Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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Koch documentary shows former NYC mayor as relentless campaigner - even decades after he left office

In "Koch," the charismatic, controversial three-term mayor of New York is shown in all his glory -- and garrulousness.

Koch documentary shows former NYC mayor as relentless campaigner – even decades after he left office

Ed Koch.
Ed Koch.

Ed Koch died in the wee hours of the morning of Friday, February 1st . He was 88. Later that same day, KochNeil Barsky’s endlessly intriguing and illuminating documentary portrait of the three-term New York City mayor – opened in theaters in the city. It’s conceivable that all the front page obituaries and local TV news appreciations gave Barsky’s movie a bump at the box office, but the filmmaker, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and hedge fund exec, isn’t so sure.

“If his intention was to increase box office sales, he should have stayed alive,” says Barsky about the subject  of his fascinating film, playing now at the Ritz Bourse . “He would have been promoting the film. I mean, notwithstanding my own charms, he would have been on,Jon Stewart, on David Letterman... everywhere. He was a real ham.”

That hamminess certainly comes off in the film. Koch, who served as mayor from 1978 to 1989, relished being the center of attention -- and almost sulked when he wasn’t.  But Koch’s ill-timed death caused Barsky, a novice filmmaker, to realize how fortunate he had been.

"It reminded me how oblivious I was to the fact that when we started the movie he was an octogenarian, and this could have happened while we were shooting the movie,” Barsky, 55, says. “And so, I was very thankful that we shot it at a time when he was actually quite healthy -- not only mentally, but physically. He was incredibly energetic. You know the campaign scenes in the streets? We showed him in Forest Hills and Flatbush, I think. Well, that day there were five stops, and we were following him around in a car. And I was so wiped out — I mean, I could barely move my mouth. And he was running around and shaking hands and ready to go. He had a lot more stamina than I did!”

Steven Rea Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
About this blog

Steven Rea has been an Inquirer movie critic since 1992. He was born in London, raised in New York City, and has lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Iowa City, Iowa. His column, "On Movies," appears Sundays in Arts & Entertainment, his reviews appear in the Weekend section on Fridays, and his blog, On Movies Online, can be found here. He is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

Steven Rea's previous blog posts can be found here. Read his most recent columns and reviews, here. He is the author of the book “Hollywood Rides a Bike,” and also curates the movie stars and bicycling photo blog, Rides A Bike.

Reach Steven at srea@phillynews.com.

Steven Rea Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
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