On Wednesday morning, just after the premiere of Neil Barsky's documentary Koch, the news came on a television crawl: Ed Koch had missed the party, hospitalized. And this morning, on the film's opening day, he has died. His tenure as New York mayor was not exactly "the best of times," given a span of three-terms (1977-1989), they weren't the worst either. They did rename a bridge after him. But even in the traditions of outsized mayoral personalities, his was particularly large, which makes the movie about him a blessing and now a bittersweet remembrance.
Controversial in his "bachelorhood," the film shows him "dating" Miss America, Bess Myerson. A secular Jew, he chomps on a bagel at a Yom Kippur break fast with family in Westchester. In 1996, the French photographer Frederic Brenner, obsessed with the subject of Jewish identity, staged portraits of prominent Jews on Ellis Island. Ed Koch framed, as it were, among the likes of Steven Spielberg, Allen Ginsberg, Dustin Hoffman, Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, Betty Friedan, Arthur Miller, Roy Lichtenstein and so on. Simon Schama wrote in the accompanying picture book's essay, Looking Jewish: "Ed Koch bursts irrepressibly through his frame with a snap of his suspenders, his thumbs hoisted into the air, filling it completely as if to ensure there was no space left for anything but the public man."
A natural subject for entertainment, Koch will leave viewers pondering many movie moments, like his prescience, visiting his own tombstone in Trinity Cemetary. He claimed the Jewish ones were full. Few are this prepared.
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