Susan Granger’s review of “Koch” (Zeitgeist Films)
Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch died at age 88 on February 1, 2013, the same day Neil Barsky’s documentary about his life and legacy opened in Manhattan.
Almost two years in the making, it reveals Koch’s refreshingly acerbic candor, beginning with his account of flying into New York, looking down and thinking, “All this is mine!”
Born in the Bronx, Ed Koch began his controversial political life as a reformist Democratic congressman from Greenwich Village and went on to serve for three terms (1978-1989) as New York City’s105th Mayor. When he was first elected, the Big Apple was rotting. Traveling to Washington, D.C. to head off the city’s bankruptcy, he was harsh in his budget cuts, even closing Harlem’s Sydenham Hospital, which he admits was a mistake. That earned him the ire of the black community.
Koch also had problems with the gay community, which accused him of exacerbating the AIDS crisis. Since he never married, many believe Koch was a closeted homosexual. When asked about his sexual orientation, Koch snaps, “It’s none of your ******* business!”
In a particularly revealing sequence on Andrew Cuomo’s election night, 2010, Koch is surrounded by admiring supporters yet, at evening’s end, he goes home alone. According to Barsky, the price Koch paid for being in the public eye was that he did not have a lifelong companion.
A former Wall Street Journal reporter, Neil Barsky shot extensive interview footage of Koch puttering around his small apartment, appearing at political functions, doing TV gigs and just walking around the city, asking everyone in his
characteristically whiny-voice: “How ’m I doing?”
On a personal note, my husband and I had the pleasure of spending an evening with Ed Koch a few years ago. Koch had just started writing movie reviews which he e-mailed from his law offices. Personal and to-the-point, eschewing objectivity, he never minced words about films he loved or hated.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Koch” is a contentious 8, turning into a celebratory eulogy for the outspoken, opportunistic octogenarian.