Of course Koch's legacy will reverberate beyond this documentary, but there is a certain elegiac quality to Koch that feels as if it was finished after he was already gone. If the film is any indication, then the former mayor has nothing to worry about - his legacy is in good hands.
Naturally that legacy isn't without controversy, and Koch admirably explores the thoughts of some of his detractors as well. Koch has been in the spotlight quite a bit lately, making appearances in the documentaries The Central Park Five and most memorably, How to Survive a Plague just this past year.
|Ed Koch in the office of his campaign manager, David Garth, September 1977. As seen in KOCH, a film by Neil Barsky.|
A Zeitgeist Films release. Photo: The New York Post
The AIDS crisis is not the focus here, however, but it is interesting to note the difference in the two films. Barsky is clearly in Koch's corner, but this is not a one sided adulation. Barsky gives voice to Koch's critics, examining the most important moments of his time in office from all sides. Perhaps his most lasting legacy will be his housing projects that distinguished him as one of New York's most progressive mayors, despite accusations of racism that popped up early in his career. The older Koch waves off such talk with his usual bluster. A principled and outspoken man to the last, Koch always called it like he saw it, with his typical no nonsense chutzpah. Koch may follow a pretty typical structure for a biographical documentary, but Barsky handles it well, balancing the story of Koch's mayoral career with modern reflections from the man in winter. It isn't really any more illuminating beyond the history we already know, but it humanizes the man in a way rarely seen in the national media. Love or hate the man, he is a fascinating figure. In Koch, he gets the chance to defend himself. You may not like what he has to say, but you can't help but respect the zeal and conviction with which he says it.
GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)
KOCH | Directed by Neil Barsky | Not rated | Now playing in select cities. Opens today, 3/1, in Los Angeles.