The Times of Harvey MilkDirector: Robert Epstein
A documentary portrait of San Francisco's first openly gay politician, city supervisor Harvey Milk, The Times of Harvey Milk might not have been made but for the tragic circumstances of Milk's death. On November 27, 1978, Dan White, a former city supervisor who was desperate to regain his post, entered City Hall with a gun and murdered both San Francisco's mayor, George Moscone, and Milk. At the trial, White's lawyer skillfully turned the jury's attention away from his client's public anti-gay statements to focus on White's spotless record and his extremely agitated mental state on the day of the murders. White was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to a relatively brief jail term, sparking a demonstration and riot by gay supporters of the murdered men. The film considers Milk's accomplishments and his exceptional popularity; this is not an objective look at a man, but a celebration of a martyr. Winner of an Academy award for Best Documentary Feature, The Times of Harvey Milk was released while White was serving his sentence; he was paroled in 1984 and committed suicide the next year. Epstein's other major efforts included the documentaries Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (1989) (about the AIDS epidemic) and The Celluloid Closet (1995), about images of gay men and women in Hollywood films.
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Watching Gus Van Zant's remarkable film "Milk", I was struck by how good Sean Penn was at playing Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man ever elected to a political office in America. Yet, as great as Penn was, the real Harvey Milk was smaller, thinner and had more of an East Coast accent (he was from New York). So, when you watch "The Times Of Harvey Milk", you'll be surprised at how enigmatic, charismatic and knowledable Harvey really was. You'll also be awestruck as to how Dan White really does look like Josh Brolin. In the late 1960's, Harvey Milk, who had known he was gay since he was a teenager, quit his Wall Street job, grew his hair long and went to San Francisco, a city that openly embraced the burgeoning gay culture at the time. He opened a camera store and ran for city office several times---finally winning a position on the Board Of Supervisors in 1977. The Mayor at that time was George Moscone, the son of a San Quentin prison guard, who saw the greatness in the diversity of his city's people. Also winning a position on the board was Dan White, a former boxer and ex-police officer who believed that San Francisco was not becoming a safe place for "decent people" to live in. Robert Epstein's film spends a lot of time looking at what would be Harvey's greatest moment: the defeat of Proposition 6 or The Briggs Initiative, a law which would have made it perfectly legal for schools to fire teachers who they believed were gay. Many felt the law would pass by a wide margin. In the fall of 1978, a time when gay laws were being struck down repeatedly, Proposition 6 failed. A few days later, White, frustrated by the burdens of his job resigned from the Board of Supervisors. He tried to get his job back but Mayor Mascone refused. In November 1978, White assassinated both Mayor George Mascone and Harvey Milk at San Francisco City Hall. Epstein's film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1984 and it certainly did its part in shattering the stereotypes most of us probably associate with gay culture. What's remarkable about this film is that it starts out being about gays but it ends up being a cry for much-needed changes in our justice system. You also walk away with the feeling that Milk and Moscone truly did their part in making San Francisco a better and more fascinating place. And sad to say, Harvey Milk's dream of true equality still remains unfulfilled.
Award winning documentary of the life of San Francisco Supervisor, Harvey Milk.
What a masterpiece! Just as relevant today as it was 20+ years ago. Milk's message and conviction can never be underestimated. I have used this video in an undergraduate course I teach, 'The Literature of Social Protest,' and am moved by my students' reactions as much as they are to the film itself.
Although this film is twenty years old, it's not dated and it seems fresh with each additional viewing. Gay or straight, it's impossible not to be moved by this masterpiece. A timely film during a year when the ultraright is trying to turn gay marriage into a presidential litmus test.
a waste of time, one star is too many