Thursday, February 19, 2009


Milk brought back a lot of memories about the time it all happened, but for someone gay, it must have brought up a lifetime of emotion. I have said before that if I were gay and/or black, I'd be angry all the time. I don't know what it takes not to be, but many I know have risen above that to realize it's the bigot's problem. If it were just opinions, it would be bad enough, but it has gotten and still becomes violent. So I'm in awe of those of you who manage to take the high road and have positive attitudes the way Harvey Milk did. Anger, hate, and resentment cause damage to the one who feels them, but I just want to give a shout out for those who are the target of the ignorant and don't let it affect them negatively. We all owe so much to Harvey Milk for everything he did, especially gays but also the rest of us, too.

I used this photo because I wanted him to get back together with Scottie. That last guy Jack was too needy and neurotic. I choose to think Harvey and Scottie remained in love with each other and missed being together, but the political life was too big a strain on their relationship.

The movie about him was historically accurate from what I've read. Cleve Jones was a consultant on the movie and was there during the campaigns in the Castro section of San Francisco. Sean Penn was remarkable in this role, which is not unusual for him. It was a powerful movie about an energetic, dedicated activist. I cried at the end of it during the candle vigil. That scene was breathtaking.

Here's what Roger Ebert wrote in his review:
Milk didn't enter politics as much as he was pushed in by the evidence of his own eyes. He ran for the Board of Supervisors three times before being elected in 1977. He campaigned for a gay rights ordinance. He organized. He acquired a personal bullhorn and stood on a box labeled "SOAP." He forged an alliance including liberals, unions, longshoremen, teachers, Latinos, blacks and others with common cause. He developed a flair for publicity. He became a fiery orator. Already known as the Mayor of Castro Street, he won public office. It was a bully pulpit from which to challenge rabble rousers like the gay-hating Anita Bryant.

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. Interlaced are his romantic adventures. He remained friendly with Scott Smith after they drifted apart because of his immersion in politics. He had a weakness for befriending wet puppies: at first, Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch), who became another community organizer. Then Jack Lira (Diego Luna), a Mexican American who became neurotically jealous of Milk's political life. The prudent thing would have been to cut ties with Lira, but Milk was almost compulsively supportive.

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. An awkward alliance formed between Milk and White, who was probably gay and used their areas of political agreement as a beard. "I think he's one of us," Milk confided. The only gay supervisor, Milk was the only supervisor invited to the baptism of White's new baby. 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.

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. There is a remarkable shot near the end, showing a candlelight march reaching as far as the eyes can see. This is actual footage. It is emotionally devastating. And it comes as the result of one man's decisions in life.

Sean Penn never tries to show Harvey Milk as a hero, and never needs to. He shows him as an ordinary man, kind, funny, flawed, shrewd, idealistic, yearning for a better world. He shows what such an ordinary man can achieve. Milk was the right person in the right place at the right time, and he rose to the occasion. So was Rosa Parks. Sometimes, at a precise moment in history, all it takes is for one person to stand up. Or sit down.

Mural by John Baden of Harvey Milk at 575 Castro Street, the former site of Milk's store, Castro Camera. Emerging from the gun at left is a quote from Milk: "If a bullet should enter my brain, let the bullet destroy every closet door."


Bob said...

Great book 'The Mayor Of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk'

He had a pretty remarkably unremarkable life for quite a while, and then he stood up. I often think what he might have done had he not been shot.

Rhea said...

Thank you for this thoughtful review of the film. I remember seeing the documentary "The Life and Times of Harvey Milk" way back when it was much harder to be 'out' as a gay or lesbian. We've come a long way, but there is still a long way to go. By the way, I'm a woman and I'm angry all the time. Every time I read/hear about a woman who is raped, that outrages me.

FrankandMary said...

The Twinkie Defense(oh so loathsome) is what introduced me to Milk, after his death. Over and above my disgust at the use of that defense, I was so impressed with the life I discovered Milk lived. He seemed to have really lived according to his true beliefs...I admire him. ~Mary

David Dust said...

I really need to see this movie.


Dan said...

The gay community needs another Harvey Milk. I still say that is he were alive, gay rights would be much further advanced than what they are.

Joy said...

I think it would be, too, Dan. He was just beginning actually and was a charismatic and effective leader. That scene with the candles made me cry and was so touching. I wanted Scottie to stay with him and then come back.

I'm thankful Daniel Day-Lewis isn't in a movie this season because he always wins when he is. I hope Sean Penn wins and wish everyone would go see Milk. I love the way Harvey Milk handled people with his questions and comments. He wasn't belligerent or in their face but reasonable, witty, and right.

Wonder Man said...

I have to see this movie