longer than the trailer). If you are looking for a thorough, behind-the-scenes look at this film, this isn't it. The cast/crew biographies section contains only two entries; Ian Holm and Stanley Tucci. This is truly unfortunate considering the distinguished cast. I dare say that the collectible booklet is the best extra offered with this disc because it does contain some very interesting production and background notes.

Extras Grade: C-

Final Comments

Stylish and sincere, yet a bit sluggish in its presentation, Joe Gould's Secret is nonetheless an effective and compelling profile of one of New York City's most illustrious vagabonds.

Justin Stephen 2000-11-16