Film Capsule: Koch

Ed Koch died this morning, at the ripe old age of 88. And that is a tragedy, to be sure. But it is also rather fitting, giving it occurred just a few spare hours before a feature film about this most private of public figures hit the screen.

Koch, a sprawling documentary some 40 years in the making, starts off on a high note – zipping through Ed Koch’s ascension to the New York City Mayor’s Office during the ill-fated Summer of 1977. The film touches on major media events including the Son of Sam killings, rolling blackouts throughout Harlem, and – of course – that nationally televised moment in October when the Bronx, quite literally, began to go up in flames. It was out of those ashes that Candidate Koch would arise, ultimately triumphing to preside over not one, but two crucial eras, from 1978 right on up until 1989 (at which point he was defeated by David Dinkins in the Democratic primary).

Did Mayor Koch have his detractors? Why, yes, you can bet your sweet ass Mayor Koch had his detractors. But Koch was also indicative of Churchill’s stance that enemies are a good thing, in that they prove a person stood for something at some point in his life. Ed Koch would often claim he was immune to base intimidation, and – true to form – he stuck to that word. As a candidate, Koch battled through the ugliness of “Cuomo, not the homo,” before moving on to confront both the labor unions and a sweeping political scandal anchored deep inside his own administration (most of which was set against dual epidemics of crack cocaine and HIV).

Koch, a Neil Barsky film which was both shot and cut in classic Ken-Burns style, does a remarkable job of chronicling one man’s ascension, as well as the unforgettable scars that will forever haunt his legacy. Cries of racism, back-door deals, opportunism … These were all considered occupational hazards, so far as Mayor Koch was concerned. In that spirit, Koch offers a fitting – if not all-but-perfectly timed – homage to the man who was forever asking voters, “How’m I doing?” just before swinging both arms wide to say, “Good bye.”

(Koch opens in limited release in New York and Los Angeles today, with the possibility of a wider rollout to follow.)