Mad World

By

Published June 3, 2009

Gangsters never really go out of style, do they? Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger and Christian Bale, is one of the most hotly anticipated movies of the summer. And Vincent Cassel fans will get a chance to see plenty of him next fall in Mesrine, Jean-Francois Richet’s five-hour biopic of one of France’s most flamboyant outlaws.

The Accompanied Literary Society helped make the case for Joe Gallo Monday night, hosting a reading of The Mad Ones, Tom Folsom’s new biography of the rebel gangster from Red Hook, at the new J. Crew Men’s Shop in Soho.

“Crazy Joe,” who inspired the Bob Dylan song “Joey” and, it is said, parts of The Godfather trilogy, is a filmmaker’s dream. An amateur oil painter, he had a foot in the beatnik scene. (Folsom described Gallo’s work as “kind of van Gogh imagery, swirling madness.”) Like Mesrine, Bonny and Clyde, and just about any cinematic gangster you can think of, he embraced crime as a sexy way to jostle, if not overturn, the status quo-personified in Gallo’s case not so much by law-abiding society as by established outfits like the Cosa Nostra. For what it’s worth, he was also schizophrenic.

Like Jean-Paul Belmondo’s suavely self-aware hood in Breathless, Gallo styled himself after B-movie icons. Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death was a major inspiration for him and his band of outsiders, Folsom said.  “They were certainly image-conscious gangsters. They dressed the part,” he added-according to the intro, “spit-shined Italian loafers and skinny black ties.”

In a neat coincidence, the J. Crew shop at 484 Broadway is the brand’s first boutique to have a department devoted to suiting. Even more appropriately, it’s a few blocks away from the restaurant where Gallo was gunned down in 1972. Surrounded by vintage books and typewriters and third-party-brand menswear like Red Wing boots, Matthew Modine read about Gallo haunting smoky Village jazz joints. Steve Buscemi followed with a pitch-perfect, Brooklyn-inflected narration that conjured the ghost of a real-deal wiseguy. With Harvey Weinstein making his way through the room (The Mad Ones is a Weinstein Books title), it was tempting to view this cocktail event as the prenatal stages of a film adaptation. According to Folsom, the book’s been optioned. Who knows? Regardless, the stuff of this gangster’s life story is, as much as ever, firmly embedded in the public domain.