Portrait by Marco Scozzaro
You probably know Ed Koch as the 105th mayor of New York City, and regardless of whether or not you agree with his views, he’s arguably the last politician in American history who actually said what he meant and meant what he said. Recently, the 87-year-old pundit, lawyer, and statesman added yet another distinction to his resume: film critic. A lover of all things cinema, Koch hosts a film-review show on Blip.tv called Mayor at the Movies, which is regularly syndicated by the Huffington Post. Somehow Koch’s career as a cineaste has slipped past my many vitamin D-deprived film school buddies, and at press time, the @MayorAtMovies feed only has 426 followers. Being that the man is not known for mincing words, we thought it apt for him to comment on the state of the film industry and the giant movie set that is New York City.
VICE: Hi Ed Koch. Let’s talk about movies.
Ed Koch: OK. I’ve always loved movies. I don’t usually go to the theater [for plays] because it costs so much. It’s 150 bucks a ticket, and so many of them are just awful. If you spend $300 on two theater tickets and it’s awful, you feel bad. If you go to the movies and spend $20, you don’t feel so bad if it turns out it stinks.
Would you consider yourself a total movie nerd?
I don’t want you to think I know anything about the movies as an expert—I don’t. My movie reviews are very direct. I don’t pretend to know anything about directing. What the hell do I know about directors? I only know whether a movie pleases me or doesn’t.
Do you like most of the movies you see?
About 40 percent of them are terrible, vile, outrageous, a waste of my time.
So why did you start reviewing them?
I got a call from the Villager. They said, “We know you like movies. Would you like to write reviews for us?” So I said, “What do you pay?” The editor became very defensive and said, “Well, we’re a little paper, so we can’t pay very much.” I said, “That’s understandable. Call me back when you get bigger.” They told me they could pay something in the high two figures, and I said, “What’s that mean? A hundred bucks a review?” They said yes, and I agreed. I don’t do it for the money, but if you’re a professional, you gotta get paid.
Do you still write for them?
No. I no longer write for them because they didn’t want to pay for the tickets. They wanted me to absorb the costs, and I said, “No, I’m not gonna do that.” After that I started my video show, Mayor at the Movies, and now I’m published on the Huffington Post. They had been publishing my political commentary and they think I’m a good writer.
How do you feel about the New York movies that were shot during your time as mayor? A lot of those movies portray New York as an apocalyptic wasteland.
You’re talking about crime. Those films show New York as it was. There’s nothing wrong in showing the city the way it was. And it’s much better now.
I think there’s an appeal to a lot of those movies, like Escape from New York or Maniac Cop, a view of Manhattan covered in garbage and graffiti.
The graffiti was sickening! I never extolled graffiti as a new art form—that’s bullshit. Put it in your house, but not in my house, and not on the subways.
That’s what those films tapped into—that fear.
Yeah, there’s no question about that. Particularly in the subways. Let me be maybe too bold about it. Can I tell you a little anecdote?
I wanted to get rid of New York’s graffiti problem, but I wasn’t in charge of the subways, the MTA was. I called the MTA into City Hall and told them they had to get rid of the graffiti. I presented them with a plan to do it: Kids were spray-painting train cars in the yards at night because there weren’t any fences. I told them, just put up a fence and put some dogs inside. They got scared, worried that the dogs would bite people, so I said, “OK, if you don’t want any chance of dogs biting people, get wolves.” That’s the problem with the new Liam Neeson movie, The Grey. There’s no recorded case of a wild wolf ever having bitten or attacked a single human being in North America.
I don’t believe that.
Well, it’s true. The next day Clyde Haberman of the New York Times came to me and told me he’d checked my statement and that there are records of domesticated wolves biting humans. I said, “I know that! I’m not talking about a domesticated wolf. I’m talking about wild wolves. Let’s have wild wolves protect the trains. If the wild wolves become tame, replace them with more wild ones.”
So you recommended that the MTA fight graffiti with wild wolves?