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Movie Review



Gus Van Sant's telling of the first openly gay elected politician in America is virtually a love poem to cinema.


Milk is an overview of the life of Harvey Milk, who was elected to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors in the 1970s. The mere fact that the story, and essentially the life, of Harvey Milk begins on his 40th birthday is a fascinating enough fact to see this movie. But when you see how even handedly he handled the multi cultural groups he represented politically, and how ham fisted he handled his personal relationships, it brings interesting perspective to the man who rose and fell so fast.


In full disclosure, I actually worked on this film. It was merely a small support role for some design work, so it was not an amount of investment to sully my thoughts on the film itself. 


Where my investment does come in is in my familiarity with Rob Epstein's Academy Award winning documentary 'The Times of Harvey Milk'. Because it was such a common presence when I was studying film in art school, I couldn't watch Milk without suffering the knowledge of the real Harvey Milk's accomplishments as documented prior.


It was interesting to see where the film focused and where it skated over the numerous inroads to San Francisco politics he made. One of my most loved tales of Harvey Milk was how he was approached by the Teamsters, and was able to win over the union using his charm and wit. In the Milk, it is told in a minute with mostly still photographs documenting the event.


But this is not a weakness of the film. It is an example of Gus Van Sant's application of a cinematic vision that incorporates many different visual styles and conventions to tell the story efficiently. Compared to other bio-pics, like Andy Kauffman's story in Man on the Moon, which simply feel like reenactments of a clip reel of commonly known scenes of one's life, Milk actually feels like a story that's being told for the first time. It's a movie that no matter how many times you see it, you are captivated by where the story is going, and how all the struggles are being confronted.


The only odd part of the film, unfortunately, is the end. In a scene that displays the unity of the people that Harvey Milk touched, the two people closest to him are oddly out of touch with it and are awkwardly positioned to wrap up the story with a forced sentimental dialogue. Ironic, since nothing else in that making of Milk seemed forced at all.