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"Milk," from an original screenplay by Dustin Lance Black, tells the story of its hero's rise from disaffected middle-aged hippie to national symbol. Then Jack Lira (Diego Luna), a Mexican American who became neurotically jealous of Milk's political life. Not long before seeing "Milk," I viewed his work in "Dead Man Walking" again. I am openly heterosexual, but this is the first time I have ever said so. Van Sant's gentrified Milk reflects gay activism's increasingly apologetic tone. Penn accurately portrays Milk as the polite public official determined to make social change. Was Van Sant afraid that audiences wouldn't be sympathetic if 70s-era gay activists were people who suffered, swore, fought back, and fucked like they meant it? Or sit down. Rated R Sean Penn never tries to show Harvey Milk as a hero, and never needs to. He creates a character with infinite attention to detail, and from the heart out. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism. Sean Penn amazes me. There is a remarkable shot near the end, showing a candlelight march reaching as far as the eyes can see. He became a fiery orator. Some people may argue there is a gay soul but I believe we all share the same souls. In 1977, it was not so. He campaigned for a gay rights ordinance. Part of HuffPost Entertainment. Ultimately I'm glad that even this pasteurized, homogenized Milk is out there. And every character, including the runaway teen Milk befriends -- Cleve Jones, who survives by turning tricks on the notoriously seedy and dangerous (though never depicted) Polk Street -- looks freshly showered and dressed by the Gap. He had a weakness for befriending wet puppies: at first, Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch), who became another community organizer. Few characters could be more different, few characters could seem more real. Gay history -- unedited -- is ugly, angry, and violent. And I'm sorry that Van Sant didn't think we could handle the truth. It's Stonewall, where we showered raiding police with bottles, locked them in the bar, and set it afire. Not long before seeing "Milk," I viewed his work in "Dead Man Walking" again. Not that it doesn't try, kind of. Director Gus Van Sant's hagiography remains true to the facts of its subject's life while backing away from invoking the full-on, living color injustice, violence, passion, nerve, and sheer scruffy grassroots rage that fueled Milk and the emerging post-Stonewall Gay liberation movement. A researcher at Bache & Co. and a Goldwater Republican, Milk became involved with a hippie theater company in Greenwich Village and began to edge the closet door ajar and wave out tentatively. And it comes as the result of one man's decisions in life. Yet Milk is curiously placid and sterile, even prudish. It was a bully pulpit from which to challenge rabble rousers like the gay-hating Anita Bryant. Here he creates a character who may seem like an odd bird to mainstream America and makes him completely identifiable. "Milk" tells Harvey Milk's story as one of a transformed life, a victory for individual freedom over state persecution, and a political and social cause. An awkward alliance formed between Milk and White, who was probably gay and used their areas of political agreement as a beard. It's not about hugging Rick Warren and being satisfied that at least he's being nice about denying us our civil rights. At that watershed age, he grew unsatisfied with his life and decided he wanted to really do something. Gus Van Sant's film begins with Harvey Milk at 48, reflecting into his tape recorder about a personal journey that began at 40. Few characters could be more different, few characters could seem more real. There's the requisite hate crime scene, plus allusions to gay teens being forced out of their homes and into the streets of the nearest big city by homophobic parents and classmates. The prudent thing would have been to cut ties with Lira, but Milk was almost compulsively supportive. He ran for the Board of Supervisors three times before being elected in 1977. Sometimes, at a precise moment in history, all it takes is for one person to stand up. for language, some sexual content and brief violence, Ebert Symposium 2020: Part 3 Streaming Today, November 5th, 2020, The Unloved, Part 83: Resident Evil: Retribution, The American Actor: Kevin Costner on Let Him Go. Later, when Milk directs Jones to gather a mob and march them to City Hall after one of Anita Bryant's victories (so Milk can show up to act as peacemaker in front of the press), we get another distant shot of a faceless, strangely lethargic crowd. All the right things happen, plot-wise -- a formerly closeted Milk starts a new, out life in 70s-era San Francisco with his hunky younger boyfriend; the hostility of neighboring Irish businesses in the Castro district where they settle, plus the alternating bullying and neglect of the SF Police Department, stir Milk to run for office. Sign up for membership to become a founding member and help shape HuffPost's next chapter. Tap here to turn on desktop notifications to get the news sent straight to you. We don't always need to be burning police cars to prove our cred, but we shouldn't be inviting homophobes to the table, then singing their praises if they don't spit on us. Politeness has become homophobia's most popular mask. Here he creates a character who may seem like an odd bird to mainstream America and makes him completely identifiable. Sean Penn amazes me. Not that it doesn't try, kind of. It's ACT UP and chaining ourselves to pharmaceutical companies' fences to protest AIDS drugs price gouging. Harvey Milk deserved a better film than this. Today is National Voter Registration Day! He remained friendly with Scott Smith after they drifted apart because of his immersion in politics. Even the candlelight march after Milk's assassination seems less mournful than bovine. Interlaced are his romantic adventures. So was Rosa Parks. White was an alcoholic who all but revealed his sexuality to Milk during a drunken tirade, became unbalanced, resigned his position and on Nov. 27, 1978, walked into City Hall and assassinated Milk and Mayor George Moscone. He shows him as an ordinary man, kind, funny, flawed, shrewd, idealistic, yearning for a better world. He was in love with Scott Smith (James Franco), they moved to San Francisco, they opened a camera shop in the shadow of the Castro Theater and saw that even America's largest and most vocal gay community was being systematically persecuted by homophobic police. Get all the latest election results from across the country, with up-to-the-minute maps and more. In 1977, Harvey Milk became the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States. But so powerful was the movement he helped inspire that I believe his appeal has now pretty much been heeded, save in certain backward regions of the land that a wise gay or lesbian should soon deprive of their blessings. He creates a character with infinite attention to detail, and from the heart out. It is emotionally devastating. "I think he's one of us," Milk confided. If the street kids actually looked like dirty, starving, broke-ass teen hustlers? Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. Why can't gays simply be gays, and "unopenly gays" be whatever they want to seem? Milk made a powerful appeal to closeted gays to come out to their families, friends and co-workers, so the straight world might stop demonizing an abstract idea. But I'm not sure that this low-fat film will really help audience get Milk. We never see more than a tablespoon of blood at a time. This is actual footage. It's police dragging us out of cellar bars and down to the station to gang fuck the femmes and face-rape the butches, queens, and trannies. He shows what such an ordinary man can achieve. The 10-second sex scene we only partially see in a dark bedroom between Milk and a boyfriend is all slap and tickle. Already known as the Mayor of Castro Street, he won public office. All the right things happen, plot-wise -- a formerly closeted Milk starts a new, out life in 70s-era San Francisco with his hunky younger boyfriend; the hostility of neighboring Irish businesses in the Castro district where they settle, plus the alternating bullying and neglect of the SF Police Department, stir Milk to run for office. Yes, but I have become so weary of the phrase "openly gay." Bitch, I've seen queers more fired up when Bed Bath & Beyond runs out of sale items. In many of the rally scenes that are set to be in the 1970s you can see the New Main Branch Library but according to records was not built until 1995. Even violent scenes are gloved. (Van Sant ends his film before the White Night riots, where queers burned police cars after the lenient sentencing of Milk's murderer.). Other than the occasional employment of Harvey Milk's genitals, what makes this character different? He acquired a personal bullhorn and stood on a box labeled "SOAP." He developed a flair for publicity. I want fresh salt poured on the wounds of Proposition 8 so that queers will stop apologizing for being angry with the Mormon and Catholic Church, and for boycotting supporters. His most fateful relationship was with Dan White, a seemingly straight member of the Board of Supervisors, a Catholic who said homosexuality was a sin and campaigned with his wife, kids and the American flag. He forged an alliance including liberals, unions, longshoremen, teachers, Latinos, blacks and others with common cause. Milk didn't enter politics as much as he was pushed in by the evidence of his own eyes. Though the camera pulls back to a wide screen view when gays riot against police randomly raiding bars along Castro Street and beating patrons, we never see a cop actually strike anyone, just a lot of carefully choreographed wrestling followed by a scene of Milk dabbing at a small patch of blood on his boyfriend's head. Audiences need to see the film's opening sequence -- silent archival footage depicting police bar raids from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, with men shielding their faces from the cameras even as they are shoved into vans, handcuffed, or held in waiting rooms. The only gay supervisor, Milk was the only supervisor invited to the baptism of White's new baby. ©2020 Verizon Media. He organized. Why can't we all be what we prefer? Where's the passion? Opinionator, communications strategist, and red meat-eating lesbian. I want fresh rage directed at Barack Obama for thinking that including a gay marching band in his inauguration proceedings compensates for his having invited a notorious homophobe and anti-Semite to give the invocation. Note: What Harvey Milk helped make possible: a very brief, extraordinary speech by current San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rfea8iEGNw. All rights reserved. It's military witch hunts; suicides and "experimental therapies," from lobotomies and electro-shock to Christian boot camps.
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