Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Breaking barriers in San Francisco

26 November, 2008

Directed by 
Gus Van Sant

Produced by:
Dan Jinks
Bruce Cohen 

Written by: 
Dustin Lance Black

Sean Penn
Emile Hirsch
Josh Brolin
Diegro Luna
James Franco

Summary: Milk’ tells the story of how Harvey Milk became the first openly gay elected official in the US. The film illustrates his journey as a gay rights activist through the 1970s, as well as his battles against political activist Anita Bryant and politician John Briggs. ‘Milk’ incorporates Harvey Milk’s political and personal relationships – including those with his partners Scott Smith, Jack Lira, and his murderer and fellow City Supervisor, Dan White.

My Favourite Scene: A particularly thought-provoking scene in ‘Milk’ was the one in which Harvey is discussing the murder of a man he knew with a San Francisco police officer. The officer shows complete disinterest and is not concerned with the murder. He also disrespectfully calls his partner a prostitute. The scene ends with Milk saying ‘There’d be a dozen witnesses if they thought you boys had any real interest in protecting them.’ 

I felt that this scene illustrated the struggle gay men had to face at the time. The bigotry is actually seen in those who should be protecting them. The gay community in San Francisco face opposition from the police throughout the film. I thought this scene was very powerful in showing just how isolated many must have felt. The interesting camera angle added to this feeling, as the scene was shot in the reflection of a car wing-mirror.

My Favourite Quotes: 
Dan White: Society can’t exist without the family.
Harvey Milk: We’re not against that.
Dan White: Can two men reproduce?
Harvey Milk: No, but God knows we keep trying.

Harvey Milk: Politics is theatre. It doesn’t matter if you win. You make a statement. You say, ‘I’m here, pay attention to me’.

Harvey Milk: Anita Bryant has already said that the Jews and the Muslims are going to hell, so you know she has a shopping list.

My Thoughts: Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to work shadow with the San Francisco Chronicle for a week. While I was in the city I stayed with my uncle in the Castro area. It was here that I saw the Harvey Milk Plaza. I hadn’t actually known about Harvey Milk until then, and so decided to watch ‘Milk’. I found this film really interesting and enjoyable. Sometimes when one lives in a country where issues such as gay rights have progressed so much, it is easy to forget how different it once was. However it alsoreminds us we still have a way to go.

Something I really liked about ‘Milk’ was the incorporation of real footage, from police storming bars in the Castro to Anita Bryant talking about her beliefs. I think that the use of footage in this way reminds the watcher that these events actually took place. I did think that the film was slightly structurally confused. I find that it’s usually the case when the majority of a person’s life has to be squeezed into a film that it’s difficult for each part or character to be fully developed. I felt that Harvey and Scott’s relationship, as well as his and Jack’s, were lacking. However as Gus Van Sant chose to tackle both political and personal issues, this is to be expected.

A thought-provoking element to the film was Milk’s relationship with his murderer Dan White. Throughout the film it is suggested that Milk believed White was gay himself. The film conveys White’s conflicting feelings of Dan’s friendship with Harvey but also of his jealousy at Harvey’s success and popularity. The film presented their relationship in a very interesting way. 

‘Milk’ displays the fight of one man to change lives and portrays that, although the fight is not always easy, it is necessary. Despite not standing out in the way it portrays Harvey Milk’s life, the incredible story alone makes this film very watchable and reinforces the importance of standing up to make a difference, even if one is alone.



  1. Great review, Cat. (Mick LaSalle linked to it from his SF Chronicle blog.) As a former San Franciscan, I'd recommend that you also watch a documentary called the Times of Harvey Milk, which, among other things, covers the events that happened after Harvey was killed, and the reaction of the gay community and the police after Dan White was given an extremely lenient sentence. The doc is very powerful and has a lot of insights and reminiscences from friends and colleagues of Harvey.

    1. Thank you! That sounds really interesting - I'll definitely check it out. Thanks for the recommendation. Cat