Friday, March 1, 2013

Movie with Abe: Koch

Directed by Neil Barsky
Released March 1, 2012

Documentaries about people often start from two possible points, the beginning of their subject’s life or the pivotal, defining moment of their time in the spotlight. “Koch,” the biography of New York City Mayor Ed Koch, who passed away exactly one month ago at the age of 88, starts well into Koch’s lengthy career, presupposing the fact that he is a household name among New Yorkers and letting his legacy speak for itself. Neil Barsky’s directorial debut is an in-depth chronicle of some of Koch’s most noted and outspoken opinions and actions, one which provides an excellent sense of who he was and how he saw the world.

“Koch” is quite reminiscent of another documentary about a prominent politician, “The World According to Dick Cheney,” which played at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. In both, a lifelong politician with a reputation that precedes him comments on the many controversial policies and moves that he made, without a sense of regret or, in most cases, apology, instead defending his decisions as necessary and for the good of the people. Koch defines himself by his signature “How am I doing?” question, a prompt whose answer he often ignores, instead assuming that the public consensus is that he’s doing great. When purchasing cemetery plots, Koch declares that he believes in the afterlife and he expects to be revered. After he loses his fourth mayoral bid, Koch responds to calls for him to run again by saying that “The people threw me out, and now the people must be punished.” That self-confidence and stubbornness is one of the main reasons that Koch is such an intriguing subject.

“Koch” does not weave a coherent chronological narrative of Koch’s humble beginnings and rise to power, and in fact it takes almost forty minutes before any mention of his childhood is uttered. The lack of an explicit timeline and landmarks to back it up are more than made up for by the many examples cited of Koch’s temperamentally-received decrees. Watching him poll citizens about who they’re voting for and later encourage angry residents to defiantly walk across the Brooklyn Bridge after a transit shutdown, rallying them to his call of “We’re not going to take their crap!” paints a magnificent picture of Koch and his unwavering fervor. As tends to be the case with documentaries, the opinions of those interviewed are equally compelling. One commenter says that Koch is not a racist, but rather, he’s worse, he’s an opportunist. Another sums up the film by comparing him to other mayors, emphasizing his staying power. The film concludes with Koch’s speech at the ceremony honoring the Queensboro Bridge being named after him, a fitting tribute to a man always determined to have his voice heard.


No comments: