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Movie review: “Milk”

April 26, 2009

I may be prejudiced against gay films, from not having seen very many.  The few snippets of Brokeback Mountain (see MrsDoF’s review) that I’ve seen were, to say the least, not impressive. A gay documentary I saw recently was so poorly done that I refrained from reviewing it. Bits and pieces of other gay films I’ve seen on YouTube failed to attract me to the genre. I’ve long felt that in Hollywood, even home movies could win an Oscar as long as they were gay home movies. 

(To be an equal-opportunity grouch, I’m not much on any movies that have mushy scenes in ‘em.  And since most movies are bad, and there aren’t very many gay movies, it stands to reason that there aren’t very many good gay movies.)

So I wasn’t expecting much from Milk, the 2008 biopic of gay politician Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) and his assassin, Dan White (Josh Brolin).  And when, five minutes into the film, Penn is making out with a guy he just met in a stairwell, it seemed on track to be pretty trite/boring/preachy/etc.  But popcorn and a large box of dark-chocolate raisins kept me in my seat long enough to be pleasantly surprised; the film is actually a good docu-drama of a time in US history when gay rights began to show up on the national radar.

Maybe that’s a good reason to hit the concession stand.  At least at the historic Normal Theater, where popcorn is only a buck and theater-sized candy is two bucks.

The film did a good job of portraying the destructive side of gay promiscuity in the Castro district, and also the tragic motivation behind political activism and how even straight people began to realize the humanity in ‘queers’.  If relationships are forbidden, what’s left but furtive encounters?  One thing I liked about it was clips of news footage from the time.  I remember Walter Cronkite talking about gay rights’ initiatives in various states, and I remember Anita Bryant’s disingenuous expressions of “love” toward the gay community she was trying to push back into the closet. 

(A side note: it was actually Anita Bryant, and not any gay activists, who first got me thinking that maybe there was something to the idea of gay rights, after all.)

Milk stands up even as a political film.  As initiatives go down in flames, but then a vital one passes, the sense of dispair and triumph is as palpable as film is ever likely to make it.  So chalk up one good gay movie.

Categories: Movies, Reviews
  1. April 27, 2009 at 06:55 | #1

    I was a Chicago transplant, who moved to San Francisco in the early 1960’s. I left my hometown… because knowing someone one or being “queer”(that’s what we were called back then)  was considered taboo. It was at the tail-end of the beatnik era. A drag queen (not my forte)who got tired of getting arrested, decided to run for City Supervisor and received over 6,000 votes to begat gay politics over a decade before Harvey Milk. By the beginning of the 1970’s, I was a freelance photographer and publicist that specialized in gay clients and businesses at a time it was not yet fashionable to be openly gay…even in San Francisco! I joined the Community Softball League, the first gay sports organization in the country, as a player and team representative.I displayed my photos in a Castro St. bakery just steps away from today’s Harvey Milk Plaza. I met Harvey, and we became friends.

    Without a doubt, the best thing to happen in 1977, was Anita Bryant. She gave the gay right
    movement…movement! In May, I outed myself nationally when I created the”ANITA BRYANT’S HUSBAND IS A HOMO-SAPIEN!“T-shirt… via UPI, and got Jane Fonda to wear one.

    On June 7th, the election to overturn a gay rights ordinance in Dade County Florida, led by Anita Bryant caused an impromptu march in S.F. led by Harvey Milk. Over 5,000 people joined in as the march started in the Castro,past City Hall and ended up at downtown’s Union Square. I took a photo of Harvey, as he spoke to the crowd… a candle in one hand and a bullhorn in the other and a “SAVE OUR RIGHTS” sign in the background. I took the film over to Associated Press, and they
    ran it on the wire service across the nation. It introduced Harvey, nationally 5 months before he was elected as the country’s first openly gay male politician. I coined that date in gay rights history “Orange Tuesday”. From that point in time… many closeted gays came OUT of their closets… and never went back in, thanks to Anita Bryant.

    Thanks to the “MILK” movie, millions of people of all ages, gay and straight, here in America and around the world are now aware of Harvey Milk, and that er in gay rights.

  2. April 27, 2009 at 10:13 | #2

    Jerry, thank you for that first-person view!  What a wonderful surprise.  :coolsmile:

  3. May 2, 2009 at 08:12 | #3

    Apparently Anita Bryant’s legacy lives on with Miss California.


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