Saturday, March 14, 2009

Movie Review: Milk

I just watched Milk last night and will watch it again.

As a film, the weakest part was the script, Academy Award notwithstanding. It needed to be better than it was because I so enjoyed the rest of the craftsmanship. Gus van Sant has a way of creating a world through images and a color palette that makes you want to live in it for a long time, even when the story, as in My Own Private Idaho, doesn't hold up. This story held up because it was history, but I still wished the writing was better. It needed, perhaps, a better balance between Milk's personal relationships and the political battles he waged. If you're going to include, say, as much of the second relationship as was included, Jack Lira needed much more meat on his bones as a character. As it was, he was a distraction from what I wanted to focus on at that point in the movie, which was the politics. Had I written the script, Diego Luna, after his introduction, would have gotten about as much screen time as Beatrice Straight in Network, minus her big scene.

Overall, though, I loved the film. History buff that I am, it takes a lot for a biopic about a person or subject matter I'm into to not work for me.

Sean Penn was Harvey Milk. I kept flashing back in my memory to The Times of Harvey Milk, which I will now see again, and feeling as though the same person was emoting from the screen. James Franco was a revelation. I'd never gave much thought to his appeal, but he kept pulling me in to his character. It didn't hurt that I kept seeing glimpses of Marat Safin, but that's a whole other thing. Josh Brolin was adequate as Dan White, but I'm not sure what his nomination was based on other than his role as Milk's assassin. Franco was much better. And Emile Hirsch was a spritely Cleve Jones. I enjoyed his performance.

I couldn't help but draw parallel's between Milk's successful 1977 campaign for supervisor and against Prop 6 in 1978 and the 2008 presidential election and Prop 8. The grassroots organizing, the bringing people of all backgrounds together, the "outsider" challenging the machine, the movement as candidate itself, and the message of hope resonated. But I kept asking myself, Did the "organizers" of No on 8 actually know anything about the history of Prop 6 or did the self-appointed gay leaders just take for granted that big old liberal California didn't need to be organized to safeguard GLBT civil rights? What was Cleve Jones' role, if any, in the 2008 battle? Did anyone listen?

These questions require a whole other essay.

Official Website: Milk the Movie

UPDATE: I just found this on YouTube and as beautiful as it is, it makes me shake my head. Why did no one organize at the grassroots with comprehensive community outreach to tell the California voters what Prop 8 was really all about? I understand that marriage equality isn't a top issue for many GLBT citizens, but given the vote, the fallout, and the marches around the country that were organized after the fact, the number of voters who changed their minds but couldn't do anything about it, it's clear to me those who led the fight against Prop 8 didn't do what they had to do.

Still, everything happens for a reason.

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