Tue December 2, 2008
One of the year's best . . .
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time
"Almost everything I did was with an eye on the gay movement." Harvey Milk
If director Gus Van Sant could have released Milk before the 2008 presidential election, California's Proposition 8 might have failed. But gay marriages were outlawed, a setback for all gay activist Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) fought for in the '70's concerning the individual rights of minority groups, not just gays but even seniors and singles.
Milk is another success for Gus Van Sant--the political biography of an activist who rose to political power in San Francisco on the Board of Supervisors in 1977, only to be murdered along with the mayor by conservative, disgruntled ex board member, Dan White (Josh Brolin). Throughout Van Sant emphasizes Milk's devotion to equality and gay rights and foreboding that he would not make it to 50 years old, which he did not.
Although three of Van Sant's previous works were centered on death--Gerry, Elephant, and Last Days?Milk has a different take by emphasizing the Obama-like bid for hope. Although his martyrdom can be foreseen, a positive tone is set by his ability to endure cheerfully multiple defeats and to believe in his vision for minorities.
Without emphasizing the garish clothing and excesses of that era, Van Sant captures the spirit of civil rights movements that work tirelessly without fanfare for the cause. So well balanced is the depiction that it showed how Dan White had a gentler side (he invited Milk to his baby's christening) and might even have had a gay inclination ("I think he may be one of us," quips Milk). White's two murders were determined by a jury of his peers to be manslaughter--five years in prison.
Yet the resonance today is as much about Milk's message of hope and change, not lost on those of us who witnessed the election of Barack Obama. Harvey would approve, as his last line attests: "You gotta give 'em hope."
Milk is one of the best films of 2008 and one of the best biopics ever.
"If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door." Harvey Milk
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time and Cinema Classics shows, which can be heard streaming at http://publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/ppr/index.shtml Friday at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/arts.artsmain Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com