It's official, watching the movie MILK is good for you, good for the soul, good for gay rights and basically a really good film.
From the start the use of archive footage helps grounds the movie in reality. Again it's one of those films that's hard to say you enjoyed as it deals with the assassination of a gay rights campaigner and prominent city official, but his story is equally uplifting, sad, poignant and well worth watching.
By using archive news coverage to let the audience know up front that Harvey Milk and the Mayor of San Francisco, George Moscone, were murdered (if you didn't already know - they were killed thirty years ago today on 27th November 1978), we're not left waiting for some dramatic death scene but are able to witness the story of his life, his loves and his struggles for the gay movement in California. Then when his inevitable death comes, it's not that sad imagery which is the message we are left with, but the sense of hope and determination to prevail that his life embodied.
Sean Penn and James Franco, in fact the whole cast, are so believable in their roles. The movie feels like a real gay life story. For once you believe that the lead actors have a gay relationship, that their on screen affection and kisses are convincingly real.
Sean Penn just is Harvey Milk. Having Penn relate the story of Harvey's life, on a tape recorder in the event of his assassination, makes you believe he is actually telling you his own life story.
As the movie is based on true life events this film could either have been very preachy, politically boring or alternatively becoming overly sensational. Set in late 70's Castro district of San Francisco if the movie hadn't been made by an openly gay film maker, Gus Van Sant, it could have descended into into a debauched spectacle of bath houses and gay stereotypes. Instead we get a genuinely human drama, with gay kisses, gay love, gay lives, gay culture and life in general in late 70's San Francisco.
I found the movie immensely watchable. Growing up in the UK and quite ignorant of the gay rights movement in the States (I was born in 1974, so forgive me as I didn't live through it in the same way as other people did), it was interesting and compelling to see how Harvey Milk and his supporters repeatedly tried to get him into local government as one of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Having visited San Francisco and the Castro and loved it, it was also amazing to see the past created convincingly on film.
Watching the movie and seeing the witch-hunt against gay teachers and their friends created by the homophobic likes of Anita Bryant make me glad I didn't have to live through that time of persecution, fear and hate in the 70's and that several decades on I've been fortunate to grow up in a slightly more enlightened world, which makes it easier for each generation of gay men and women to accept who they are and come out to friends and family. Not that growing up gay in Wales was ever easy, but compared to how it could have been it was.
There's an interesting quote by John Cloud from an article in TIME magazine which read: "To be young and realize you were gay in the 1970's was to await an adulthood encumbered with dim career prospects, fake wedding rings and darkened bar windows". It makes you realise how far we have come today, although there's still a long way to go too for true equality for all!
I think MILK is great at outlining the struggle of being openly gay in the 70's and highlights the continuing challenge for acceptance today. It saddens me that history does seem to be repeating itself here in California with the passing of Proposition 8, which takes away the rights of same sex partners to marry, but I'm reassured by the fact that we've faced setbacks together in the past and overcome them.
Anyway, I was moved by the events in the film and although saddened, thought it ended with a positive message of hope. I think that MILK deserves four **** stars. We saw the film at a sold-out performance at the ArcLight Hollywood (where you'll also find costumes and props from the movie on display) and it was quite a unifying experience watching with a predominantly gay audience and at times it was like a pantomime of cheers, laughs, applause and even hissing at the villains. I'm also sure that some of the crowd joined me in shedding a tear or two at the end of the film.
Anyway, whether you're gay or straight go see it to understand a little bit of history.
Today enjoy a very Happy Thanksgiving and eat, drink and be merry...