by Sam Juliano
Ed Koch. New York City’s former Mayor was a larger than life personality who led the Big Apple at a crucial time of social and economic upheaval. He died on Friday, but left behind a legacy that firmly implants him as one of the most unforgettable, combative and colorful figures to ever take up residence in Gracie Mansion. Koch was an original. He never minced words, was unapologetic, was in possession of an oversized ego, but was still as compassionate any any elected office holder, and was a Renaissance man to the core. Never content to sit on the laurels of his political life, the outspoken figure was a film and theater critic, and once hosted an At the Movies show, and posted film reviews for New York newspapers. A fervent food lover in a city that boasts some of the world’s finest restaurants, Koch was the strangest of political hybrids: he was a social liberal in a city that could have it no other way, yet he was fiercely independent and a moral and fiscal conservative who sometimes operated as the conscience of a city too often stung by political corruption. He was a man of the streets, always preferring to see his movies in public theaters than in the screening rooms he was always privy to and Lucille and I have noticed him sitting in theaters we have attended over the years, just recently he was sitting in the lobby of the Angelika Film Center, looking frail and bearing a cane, waiting like us to take in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on a Saturday evening back in the fall. Broadway Bob and his mother Stefania, who had accompanied us to the theater, pointed him out sitting alone, the always vibrant Mrs. Eagleson approached him and declared “You can be my Mayor anytime!’ Koch smiled broadly, and no doubt had received such glowing recognition and appreciation through most of his time in the public eye, and afterwards, when few could ever forget him.
My own best memories of Koch date back to his first campaign for New York Mayor back in late 1976, when he began his quest by running in a four man field that included then Mayor Abraham Beame and eventual New York Governor Mario Cuomo. I followed the election closely at the time, listening to talk shows for hours during my two year stint as weekend (midnight shift) security guard in a work trailer adjacent to the construction of a Hudson River hospital in Edgewater, New Jersey. It was the time of the ‘Son of Sam’ terror, and sitting alone on the darkened riverfront, I was watching my own back uneasily. Koch was a favorite of Woody Allen, and a sometimes adversary of Spike Lee, who satirized the Mayor’s famed tag-line “How Am I Doing” in his 1989 Do the Right Thing. Koch was only “too willing” to tell people what they thought as when he was often queried about his sexual orientation, which was never really confirmed one way or the other, though the media always suggested he was probably gay. Koch’s patented response: “F **k off. There are still things in this world that should remain private. He was bold in voicing his opinions on every aspect of New York life and on the national scene. In his later years he was a Democrat, but always with a strict moral code, and with no tolerance for corruption or fiscal mismanagement. Ironically, he passed away at age 88 on Friday morning, on the very same day that the new documentary on him released, a documentary I saw at his beloved Angelika, and one I will talk about more (below). R.I.P. Ed Koch.
Dennis Polifroni and I will be sitting at a local diner later this week to discuss the Oscar nominations in front of Jason Giampietro’s camera in what has now become an annual routine. As always, my position on the ultimate worthlessness of the Oscars has not wavered (even with last year’s rightful coronation of THE ARTIST in that rare instance where they got the main category called correctly) but it is a fun game to speculate on how the politics will play out, since it at least serves as a springboard for discussing films. Discussion is a-buzzing after Ben Affleck won the DGA on Saturday, with many now predicting Argo will take home the night’s big prize.
Just finished watching the Baltimore Ravens-San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl, and must say it was exciting right down to the final play. Won by the Ravens, the game is sure to have people talking for quite some time, especially a late game non-call on defensive holding that doomed the gang from San Fran on their final possession as they approached the goal line. But a kickoff return and a great passing game by both sides made for an entertaining contest. Lucille and I watched the game at a local Applebees with good friends Tony Lucibello and Ralph Jones. It was moving to see and hear the Sandy Hook Choir sing “America the Beautiful” at halftime with Jennbifer Hudson.
A candle remains lit for Sandy Hook Elementary School and for the young lives and valiant educators lost during the tragic event of mid-December, but it has now been moved to the sidebar for stationary vigil and maximum visibility. The suggestion was made by Allan Fish, who from day one has been deeply affected by the terrible event (Allan chose the banner and sent it on to me by e mail in fact) and was technically negotiated by Tony d’Ambra who once again provided the site with his invaluable technical assistance. I will still utilize the diary proper to post anything else I feel vital about Newtown as we move forward.
Lucille and I (and the kids for some) saw the following this past week:
Koch **** (Friday night) Angelika Film Center
The Pirogue *** 1/2 (Wednesday night) Film Forum
Warm Bodies * 1/2 (Saturday night) Secaucus mutiplex
I Was Born But (1932) ***** (Sunday afternoon) Film Forum
The new documentary KOCH examined the colorful New York Mayor’s early rise to political prominence, but mainly his 12 years in Gracie Mansion, a time he ran the Big Apple like a deli counterman. The AIDS crisis, the broken hospital system, racial tensions, the drug epidemic and the rise of homelessness all marked Koch’s long tenure, and as seen addressing crowds and the media the pugnacious orator was never one to mince words, a fact that even his political adversary Al Sharpton admitted when addressing the former mayor’s passing: “I disagreed with him on many issues, but he was never a phony or a hypocrite. He said what he meant and he meant what he said.” A highlight of director Barclay’s film comes on the 2010 election night when Andrew Cuomo won the New York gubernatorial race. Koch is seen surrounded by adoring well-wishers, but at evening’s end goes home alone. Koch was a passionate movie lover, but Barclay says little on this aspect of the figure’s post-mayor life and vocational, only interviewing Koch on his political positions. The larger-than-life, egocentric but lovable Koch was as pleased as pink when the Queensboro Bridge was named after him, and was in good humor when he toured the cemetery where his tombstone awaited him. Typically, he spoke as if he would be enjoying the Manhattan location during the afterlife. KOCH is an engaging, affectionate look at an irrepressible figure who was a quintessential New Yorker to the last bone.
WARM BODIES is a largely insipid and tedious modern horror tale that incorporates “Zombieland” and “28 Days After”, and despite an impressive turn from Nicholas Hoult the film is multiplex fodder at it’s most forgettable. I’m still trying to figure out how I wound up in the theater to see this. Yet I see the reviews are solid. Go figure. THE PIROGUE is for the most part a gripping drama of a seven day voyage from Senegal to Spain that involves a band of Africans willing to risk everything to reach Europe. A spirited Sengalese score further enlivens the proceedings and helps to mitigate the unavoidable claustrophobia. Ozu’s 1932 I WAS BORN BUT was offered up as part of the Sunday morning “Film Forum Jr.” series. At its heart this great work of the silent cinema is an elegy to the lost innocence of youth, that informs a clash between idealism and the more sobering realities of the adult world. This is a them that Ozu examined throughout his career, but the stylistic template was set in this early film, with its eschewing of fade outs and fade ins, and a general simplification of the film grammar. His trademark low angle shots capturing the private scenes of domestic life, and the employment of the internal dynamics of the family unit to draw out broad generalizations about society as a whole are again brought to the table, and there’s a universality underpinning to the seeming innocuous youthful behavior on display here that in effect is a playing out of the life cycle. If it qualifies as soap opera, then it’s soap opera of an exceedingly profound level, that unearths a number of truths. This is one of the greatest films of the silent cinema, and the first truly great films by one of the greatest directors (and its foremost adherent of humanism) of all-time.
I have now seen 11 of the 15 episodes on the stupendous THE STORY OF FILM by Mark Cousins. I have four more to go now.
With Super Bowl weekend eating up the time already spoken for in large measure by the various viewings, I had to abandon the links for this week. A new batch will be up next time.