a homosexual with power…that’s scary…

“my name  is harvey milk and i’m here to recruit you!”

i just watched milk.

and for those of you who haven’t seen it yet, grab your copy now.  call me and let’s fix up for you to borrow this film. get your pen-drives or dvds or what not…i’m not kidding…

for the first time in many weeks…or maybe months…i’m not ashamed to put aside my critical reviewing approach to films and thoroughly endorse this to the few of you who might be reading this post.  just a bit about milk – it’s the story of harvey milk, a gay rights activist who decides to stand for a political post at the literally politically incorrect age of 40. a man who went on to become the face of the gay rights movement in california…heck america…and is finally assassinated at a time when many had predicted for his career to begin to  blossom into something more promising… and i didn’t give away the plot of his death away there…that milk was killed is common knowledge…(or has now become!)

“i’m not a candidate i’m part of the movement…the movement is the candidate, there is a difference…you don’t see it, but i do…”

sean penn is brilliant as harvey milk. he plays the part to the hilt and goes that added step with his body language…it’s not elaborately effeminate, yet there’s a visible tenderness that’s hard to miss…the dialogues are somewhere between prosaic and humourous and rhetorical but never over the edge. a one man army without the general. a whole nation without the leader…if you get what i mean…

emile hirsch plays a young homosexual who comes about after initial reluctance to become an integral part of milk’s campaign. and as always, he has done justice to his role – a spectrum difference from what he was in into the wild but as good as ever…gut feeling says that sean penn (who directed into the wild) must have had a strong influence in his selection for this role…

james franco has probably played the most mature role in his career…from the chocolate-boy-friend in spiderman to milk’s vulnerable partner, it’s been a tectonic shift for him. this guy might just get more serious (read better) roles hereon…

diego luna (mexican actor who has managed interesting yet side roles in most hollywood productions) is so convincing as the insecure, nagging boyfriend that you feel like choking him. it’s a telling sign of milk’s character who, somehow, doesn’t let go of this guy…again, i’m trying very hard here not to ramble and psychoanalyse the situation and probably risk giving it away…please watch this film! 

as far as the visual style is concerned, it’s not overpowering. you aren’t left gasping for breath unlike a slumdog or wrestler or forst/nixon where the cinematography seems to have a powerful grip on the unfolding of both narrative and character…yet, it’s that quaint camera work with no powerful colours and just about average contrast shots that give the film a very honest and humane touch. of course, not to mention the absolutely brilliant use of archival footage from milk’s campign and the gay rights movement that he shaped up around the mid 70’s. the archival narrative almost runs parallel to the main story at times, giving the film a sort of ‘reality check’ at times…

“without hope, life’s not worth living…”

4 minutes into the film and you see archival news footage of a lady addressing the press, announcing the death of harvey milk and mayor moscone. masterstroke by gus van sant. when was the last time you saw a film where you knew within the first sequence that the protagonist is dead? that’s a gamble. but that’s a bit of genius as well. no point delving deeper into it or i might just give away quite a bit of the film’s plot here…again, please watch the film! if not for anything, then just for how history is recreated on screen. of how the politics of gender and sexuality is played on screen – at a personal level in milk’s life and at a socio-political level with his campaign.

the danger with advocating a film whole-heartedly is that it builds up too much for the potential spectator/ viewer. to be honest, my personal connect for the film was essentially the themes it tries to tackle…amongst the obvious attempt to change state laws and fighting for gay rights, the film subtly touches upon a host of other issues that are hidden in the body language, the gestures, the music and the archived interviews. having attempted to understand some of these issues through a collective student film in college, this film sort of took those arguments forward and knocked some sense into me. i mean, it’s one thing to theorise and debate…what a lot of us liken to intellectual shagging…but this film definitely tramps beyond the fence and makes a political point. sean penn is licking cream off james franco’s lips…love-locked…shift to the body of a dead man who was stabbed 17 times because he was homosexual…cut to a news broadcast announcing that homosexual teachers spread the disease to their students…penn delivering a rivetting speech in the middle of a small square…and then move to him, eyes closed, enjoying a sonata…cut to josh brolin pumping bullets into penn, violently ending a brilliant political career…the first openly gay man to hold any office of political importance in the most powerful democracy…that moment sort of brings to an end what the film has come to mean but then spawns off another idea…an ideal actually…but then again, at the cost of sounding like a parrot now, i can’t afford to rob you of the joy of watching the film and coming to your own conclusions about everything…

heterosexual: society can’t exist without the family.

homosexual: we’re not against that.

heterosexual: can two men reproduce? 

homosexual: no (smile) but god knows we keep trying…

and finally, having made a film with friends that deals, among other things, with the prejudices sexual minorities have to face, i thought that my mother would slowly but surely begin to feel a bit more comfortable with the idea me exploring the possibility of making another gender-debate film. and as much as flying inside my body has opened her up to the ideas and politics of our film’s protagonist, there seemed to be this strange sort of queasiness in her…i never could put a finger to it…neither could she… 


but then milk came along. and this is what happened when the credits were rolling:

me: ma, did you kind of change your opinions about some of the stuff this film dealt with…?

ma: (short silence) absolutely. completely.

me: what?? (obvious surprise since many months of debate and discussion had not led to this much wanted, choice response)

ma: completely. this is such an inspiring story. harvey milk – what a man…he has just changed it all for me…


well harvey milk, wherever you are, your legacy still holds. just as you said you would, you went that little step further in making that tiny, yet substantial change…


~ by mentalsyrup on February 2, 2009.

3 Responses to “a homosexual with power…that’s scary…”

  1. Hi — This is a great post, and loved it too. Would really recommend the 1984 documentary if you get a chance to see it and haven’t already — ‘The Times of Harvey Milk’. It does a really good job of providing a comprehensive picture of just how fly he was in terms of the number of causes he fought for. He saw the big picture w/ all these connections and helped others see them too. Small random fact — the woman addressing the press — the then mayor is now a senior senator from California. Quite a progressive woman. She still basically looks the same! 🙂 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dianne_Feinstein

  2. thanks for dropping by gitanjali 🙂
    yeah i’ve been meaning to get my hands on that epstein film but the copy i have is a low res – haven’t seen it yet since it deserves a watch on better quality. maybe a trip to the american library here might suffice.
    and oh, how did you bump along onto this blog?

  3. they don’t have it. triste. maybe your local dvd bhaiyya will surprise you. 🙂

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