Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Times of Harvey Milk

The Times of Harvey Milk (Rob Epstein, 1984) [7]

While not quite an overall biography of Milk, who rose to prominence as one of the first openly gay elected members of government in the U.S., Epstein's film does a good job of covering the most influential times of Milk's life. The isn't simply about Milk being a gay man who got elected to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors; it serves as that, but it also as a rallying point, that Milk stood not just for gay rights for equal treatment for all downtrodden minorities. The way the film does this makes it an effective piece of work if you're sympathetic to Milk's ideals but could also be considered the weakest link in the picture's narrative thread. Epstein chooses to interview only those close to Milk and while this isn't necessarily bad, it treads into that territory of lionizing Milk instead of just praising the man and his causes. The film gives a little of that with the union mechanic won over by Milk's values but it would have been nice to see a little bit more of that. There are times when the film raises the points that Milk was a shrewd, media savvy politician but once again, there's not enough as the film centers on the greater issue of Milk fighting for the gay community's rights in San Francisco. There's nothing wrong with that but it all fits too easily into the film's latter conflict, the dichotomy/rivalry of Milk and fellow supervisor Dan White, the man who shot Milk and mayor George Moscone. White's persona serves as the counterpoint to Milk's and it almost backfires, as White and his ridiculous defense for his actions threaten to take over the film. Smartly, Epstein knows to hold back just enough to the greater ideas of Milk up front. All in all, the film works because it's an honest, heartfelt portrayal of a man who needed to have his story told.

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