Reviewing Hizzoner, the movie critic

Ed Koch wrote movie reviews for this paper and one other place I worked, so over the years I’ve heard the literal groans from at least a few arts editors who were not too happy about it.

I understood their criticisms.  Koch penned many books on politics and world affairs, but when it came to movie reviews, his writing was far from accomplished. He frequently quoted other reviewers and went off on tangents.

But the tangents, I always thought, was what appealed to the publishers who hired him, and to many readers. They were Koch’s memories of running the city, his world views and his personal peeves. They were unmistakably Ed.

If memory serves, one of my earliest of Mayor Koch is his outrage over movie theaters raising prices to $6 after years of being stuck at $5. It sounds strange and funny now, but at the time, it seemed to me like the mayor was sticking up for all New Yorkers.

I edited a good number of his reviews and never wanted to change all that much. I remember his first review of a Jennifer Anniston movie. He trashed her acting, and didn’t give her career much hope. He seemed oblivious to how famous the “Friends” star was. Had any other writer conveyed their Anniston ignorance, I would have cut it without thinking, but from Koch, it seemed like an endearing quirk that revealed something. There were shows Koch watched, and those he didn’t know about.

His “everyman” approach to critiques was helpful. I often agreed with him when he said the other critics were making too much of a movie. Like most movie reviewers, Koch gave away too much of the film, but his “+” and “-” ratings made it easier to tune out the plot summary to get what you need to know: should you see the movie or not. The less you know about a movie, the more likely you are to be surprised and like it.

Letter writers were angry when Koch gave away the ending to “Million Dollar Baby”. They were right, but no one ever accused Koch of worrying too much about what other people thought. That was part of his charm.

– Josh Rogers

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