Koch on Film


By Ed Koch

“Must Read After My Death” (+)

This is an interesting rather than enthralling documentary written, directed and edited by Morgan Dews. I saw the film on opening night at the Quad Theater on 13th Street. The evening was enhanced by Dews’ address to the audience about how he came to make the picture.

The movie is about his grandparents, Charley and Allis, their three sons and their daughter, Anne, Mr. Dews’ mother. Allis made home movies and taped recordings over several decades which she packed away and labeled, “Must Read After My Death.” After her death eight years ago, Mr. Dews spliced together much of the material, setting forth a portrait of this dysfunctional family.

Charlie and Allis had an open marriage and reported their affairs to two psychiatrists. It seemed to me that the advice and pronouncements of those psychiatrists, as stated by Charley and Allis, contributed to many of the family’s problems. The musings of Allis at one point indicated that she was close to a nervous breakdown and thought of killing herself and her children to end the family’s misery. All four children had problems at home as well as in school.

Morgan Dews came over to me at the end of the movie and asked what I thought of it. I told him I wasn’t sure and that I would have to think about it. I have, and although the film is depressing, I do recommend that you see it. Dews’ craftsmanship in sorting through the material and turning it into a coherent family portrait is truly spectacular. He did something unique and deserves to have his work of art seen and discussed.

HS said: This movie was unlike any I have seen. I hope none of my descendants becomes a filmmaker, or, if that happens at least deal with other subjects. The level of bickering, drinking, misery and depression in their home made me feel as if my siblings and I had been brought up in Valhalla. The film was well done and holds your interest. The villains, in my view, were male psychiatrists and psychologists from whom they sought help. They blamed Allis for everything, which was outrageous.

Of course, much of the story is told from Allis’ point of view, but even so she appears to have been the victim of the probably unconscious sexism of the shrinks. I recommend this movie. It will make you more grateful to your own parents, without whom you would not be here.

“Man on Wire” (+)

I avoided seeing this documentary about Philippe Petit’s 1974 walk on a cable between the Twin Towers. Since I knew the plot and the outcome, I didn’t see any thrill in the offing. I was wrong. It is an interesting and delightful picture.

Petit’s face and graceful mannerisms remind me of the mime, Marcel Marceau. Every statement that he makes contains a sly suggestion, pronouncement or giggle. How he and his half-dozen friends arranged to schlep a ton of material to the roofs of both Twin Towers without permission and without being detected is remarkable and occasionally comical. Of course everything but film taken in advance of the walk between the buildings was recreated by the participants.

The last ten minutes of the film are very poignant when Petit’s colleagues talk of their ending relationship with him. One of his cohorts breaks into tears during an interview. “Man on Wire” won an Oscar this week for Best Documentary Feature. If you haven’t seen it, make sure you do. It has been playing at the Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema on East Houston Street for several months. The shows are restricted, sharing the screen with more recent films.

When I left the theater a woman yelled to me, “You’re doing good,” a reference to the How’m I doing question I asked constituents when I was mayor. I then got into the elevator with a woman who had just seen the film. We were both disconcerted when the elevator doors made disturbing sounds, didn’t quite close, and the elevator descended. She said, “After what we’ve just seen, I’m sure we can walk on steel and get out safely.” I felt the same way.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to. The doors opened safely on the ground floor.