CAPSULE: The tumultuous years of the term of the controversial Ed Koch as mayor of New York are the subject of Neil Barsky's premier film as director. With documentary footage, interviews, and just about any film showing Koch in action, we get a portrait of the former Mayor and with it some of his history and background and a look at the man today. While the structure and style of the film are not particularly inventive, the film is a good background on the issues that faced the city and the country in general during those twelve years in which New York City turned around. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
KOCH is Neil Barsky's documentary portrait of Ed Koch, mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989. The main stream of the film is a history of those twelve-plus years from Koch campaigning for mayor in 1977 to his leaving office the last day of 1989. There is a diversion to tell about his origins and youth and at the end we see him more as he is today. Throughout his career Koch was the center of controversy and met it head-on. The occasion of this look at Koch is the renaming of the Queensboro Bridge as the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.
Barsky's biography gives us a history of Koch's first campaign for mayor against Mario Cuomo and then the issue of the three terms that he served. There is plenty of footage around from that time so we can see Ed Koch in action. Along the way there are on-camera interviews with people who worked with (and against) the mayor giving their perspective on the man and the issues. Koch himself gives some insight into his administration. Along the way there is a retrospective with a rather rushed outline of Koch's earlier life. Toward the end we see what he is doing today in what we would conventionally think of as a lonely life, having no immediate family. Koch never married so has no really close family. New York City is his family.
When Koch first was running for mayor the city was in bad disrepair. There had recently been a power blackout that was the occasion for looting and other lawlessness. Barsky uses as many images as possible to show graffiti on walls and trains. The Son of Sam killer was on a murder spree. And contributing to all was the near bankruptcy of the city. And New York City elected this funny-looking little Jewish man with a funny voice and a constant wit. Koch arguably presided over the transformation of a metropolis in deep dysfunction to a city that did not just work--it prospered.
The blunt but winning Koch gives people the impression that he likes what he is doing, but he wants constant feedback. He persistently stops strangers with the same question that became his trademark, "How'm I doing?" This led to twelve years of this man running the city. Issues Barksy covers include:
From his first campaign when he ran against Mario Cuomo there was some deception on Koch's part. When Koch was smeared by a campaign accusing him of being gay--a big deal in those times--Koch brought in his friend Bess Myerson, the first Jewish Miss America, to campaign with him and frequently stand with him and hold his hand. Then there was a claim that the two of them were having an illicit relationship. Koch is very private about his personal life. His love was New York City. The film does not even come to conclusions as to whether Koch was left or right wing. Some members of the black community brand him as racist. Opponents on his housing policy call him a liberal. He seems to be left of center, but in general he was just a pragmatist.
This film and the issues it presents may be of more interest in the Northeast than elsewhere in the country. But the entire country is now facing many of the issues that Koch met and defeated for his city. Ed Koch's successes should be an inspiration. I rate KOCH a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2237822/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/koch_2012/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2013 Mark R. Leeper