The film that could have defeated Prop “Hate.”
Written By: Ed Rampell
Gus Van Sant’s superb stand up and cheer biopic, Milk, opens tomorrow Nov. 26, to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Nov. 27, 1978 assassination of its title character, as well as of Mayor George Moscone (played by Victor Garber, who can also currently be seen on the intriguing ABC Series Eli Stone).
Josh Brolin also deserves an Oscar nomination as the troubled killer and probable closet case (as Milk notes) who successfully used the so-called “Twinkie defense” to beat a first degree murder rap. Brolin presumably prepared for his role as politician/assassin Dan White by portraying mass murderer George W. Bush in Oliver Stone’s W.
For some inexplicable reason (unless it had to be released near the anniversary), this stellar movie is being released three weeks after the election, too late to impact Proposition 8.
Ironically, in the film Milk and his forces mobilize to defeat a similar anti-gay
Another omission is the delight audiences would have taken in seeing Anita Bryant – the 1970s celebrity who was a sort of combination of The View’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Governor/schlockey mom Sarah Palin – getting that famous pie in the face during her crusade against gay rights. Bryant was a prototype of the religious right/culture wars crusaders, and reliving her getting her comeuppance in the form of a pie to the face in one of the news clips Milk uses of the actual Bryant would have added to the fun, with relish (and cream). Oh well, another missed opportunity.
Nevertheless, let’s not quibble: Milk is a stellar cinematic and political achievement. Van Sant’s direction here is far more direct than in his other efforts to comment on social issues, such as the Columbine-shooting 2003 feature, Elephant. This more to the point, less vague, directorial style enhances the compelling nature of the Milk drama, rendering it all the more powerful and milking it for all it’s worth. Kudos also goes to screenwriter Dustin Lance Black for a cogent, cohesive story that illumines its hero – and villain – and the issues at stake.
It’s worth pointing out that this is the third time since 2004’s The Assassination of Richard Nixon that Penn has starred in a film based on the assassination of real life political figures. In 2006, he also played a character suggested by
During the Bush presidency there has been a plethora of features, documentaries, plays, novels, nonfiction books, etc., about the assassinations of public figures, from Julius Caesar to Abraham Lincoln to Jesse James to John Lennon and now, Milk and Moscone, the latter being the liberal mayor who tried to reform San Francisco politics. What was it about the Bush regime that so enraged audiences and artists that it produced this backlash in the collective unconscious and the pop culture that emanates out of it?
As president-elect Barack Obama prepares to take office -- ike President Bill Clinton with the gays in the military issue -- his incoming Democratic administration could be confronted by another gay rights issue, namely same sex marriage. Milk raises the question of the effectiveness of working within the system, as Milk did, versus the power of a social movement independent of politics-as-usual and a political machine. As Obama continues to betray his mandate for “change” by selecting one Clinton retread and de-regulator (arguably responsible for the fiscal fiasco we’re in now) after another, Milk’s militant masses protesting in the streets can serve as a rallying cry for the people in today’s audiences -- if Obama fails to deliver on his promise of “change we can believe in.”
Milk makes it clear that Prop. 8 and the same gender marriage issue is not solely about gay rights - it is actually more properly understand as being a matter of equal rights for all. The story of America is one of all people, from slaves to females to gays, et al, galvanizing to ensure that the promise of America is extended to all, not just to rich, white male landowners and men of property. This societal story is far more dramatic than the personal tales most movies tell, about private sex lives and the like (though the film does not back off on intimacy just because a non-gay man stars in the film). And Milk tells this social tale brilliantly and powerfully, making the personal political and visa versa.