Thursday, April 25, 2013

Koch (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Neil Barsky's documentary "Koch" is a detailed picture of Mayor Koch during his three terms as Mayor of New York City. Some loved him, some disliked him but nearly every New Yorker had or has an opinion about him. With his unassuming  gentle face together with his ambition to succeed as a man for the people of New York City, Koch was probably the first Pop culture mayor as he hopped about Studio 54, appeared on Saturday Night Live as a guest host in the 80's and even had a play written about him.

As Koch says in the film, "politics is like a show, everyone plays a role..."

But all was not bouquets of roses on Broadway. Although Koch started as a respected reformer politically, he was criticized for being racist when he closed down Sydenham Hospital in Harlem, in addition to seeming above it all when a black teenager was beaten to death. This sparked a race-riot. He was also taken to task for doing damningly little for persons with AIDS when the crisis was at an epidemic in the city. There was no support or drug to fight the scourge and Koch is clearly shown to be out of touch. Although he later passed an anti-discrimination bill in 1986, Koch closed down many beloved and nostalgic bathhouses. 

He is most iconically known though, for cracking down and cleaning up Times Square, erasing its porno theaters and seedy peep shows and although this can be seen as a positive, gentrified and family friendly move into the future, I missed the chance to observe its danger and eccentricity. Times Square now resembles a huge computer screen filled with places to shop. Koch is mostly unapologetic except for the corruption scandal in the late 80s, which caused him to lose a bid for a fourth term. 

The most telling scenes are near the film's end when he shuffles into a Democratic meeting, clothed in a nondescript black jacket and cap, a humble and unassuming man who looks almost anonymous were it not for his  legacy (some of it honorable, some of it not) of serving three terms and showing resolve through it all, as a mayor for the people. 

When New Yorkers tell him to run again he says "No, I can't, they didn't elect me last time, so I am punishing them!" Koch sees himself as a "sane" liberal and although he mishandled a few serious issues, he clearly cares about New York City. 

By the end of the film when looking at his gravesite, he regards it lovingly as his final bedrock of New York City. 

When Koch closes the door to his office, you get the feeling that this man was a media-hound who would do all he could to be liked. Although slippery and obtuse at times, he was never mean-spirited. Koch existed as a pale creature of the city, complete with some off-putting bites and  smiles for his people.

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