Dec 272008

His life changed history. His courage changed lives. In 1977, Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay man to be voted into public office in America. His victory was not just a victory for gay rights; he forged coalitions across the political spectrum. From senior citizens to union workers, Harvey Milk changed the very nature of what it means to be a fighter for human rights and became, before his untimely death in 1978, a hero for all Americans. Milk charts the last eight years of Harvey Milk’s life. While living in New York City, he turns 40. Looking for more purpose, Milk and his lover Scott Smith relocate to San Francisco, where they found a small business, Castro Camera, in the heart of a working-class neighborhood. With his beloved Castro neighborhood and beautiful city empowering him, Milk surprises Scott and himself by becoming an outspoken agent for change. With vitalizing support from Scott and from new friends like young activist Cleve Jones, Milk plunges headfirst into the choppy waters of politics. Bolstering his public profile with humor, Milk’s actions speak even louder than his gift-of-gab words. When Milk is elected supervisor for the newly zoned District 5, he tries to coordinate his efforts with those of another newly elected supervisor, Dan White. But as White and Milk’s political agendas increasingly diverge, their personal destinies tragically converge. Milk’s platform was and is one of hope–a hero’s legacy that resonates in the here and now.

Genres: Drama, Biopic and Politics/Religion; Running Time: 2 hrs. 8 min.; Release Date: November 26th, 2008 (limited), December 5th (expands)

Starring: Sean Penn, Allison Pill, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, James Franco

Directed by: Gus Van Sant

We had kept watching the movie theaters for this movie to show up. We finally went to see it last week, but had to drive nearly to Clearwater for a theater showing the movie. I don’t know why it wasn’t being shown at Veterans 24 or Westshore, but it wasn’t. There was a good crowd for the showing, and I was impressed that there were many straight couples there, including some older folks.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this was a GREAT movie. Now I admit you probably need to take my review with a grain of salt. Let’s be clear, I’m gay and liberal, and Harvey Milk’s politics is a nice fit for me, so I enjoyed the movie from that perspective.

But much more than that, it was a great story that was well made and well acted. All the actors did a great job, but Sean Penn (someone I’ve grown to respect a lot) just did an outstanding job. He looked and sounded so much like Milk it was uncanny. I just can’t imagine anyone else playing the roll, and this was definitely an Oscar-worthy performance. But Penn was beautifully and expertly supported by the other actors as well.

Van Sant did an outstanding job pulling together the film. He had a lot of material to cover, and it did it well. He capture the feel of the time and place perfectly, and his use of actual news footage was blended perfectly, and didn’t feel at all out of place. Again, it was an Oscar-worthy story told by an Oscar-worthy director.

On an related point, I’d like to note how I found Milk to fit in today with the recent passage of all the anti-gay initiatives. There are many things that have made it difficult to organize a sustained and effective opposition to these initiatives, but I think one of those is the lack of a central unifying figure. There are many people activists today (paid and volunteer) that do a wonderful job for gay rights. This is not meant to take anything away from their efforts, but I can’t name a single activist today that has the national profile of Harvey Milk. Barney Frank probably comes closest in terms of visibility, but he’s just not the electrifying force that was Harvey Milk. Our movement would be better off if someone like Milk emerged today.

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  2 Responses to “Milk – A Movie Review”

Comments (2)
  1. Hey John,
    Thanks for posting about Milk. It is a great story about freedom and hope and I’m SO offended that none of the theaters in Tampa were brave enough to show it.

    I actually consider myself pretty darn conservative, but it’s just amazing to me how afraid other conservatives can be. Do they really think people might “catch gay” from a movie? Ridiculous.


    • Thanks for your comment Leanne. I just couldn’t understand the decision either. I really expected to see it at Veteran’s 24 before anywhere else. AMC’s behavior just makes no sense, but I plan to write them about it.

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