Saturday, December 6, 2008

Jason watches "Milk" and drinks martinis

A small group of my friends from work decided to go up and see "Milk" at the best possible venue for it--the Castro. So we got there early, had a few drinks and dinner before the movie, and lots more drinks after, ending with my passing out on a bus and waking up...at home! Woo hoo, my blotto-pilot works! But that's another story, let's just talk about the movie.

Gus Van Sant starts the movie with the assassination of Harvey Milk (mixing in archival news footage of Dianne Feinstein, who was then president of the SF Board of Supervisors, announcing the tragic news). This is a very good move, starting with getting us past his death so we can celebrate his life. Harvey Milk (played by Sean Penn, in a role that will probably win at least an Oscar nomination) was a gay man, business owner, and activist, known as the "Mayor of Castro Street" in 1970's. He ran for the SF board of supervisors many times, finally winning in 1977 (after redistricting put the Castro together with the Haight, so he only had to win the gays and the hippies to get elected). In office he passed a strong gay rights law, and quickly became friends with most of the board and mayor George Moscone. Dan White (Josh Brolin, who also deserves award consideration for his great job humanizing the villain) was another supervisor, an ex-cop and a conservative Irish Catholic. Milk tried to work with him (and there's speculation in the movie that he was a closeted homosexual himself), but ultimately the working relationship soured. In November of 1978 Dan White resigned from the board, only to reverse his decision days later. Too late, mayor Moscone was not going to give him his job back, so Dan White snuck into city hall (prying open a basement window to bypass the metal detectors at the front doors), emptied his gun into mayor Moscone, reloaded, went to Milk's office, called Milk into his office, and emptied his gun a second time into Milk. He was convicted of manslaughter instead of murder on a plea of temporary insanity.

The movie only mentions the trial in a brief postscript, in which is mischaracterizes the famed "Twinkie defense" (Snopes has a good article about it, and there could be a complete movie just about the trial). For the record, I'm not saying it's right that Dan White wasn't convicted of murder, I'm just saying that the story of the case is a lot more complicated than "jurors bought this ridiculous twinkie defense".

Anyway, the movie is fantastic, and there's no better place to see it than the Castro (which is featured in the movie), and of course there was a big, enthusiastic crowd there. In fact, it was a sell-out even though it's been out for more than a week (although I can attest that there were a few empty seats left in the corners up front. I've still only ever seen one completely full I-can't-find-an-empty-seat-anywhere sellout at the Castro).
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