6 items from 2008
Gus Van Sant’s Milk is among the best of 2008, a gripping piece of storytelling chronicling the injustice, boiling anger, eventual triumph, and the tragic end of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the United States. Milk helped to champion the rights of homosexuals on topics that are still being hashed out in government offices today and he was so submerged in the relentless campaign that it’s difficult to talk about the man or the movie without the movement.
The film depicts Harvey as a visionary that realized he was not just a charismatic leader in his community, but spearheading a nationwide movement that would seek to protect the rights of gay Americans. As the self-proclaimed “Mayor of Castro Street,” Milk rallied local businesses and directionless residents to his cause. His grassroots organization would go toe-to-toe with a political machine backed by the crusading Anita Bryant, »
Silent black and white images of police raids on gay bars flicker on the screen. Men bury their heads in their arms, cover their faces with their hands, and try to hide from the cameras as they're shoved into paddy wagons. One frightened man throws the contents of a glass into the lens.
That's the opening scene of Gus Van Sant's Milk, and it pretty much drags you by the hair right into the nightmare of shame and fear that gay men lived in the pre-Stonewall era, and even afterward. And while the footage was emotionally shocking to many in the audience, no one wondered why it was there. It was a political statement, and this, after all, is the most eagerly awaited political film in gay movie history.
If you've heard the wait was worth it, you've heard right; Milk is a political powerhouse. »
Milk is a film both timely and timeless. Though depicting real events three decades old that would continue to endear for years to come, its portrayal of the massive revolution for change towards homosexuality’s acceptance is more important now than ever. The film’s climactic battle for Proposition 6, which would’ve banned gays from working at schools, is a tough reminder of post-Proposition 8’s gay marriage battle. There’s an invigorating quality to watching the dramatized fight for that civil right, which obviously and unfortunately opens Milk up for an attack about its “agenda.” Here’s the agenda: it’s to give Sean Penn another chance to dazzle. The approach taken by the film is to portray Harvey Milk’s life as being synonymous with his political life, as if the man himself had been overtaken by his idealism. “I’m 40 and I haven’t done anything with my life, »
- Arya Ponto
A gentle, almost tender biopic of a man who spearheaded a revolution, Gus Van Sant's Milk is appropriately itself a dichotomy. It's an almost aggressively conventional film about a premise that could not be more foreign to mainstream cinema: the fight for gay civil rights.
With clean, economic storytelling, an efficient script and wonderfully grounded performances from its impressive cast, the film on the surface might not feel like anything special. Like dozens of awards-season projects before it, Milk is a competently-made bio of an extraordinary individual that pulls all the right heartstrings and hits all the right notes.
It's not until you take a step back from the film that it hits you: This is the gayest major motion picture ever made.
From its sobering opening montage (news footage of gay bars being raided in the 1960's) to the humbling final moments when thousands march in the deceased Harvey's honor through San Francisco, »
Photo credit: Phill Bray / Focus Features
It's hard to take an objective look at a film whose story is not just familiar but iconic to its audience. It's even harder when that story has already been told in a groundbreaking documentary, and harder still if some of the film's audience actually lived through its events.
That Gus Van Sant's Milk transcends all those factors and looks to be one of the best films of the year is a testament to the power of its story as well as the creative forces that came together to tell it.
Most Lgbt people probably know the bare bones of Harvey Milk's story already: That he helped spearhead the fight against a tidal wave of anti-gay legislation that swept the country as part of Anita Bryant's anti-gay crusade; that he advocated coming out as the most powerful weapon against homophobia; that he »
(Photo credit: Wire Image/Eric Charbonneau)
In Gus Van Sant's upcoming biopic Milk, powerful California Democrat Phil Burton shows Harvey Milk a flier the Democratic Party created in opposition to Prop 6, a 1978 statewide initiative that would have fired every gay teacher and anyone who supported them from their jobs, a law of dubious constitutionality that had nonetheless already been passed in other states. He says, "We want to send one of these to every home in California."
"Proposition Six is an affront to Human Rights," reads Harvey. "An invasion of the State into the private lives of California citizens." He points to the photos on the flier. "Does it even say the word 'gay' on this thing? Anywhere?"
"With the heat bearing down on your movement right now, we think it's best to dodge the 'gay' bullet," Burton replies. "Go for the human rights angle. »
6 items from 2008
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