Koch, the new documentary about the life of the eponymous former New York City mayor, opened at the Angelika and Lincoln Plaza cinemas on Friday. Up until then, the movie’s prospects for a box office bonanza might have been slim. How many people would want to drop $13 on watching 90 minutes about a curmudgeonly old man who has not held public office in 23 years?
But then, in a grim stroke of luck, Ed Koch passed away on Friday morning. I went to see the film at the Angelika with two friends on Friday night. I was expecting a massive turnout, in light of Koch obituaries dominating New York media that day. But the three of us constituted at least 10 percent of the small crowd. Even the Angelika’s notoriously narrow theater felt more than half-empty.
Calls to the Angelika and Lincoln Plaza reveal that ticket sales have seen no dramatic spike from Koch’s death. Adrian Vergara, the Angelika’s manager, says diplomatically that sales are “not too busy at the moment.”
The film is faring a little bit better at Lincoln Plaza.
“It’s not that busy,” says Mosammat Ahmed, a Lincoln Plaza staffer. “It was busy on the weekend, almost all the shows were sold out.” Ahmed said that this follows the general pattern for weekends versus weekdays. (A likely explanation for the Uptown/Downtown discrepancy: the Upper West Side is filled with older folks who better remember Koch, while the Angelika draws a crowd that was not even in high school, if they were alive at all, when he left City Hall.)
The famously egomaniacal Koch would probably be disappointed.
Knowing New York as well as he did, though, he might not take it too personally. The movie-going audience skews young, and young New Yorkers are mostly new arrivals, as ignorant of Ed Koch as they are of others who shaped the city they love, from Jane Jacobs to her arch-nemesis Robert Moses.
The ticket-taker making announcements at the Angelika on Friday mispronounced Koch, saying the “ch” with a softness that made his name sound like “Kosh.”
“Where do they find these guys?” I grumbled to a friend. The question was rhetorical, but also stupid. The answer is that they find them in the same place New York finds all the young strivers who give it vitality: everywhere and anywhere. Koch knew this as well as anyone.
Although Koch was regarded as the consummate New York character, he did not even really grow up here. When he was seven years old, his family left the Bronx for Newark. His father’s furrier business was suffering during the Depression, and the Kochs needed to take over the hat concession at a cousin’s Newark concert hall to make ends meet.
Koch was undoubtedly a Yiddishkeit archetype. After more than 60 years here, he certainly qualifies as a New Yorker too. But when he first arrived in Greenwich Village, he was just another New Jersey boy with dreams of making it big.
Koch wanted to be remembered. But as someone who changed New York to make it more appealing to the well-heeled newcomers and tourists who would help power its renaissance, he would probably see his own diminished fame as a sign of his success.