Where’s My Roy Cohn?
by Hope Madden
There’s a tendency in horror cinema, after a villain has established his evil nature in a film or two, to turn the story around and find out what made him a monster. In that vein, Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary Where’s My Roy Cohn? is the madman’s origin story.
Horror fan that I am, I’ve still never been intrigued by what made Jason Jason, why Michael Myers was driven to murder, what caused Leatherface to don the mask. But it turns out, this horror story is more about the sequel, Son of Cohn.
“Where’s my Roy Cohn?” is a tantrum yelped by Donald Trump, unhappy about his attorney general at the time. And the title speaks volumes, about the kind of attack dog Cohn had been as a lawyer, and about the toxic legacy he’s left behind, right down to the oval office.
A fastidious student of the unlikely individual and his or her cultural impact, Tyrnauer made fascinating docs for years about little known citizens with big stories (Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood and Citizen Jane among them). And though his latest certainly bears some of the markings of Tyrnauer’s previous films, the only person who saw Roy Cohn as a little guy with big ideas was Roy Cohn.
It’s tough to overstate the ruthless, amoral impact Cohn has had on American politics and culture. Though Tyrnauer shows traces of compassion when underlining Cohn’s self-hating behaviors (whether as a Jew or a homosexual), the filmmaker’s assessment of his cancerous affect is evident.
Cohn was the prosecuting attorney who pushed the Rosenbergs toward the electric chair before he became McCarthy’s advisor, mouth piece and thug. Then on to New York, where his mafia entanglements (he represented John Gotti, Tony Salerno and Carmine Galante) only aided in his close professional and personal relationship with Donald Trump.
A bizarre connector between the worlds of Studio 54, the mafia and the Archdiocese of New York, Cohn’s party photos articulate some kind of bacchanal populated by members of each of these affluent, influential and decadent groups. It would be impressive it weren’t so ominous and seedy.
He also owned the news, dictating stories to the New York Post from his kitchen table and bringing Rupert Murdoch to the oval office with his own dear friend, Ronald Reagan.
Roy Cohn is dead, but as Where’s My Roy Cohn? makes dismayingly clear is that his ghost still haunts us.