Saturday, January 3, 2009
Watched “Milk” last night, and it was a very emotional experience for me- probably the biggest gut punch I’ve gotten from a film in a long time. Sean Penn is – well, he couldn’t be better. He is every inch the character – the bravado, the insecurities, the focus, the wit. He’s amazing as a man who in his forties finds his niche in life, and runs with it.
Gus Van Sant has always made interesting movies – I love Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho. But he’s also made some absolutely terrible movies, like “Cowgirls Get the Blues” and his remake of "Psycho." I always wondered if Van Sant could make a good movie about something other than beautiful male criminals. But “Milk” is a grown up movie –and it’s a grown up gay movie. It doesn’t depend on shirtless beauties in discos to sell its story. It’s a real movie about gay men having real lives that don’t revolve around coming out, falling in love with a high school jock, and having tearful scenes with parents.
Two scenes really got me. The one – where Harvey picks up the phone and it’s a kid from Minnesota on the other line. He’s seen him on TV and he’s called him – obviously trying to get some help – and told him he wants to kill himself. And then he later calls again – to deliver some pivotal news from LA about the vote on the Briggs initiative. Both of those scenes just slayed me. (Slew me?) It brought home in an immediate way those kids at the time, who looked at TV and had never seen anyone like Harvey Milk, who said he was gay and was a happier man for doing so.
I was about 14 at the time of Milk’s assassination. And I only had a dim awareness of what was happening then in San Francisco. Richmond was a long ways away. But I remember that feeling – remember what a big deal it was when Billy Crystal played a gay character on “Soap?’ As a kid that age at that time, there were simply no models anywhere for what a happy gay man looked like. We clung to anything.
Van Sant starts out “Milk” with some amazing footage of gay men being rounded up, filmed in bars, shoved into police vans, hiding their eyes behind their hands. And it really brought home what those times were like, where being gay could get you fired, jailed, run out of town, or worse.
I know it's still like that some places, but things are better for most of us. Of course, Dennis O'Hare's Briggs would not be out of place on Fox News today.