A slew of star-vehicle period biopics, like the first cuckoo, signals that springtime and the awards season are not far away. Sometimes, I feel that the 1970s are being positively strip-mined for this kind of material. Gus van Sant's celebratory portrait of pioneering gay activist Harvey Milk shows him earning his place in history, in 1977, by being elected to the San Francisco board of supervisors, the first openly gay man to hold public office in the US. He is played here by Sean Penn with the kind of ferocious virility and detailed concentration that only Penn can bring to a role. You can almost feel the energy with which this actor reproduces learned camp mannerisms - yet miniaturises them, clamps them down, brings them just below the stereotype level.
Penn enacts a story arc that takes Milk from being a suit-wearing pseudo-straight picking up boys in the subway, to a denim-wearing, bearded gay guy in San Francisco's Castro quarter - and finally retreating a little to the closet, literally and figuratively, to fish out the old suit and run for office in California's conventional political world. However, when it's time for a big speech, these new sartorial demands don't stop him wearing a truly outrageous tight-white T-shirt with red piping.
With pragmatism and guts, Milk fought an ugly world of bigotry. On screen, his career begins in a euphoric shower of chads and ends in a candlelit vigil-procession. But his murder in 1978 doesn't look like a straightforward martyrdom for gay rights. He was shot by fellow official Dan White - played by Josh Brolin - a conservative with whom Milk was friendly and discussed political deals, but who appears to have conceived an envious, stalkerish fascination for Milk's exuberant public successes, and who Van Sant suggests was struggling with his own unresolved sexuality. White is played by Brolin with a subtle yet potent topnote of butch/camp, a performance to set thoughtfully alongside his portrayal of George W Bush. His screen presence generates real heat.
In fact, I couldn't help thinking that the real story was happening behind our backs: the complex relationship of Harvey Milk and Dan White. I'm not suggesting that Lee Harvey Oswald should get equal time in any Kennedy story, but I wonder if more interestingly this couldn't have been a Van Sant biopic of two men, not one? Could this have been a hidden story of obsession and thwarted love running in tandem with conservative America's slow and resentful acknowledgement of the powerful gay-rights voting bloc? A story like this would have been less of an awards-magnet, less emotionally and politically correct but, I think, more interesting. It would have reminded me a little of Van Sant's starker movies about murder such as Elephant and Paranoid Park, though oddly, the movie's shocking ending conjured up the mostly forgotten political-campaign ambience of Scorsese's Taxi Driver.
Cinematographer Harris Savides shoots the film fairly conventionally, but there is one moment when he produces one of the fascinating "reportage" images of alienated ordinariness more frequently found in his work on Van Sant's darker movies. A drunk White staggers up to Milk in a hotel, just outside the function room where Milk had held a huge victory bash: the encounter is tense and embarrassing, with White behaving like a spurned lover. Savides composes the shot with the two men grouped in a bottom corner of the frame: the rest of the picture is dominated by the bland, featureless hotel corridor. Again, it reminded me intensely of De Niro's Travis Bickle trying to call Cybill Shepherd on a payphone in a public building and the shot afterwards meandering out into the blank hallway.
Van Sant tells a straightforward story of a guy the audience can all cheer for: a sympathetic, non-partisan, and essentially monogamous figure. However well made, there is something of the hagiography about Van Sant's film. It shows him first accosting a young man in a subway, Scott Smith (James Franco). This is not a piece of anonymous sex, but a vital encounter with the man who is to be his future partner.
Scott is, however, finally to leave him because he can't take the strain of the constant electioneering. Later, Harvey is to find a new, more difficult and mercurial lover, Jack Lira (Diego Luna). The terrible fate of this relationship underscores his essential loneliness and certainly Penn's Milk spends an awful lot of his time looking lonely - sometimes even celibate.
As Harvey becomes a more experienced political operator, he becomes more savvy about how to cut deals with opponents. He learns how to throw his weight around, how to reposition gay issues in the political marketplace and reclaim the language of identity politics from ethnic interest groups on the right: his people don't like to be called "queers", he tells Dan, just as Dan's Irish Catholics don't care to be labelled "micks".
For all this, I felt that Milk is a slightly staid film, closer to the middle-of-the-road side of Gus van Sant's film-making persona, the bland side that made his treacly Sean Connery film Finding Forrester, and its liberal-inspirational gestures are a little calculated for the awards and prestige.
Harvey Milk Essay
Harvey Milk said, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”(Aretha 83). Harvey Milk was the first gay politician that moved people’s hearts. He changed the way people thought about gay people back in the 1970’s. Defending homosexuals from criticism, he civilized them with the people. Since the background of homosexuality was harsh which affected Harvey Milk’s early life, he took the action to process of becoming civilized as an officer, and he left many legacies.
The background of homosexuality in the 1940’s and 50’s was harsh, but people started to be opened toward the rights. There were criticisms toward homosexuality in the early days of Milk. Gay men carried the labels of mentally ill or psychopathic. Often times, gay men committed suicide from harsh judgement and criticism that always followed them. Even though population of homosexuality grew and had jobs, they were harassed and beaten by the police. There were a lot of disapproval and hostility of homosexuality. Anita Bryant, a singer, made a campaign to oppose the rights of homosexuals. Christian forces and activists withdrew gay-right legislation which lead to Proposition 6. The harshness from background of homosexuality back in the 1940’s and 50’s took the freedom away from the homosexuals. After the harshness, there came a little bit of hope for the homosexuals in San Francisco. Castro, a city in San Francisco, became the center of gay neighborhood. In 1964, gay men formed Society of Individual Right (SIR), and 1,200 members joined. Homosexuals started having good views when Sipple who was gay saved the president from a gunshot. Finally in 1972, Board of Supervisor banned the discrimination law for homosexuals. Even though in 1940’s and 50’s the homosexuals was treated unequally, people started to become open toward them.
Milk’s early life was full of secrets from hiding his true self, but soon shamelessly revealed his identity. Milk’s grandpa emigrated to United States of America in 1882 during The Great Depression. Milk was born in Woodmere, New York on Long Island in 1930. He fought with internal conflict to whether to reveal that he is gay since he was in high school. At school, Milk was social and a “regular” guy. For his jobs, he was a teacher, actuarial statistician, investment researcher, and theater producer. Milk decide to make public that he is gay by opening Castro Camera. In the late 1960’s, culture dramatically changed to be more free. This changed Milk and his image. This helped him to be an activist for gay rights. He established Castro Village Association for gay business owners, and he was beginning to become a leader. Harvey Milk hid his true self in his early life, but later revealed his identity.
Milk processed to make homosexuals civilized by getting attention, stepping out, and making his clear point to everyone. He was trying to be the leader of politics to announce the gay rights to everyone. Visiting houses,...
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