Monday, December 8, 2008


If you were planning on seeing Gus Van Sant's biopic about Harvey Milk, the openly gay San Francisco Supervisor (which is the San Francisco version of a city council) I would stay home.

The film faithfully follows Milk's life from a closeted New York businessman (although brazen enough to pick up guys in the subway) to an out-of-the-closet-on-the-streets San Francisco activist and politician.

Perhaps it was a little too faithful.

Not that it was egregiously bad, but by the end of it I was bored silly. As was my movie companion.

And the surprising thing -- for me, anyway -- was the fact that it seems like Milk's death was a lot less politically motivated than I had originally thought.

Granted, I never knew that much about Milk. But I had always been under the impression that he was some sort of martyr for the gay rights movement. But his death in the movie is a lot less explicitly about the fact that Milk was gay than it was about his political rivalry with certifiable nut Dan White.

The movie makes the allusion that White was, himself, a closeted homosexual. The only proof of this, however, is the fact that Milk suspects it.

White has a few conversations with Milk that might be somewhat suggestive if either of them had acted on it. But it doesn't seem like he did. Moreover, a person who will gun down his boss (Mayor George Moscone) and his colleague (Milk) in cold blood cannot be simply placed in an easy category. (Does anybody really think such a crime can be boiled down to, "Well, of course the guy became a murderer -- he was in the closet!"?)

The other disappointing thing about Milk is that you don't really get the festival atmosphere that I (as a straight man) was always led to believe existed in the Castro District in the 1970s. Wasn't there quite a bit of excitement in the gay movement about coming out of the closet? It felt like Van Sant decided to trade the more fun, interesting parts of that atmosphere for the austere and political. Probably a mistake.

Wait for it to come on cable.