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|Screening Room Mar/Apr - Page 4|
Another new film, set in the 1970s, examines the outsider's plight from a very different perspective. The popularity of Milk, even its existence, is a commentary on our evolving ideas about who's the insider and who's the outsider.
In 1977, San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk was a free and uncloseted gay man, who championed opening society and public life to gays. In his campaign speeches, he said "I'm Harvey Milk, and I'm here to recruit you." The thought of a gay man in public office scared many people; but only people who've spent too much time watching Fox News could be threatened by a man as free-spirited and loving as Harvey Milk. He's played by Sean Penn, who early in his career had the naughty beauty of a punk angel, but here looks stringy and crinkled. As he fights for gay causes, he runs through a series of failing relationships—men who'd fully love him if he weren't so busy fighting for everyone else's right to choose a life.
Harvey Milk's antagonist is fellow Supervisor Dan White, a fiercely straight, would-be tough guy, who's contemptuous of Milk and his growing popularity, even as Milk tries to ingratiate himself with him. When Milk wins a key vote concerning gay rights, White snaps, feeling his manhood has been taken away by the gay coalition. He shoots and kills Milk and the mayor of San Francisco, George Moscone. (In an unintended commentary on Milk and its relevance for today, the passage of Proposition 8 has shown that Californians still can't decide whether it's safe to allow gay people to choose whom they'll marry.)
The movie is a lively cavalcade of apartments stuffed with junk furniture and guys sleeping on every surface, celebrating their personal freedom as if life were one big fraternity-house party, and—on another level—everyone pulling together to extend that freedom to others. This is a fun frolic and sleepover, with the irrepressible Milk as the emcee, who loves everybody and shows it. He keeps trying to make friends, even with Dan White.