Similarities drew Tucci to `Secret'

Cinema: The parallels between writer Joseph Mitchell and subject Joe Gould are explored in a new film


April 28, 2000|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN STAFF

Stanley Tucci, who directed and stars in "Joe Gould's Secret," wasn't immediately drawn to the titular character.

Seven years ago, his wife gave him "Up At the Old Hotel," a collection of writings by the late New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell, whose most legendary articles were about a Greenwich Village eccentric named Joe Gould.

"I fell in love with it, and immediately wanted to make a film out of a lot of different stories," Tucci said during a recent telephone conversation. But, he added, the Joe Gould pieces didn't speak to him.

"I thought this is the one everybody would want to make a movie out of, because of the crazy guy," he said. "But what interested me is how similar the two men were."

Indeed, "Joe Gould's Secret," which opens today at the Rotunda, draws poignant parallels between Mitchell (played by Tucci) and Gould (Ian Holm.) Gould was always on his way to writing the definitive oral history of the world while cadging a drink or cigarette and ranting in "sea-gull," a bird language he invented. Mitchell fought his own writers' blocks. He never wrote the novel he aspired to write, and after the final Gould piece in 1964, he never wrote another word for the New Yorker.

Tucci was also moved by Gould, who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University and harbored artistic ambitions, but was unable to realize them -- although he inspired famous poets and painters.

"He wants to be an artist, but he can't because he's an alcoholic and mentally ill," said Tucci. "So he ends up being a muse, which is just as important. e.e. cummings wrote two poems about him. Alice Neel painted a portrait of him. He changed Mitchell's life. He was everything an artist wanted to be, and is terrified of becoming."

Mitchell's passive persona was a challenge for the energetic Tucci, and he said slowing down was the toughest part of the role.

"I pushed it only so far," Tucci said of Mitchell's signature North Carolina drawl, "because if I spoke the way he had actually spoken, the movie would be 13 hours long."

Memories of `Cyrano'

It's fitting that singer-songwriter Jonathan Richman chose "Cyrano de Bergerac" as the film he'll present at this year's Maryland Film Festival. Just like Rostand's story of love, longing and bittersweet irony, Richman's own songs veritably drip with love, longing and, well, bittersweet irony.

But when reached at his home in Northern California, Richman, 48, said he chose the 1960s film for a simpler reason. "It's the first film I can remember -- that's why I picked it," said Richman, who gained small fame in the 1970s with the Modern Lovers and bigger fame a few years ago with his cameo appearance in "There's Something About Mary."

"It had the biggest impact because, how can I put it, those old black and white films have a certain atmosphere."

Richman added that "Cyrano de Bergerac" isn't just one of his earliest movie memories, "it's one of my earliest memories, period. I remember watching it with my mother when I was about 4 years old, probably on an 11-inch television, back in 1954."

Although Richman has watched the movie several times since then, the festival showing will be a first for him, of sorts. "I've never yet seen it in a theater, so this will be great for me," he said, "and I'm one of those people who appreciates the difference."

Richman will introduce "Cyrano de Bergerac" at the Charles at noon Sunday and will perform that evening at the festival's closing party at the National Aquarium. For tickets, call 410-752-8083 or visit

`Children' ends festival

The Jewish Film Festival ends another successful run Sunday with "The Children of Chabannes," Lisa Gossels's film about an extraordinary chapter of World War II. The film tells the story of 400 Jewish youngsters who were protected at a chateau in the tiny rural town of Chabannes, France, where the community heroically fought to protect the children.

The film will be shown at 3 p.m. at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts, 3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., Owings Mills. Admission is $6. For details, call 410-542-4900, ext. 239.

Classic animation

Johns Hopkins University plays host tonight to Spike & Mike's Classic Festival of Animation, an entertaining and often visionary compendium of some of the best recent work in animation. The program will unspool at 8 and 10: 30 p.m. at Shriver Hall. Admission is $5 ($3 for JHU students and faculty). Look out for Spike & Mike's Sick and Twisted Animation Festival May 5 and 6.

`Last Detail' video

"The Last Detail" will be shown on video this evening as part of the "Film and Social Consciousness" series sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee and the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Commemoration Committee. Hal Ashby's 1974 movie stars Jack Nicholson and Otis Young as two soldiers who subvert their bosses by showing a prisoner in their custody his last good time. The free screening begins at 7: 30 p.m. in the AFSC office at 4806 York Road.

Mid-life love

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