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Audrey Kupferberg: Where's My Roy Cohn

Currently playing theatrically is a documentary feature called Where’s My Roy Cohn?.  As most of us will recall, the film title is a quote from Donald Trump, as published in the NY Times in early 2018.  While this documentary doesn’t dwell on the relationship between Trump and his lawyer/fixer Cohn, it is quite content to take advantage of the commercial value of that particular quote as its title.  It calls out to all liberals, saying – without actually really saying – “if you dislike Trump, you will love this movie.”

And, to a great extent, that is true.  In Where’s My Roy Cohn?, writer/director Matt Tyrnauer uses almost every one of the 97-minute running time to slam and berate the controversial man who, possibly almost more than anyone else, influenced the President.  Starting in his earliest years as an attorney, Cohn bred hatred as Joe McCarthy’s righthand man.  Cohn was responsible for the death of the Rosenbergs, Tyrnauer heavily implies.  In a less ruthless man’s hands, they would have had life prison sentences instead of execution. 

From there, the documentary takes off.  It gives one example after another of Roy Cohn’s mean, rotten, lying, malicious, horrible, nasty doings!  The film employs the conventional tools of documentary filmmaking to tell its story:  interviews with journalists, relates, acquaintances, and colleagues; news footage; newspaper headlines; and still photos.  The research appears to be thorough and accurate.  The pace is more than  lively, so fast that it becomes obsessive, unrelenting. 

While the story of rotten Roy Cohn and his misdeeds unfolds, one aspect of the filmmaker’s style comes to the forefront.  It is the choice of a music score. For some odd reason, Tyrnauer doesn’t seem to believe that the interviews about Cohn as an evildoer and the stock footage evidence of his sins are enough to convince the audience.  So he has covered much of the action with one of the most intrusive, overheated scores that I have heard in years.  The music is so loud and unyielding that the emotions of the audience are manipulated to a point at which we would believe Roy Cohn assassinated Abraham Lincoln, kidnapped the Lindbergh baby, and developed Hitler’s plan for the final solution.

Tyrnauer doesn’t stop with Cohn himself.  Early in the film, he describes with a certain relish the embarrassment of the marriage of Roy Cohn’s parents.  Roy’s mother, Dora Marcus, was the ugliest woman in her borough, and his father only married her because, if he did, he would be made a judge.  While Dora was no Bess Myerson, she was not miserably deformed.  That is only one instance where I think the film goes too far into trash talk.  Further on, we also hear about Roy’s unsuccessful plastic surgery on his own marred face.  C’mon that’s just gossipy.  And then there is the much-discussed topic of Cohn’s homosexuality, his sex life with many partners, and subsequently his probable battle with AIDS.

Because the film is so fact-filled and apparently well researched, (The film spews one fact after another at high speed.) and because so many of Cohn’s offenses are laid bare, Where’s My Roy Cohn? really is an important documentary.  It gives insight into Donald Trump’s responses to seemingly want to destroy anyone who doesn’t appear to be a sycophant.  In so many ways, Roy Cohn and his long list of evils have given birth to Trump’s policies.  For this important reason, Where’s My Roy Cohn? – despite its flaws – is a documentary I highly recommend.

Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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