The Milk Rave: Harvey Milk, Little Baby River and The Missing Scene
One man come in the name of love
One man come and go
One man come he to justify
One man to overthrow
In the name of love
What more in the name of love
In the name of love
What more in the name of love
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride
- U2, "Pride (In The Name of Love)"
By now I'd hope that everyone has seen Gus Van Sant's magnificent film Milk, about the life and death of gay rights activist Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in American history. And if you have seen the film then you know what a truly brilliant piece of filmmaking it is. I finally saw it the other day, after it had been released on DVD, and I found both the film and Sean Penn's performance in it to be absolutely enthralling.
Watch the trailer here:
I've been a big fan of Gus Van Sant's ever since the release of Drugstore Cowboy back in 1989. And he's sure made a lot of other great movies since then, the highlights being My Own Private Idaho (1991), To Die For (1995), Good Will Hunting (his mainstream hit from 1997), and Elephant (2003). But, no matter how great all those films may have been, I'd say that with Milk he's definitely reached a career pinnacle.
And, speaking of career pinnacles, Sean Penn gives the performance of a lifetime here. I know that's a pretty big statement considering the fact we're talking about one of the greatest actors of all time, but, hey, it's simply the truth. He completely becomes Harvey Milk.
Sean has, of course, been amazing ever since his breakout role as Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High way back in 1982. But to my mind he's been particularly brilliant from the mid-'90s onwards, with a number of truly riveting performances that were, as Spicoli would say, simply awesome: Dead Man Walking (1995), Sweet and Lowdown (1999) and, more recently, Mystic River (2003), 21 Grams (2003) and The Assassination of Richard Nixon (2004). However, his performance in Milk has simply got to be his greatest ever. An absolutely stunning achievement. His Best Actor Oscar was very much deserved.
And it's not just Sean, the whole cast shines. Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, and James Franco are all particularly wonderful.
But no matter how great the acting, the direction, and the screenplay (by Dustin Lance Black, who also won an Oscar), the film actually could have been even better had it included one more scene, a true life event starring some very good friends of mine (more about that later).
Pride and Dignity... and Hatred
Of course those lyrics above, from the U2 classic "Pride (In The Name of Love)", were actually written about Martin Luther King, but the thing that becomes so glaringly apparent as you watch this film is that those words just as easily could have been written about Harvey Milk.
Furthermore, there's really no way to watch the film without constantly thinking about just how identical the battles for racial equality and gay rights really are. Whether based on skin color, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, it's simply the same battle for human dignity and against mindless bigotry and hatred. There's really no difference. No difference at all.
The conservatives of this world, with their seemingly unlimited reserves of hatred, have always opposed granting equal rights to anyone they consider inferior (i.e. different) and that's certainly always been the case in America. Whether it be women, African Americans or homosexuals, the haters have always been there with their passionate commitment to keeping people down.
Yes, the haters are always enraged. The haters are always livid. The haters are always incensed. "Over my dead body!" they say, "How dare you suggest these bitches/niggers/faggots are equal to me?"
But, just as passionately, the MLKs, Susan B. Anthonys and Harvey Milks have always been there to fight for their equality and basic human dignity. And the beautiful thing is, in the end, the bigots always lose.
Ok, ok, so I'm not all that tolerant myself, at least not when it comes to bigots, racists and homophobes. But, hey, should I be?
Little Baby River and The Missing Scene
Now to that true-life event that I mentioned above, as told by my Californian friend Louis, the father of my friend River. A small event, but one that most certainly would have made for a fantastic additional scene in the film.
I wrote Louis and asked whether he had seen the film yet and this was his reply:
As people who lived in the Castro district when Harvey Milk began his run for political office, I can definitely assure you that Sally and I have seen Milk. And we loved it. We talked with Harvey several times when we lived in his neighborhood, and I would buy film in his camera shop, either from Harvey or from his partner, Scott. We had already moved to Mendocino county when he was murdered, but it was shocking, horrible and personal. We knew the guy. The film was a good tribute, as well as a righteous historical perspective. But here's a story that you'll appreciate:
In his first run for supervisor, Harvey didn't have much support. He was a relative unknown, and he ran on a program of liberal issues. I ran into him on Castro Street one afternoon, and he told me that he was going to have a political rally at the nearby bus stop. "Try and be there," he said. I told Sally about it and we both agreed we needed to be there to support Harvey.
We showed up at the appointed hour, and we were the only ones there - Sally, myself, and little baby River. So Harvey just chatted for a while and then decided to call it a day. Sally and I reminded him that as a politician, he had an obligation to kiss little babies, and we happened to have a baby on the premises. And that's how Harvey Milk kissed River, the 6 month old baby. The rest is history.
In the name of love indeed. And, believe it or not, contrary to anti-gay campaigner Anita Bryant's stated belief that "As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children", River did not grow up to be gay after having come into contact with Harvey and his oh-so-sinister kiss.
It must be noted that Anita Bryant, who featured so prominently in the old 1970's newsreel footage used in the film, also stated that "If gays are granted rights, next we'll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail biters".
That's right people. First we give rights to homosexuals, and next thing you know dog-fuckers and nail biters are going to be demanding equality too.
And God protect us all if prostitutes ever demand to be treated with human dignity and respect.
So, thanks for the heads-up Anita, but when it comes to heroes, I'm sticking with Harvey, MLK and all the others out there who have had a dream and have had enough pride to dedicate their lives to the quest for dignity and equality... in the name of love.
And you know what? Dog-fuckers don't scare me at all. But hate-mongers most certainly do.
See this movie everyone. It's a classic!
Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Monday, March 23rd, 2009
For a couple of other recent film reviews check these out:
And if you're a fan of Sean Penn you should definitely read this: The Sean Penn "Into The Wild" Rave
To see my list of the best films from last year click here: My Picks For The Best 25 Films of 2008
And to see my rave review of Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona click here: Lucky Day: The Bruce and Woody Rave
Or for another recent piece on film try this The "Eternal Sunshine of Charlie Kaufman's Mind" Rave (Featuring My List of The Top 5 Comedies of All Time)
For more on film click here: MikesAndDislikes Film: Home
Or here: Film: General
Or here: Film: Raves & Reviews
Or, if you'd prefer some more on the Raging Homophobes, check these out: