Saturday, December 6, 2008

"You Gotta Give 'em Hope"

Harvey Milk is a major figure in the LGBTQ movement in the United States. However, when I have talked about this film to some people, both straight and gay, I sometimes get blank stares, or someone asks me, “Who’s Harvey Milk?”

"Harvey Milk" - (Official title of this movie is "Milk") - "Harvey Milk" (1930-1978) was an activist and politician, and the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in America; in 1977, he was voted to the city supervisors' board of San Francisco. The following year, both he and the city's mayor George Moscone were shot to death by another city supervisor, Dan White. Harvey Milk, the man, was previously the subject of the Academy Award-winning documentary feature "The Times of Harvey Milk" (1984), directed by Rob Epstein and produced by Richard Schmiechen. Oscar nominated director Gus Van Sant's "Milk" is the first non-documentary feature to explore the man's life and career. [wildaboutmovies.com]

Should I blame adults in the LGBTQ community who do not know the name of someone who paved the way for the rights they have today? Or should I blame the systemic heterosexism and homophobia that limits the educational system in most of this country by omitting LGBTQ history. Fewer people even read books anymore, and being educated seems to be viewed by some as a liability rather than an asset. Why else would we have let an idiot govern this nation for the last 8 years?

With Obama's election, I have hope for change. And that is my segue into my review of Milk. Harvey Milk’s famous line used in the film is, “You gotta give 'em hope.” The inspired rhetoric of Milk and Obama is similar, that maybe it was fate that this long-delayed film was released after we have a President-elect Obama. Maybe we who are LGBTQ can have hope again despite the vote in California and the continued struggle for our human rights.

Director Gus Van Sant is a director probably better known for more artistic film works, such as Drug Store Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, Elephant, and Paranoid Park. In this bio-drama, Van Sant turns to realism and historical accuracy, perhaps with the hope that this film will reach a wider audience. Sean Penn, in perhaps the most superb performance of his long and wide-ranging career, portrays Milk in the last 8 years of his life. Penn plays Milk as a man defined by a charming determination, having a way with words, and with a complete sense of inclusiveness. (Sounds like Obama, huh?) Penn captures the essence of Milk, with grace and seemingly without effort. Penn does not just portray Milk, he's deeply immersed in the person. He channels Milk.

The film flows effortlessly, and Van Sant flawlessly blends in archival footage by artistic use of color throughout the acted scenes. Out of my own five star rating system, I give the movie 4 1/2 stars and Penn's performance 10 stars. He should win Best Actor for this. I'm rooting for him.