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Milk: "If a Bullet Should Enter My Brain, Let That Bullet Destroy Every Closet Door in the Country.”

Posted by Miss Ess, December 5, 2008 12:38pm | Post a Comment
This past weekend both Brad and I had the chance to see Milk in theaters. It opened nationwide this week. We wanted to share our post-film conversation here for you, and hopefully start more conversations about this film and its much loved and admired subject.

harvey milk on castro street

Miss Ess: Tell me about your movie-going experience seeing Milk! Where did you see the film? Was it a crowded screening? Did the audience react at all? What did you think of the film overall?
gus van sant
Brad: I am still recovering from this movie watching experience. Seeing movies in theaters is for sure one of my all time favorite things to do. I can't imagine my life without it -- and it is movies like this that continue my obsession. Every once in a while I worry that I have already seen all the great movies of my lifetime -- like I will never see a film again as good as the ones that I have already seen. And I had really high hopes for this film. Gus Van Sant is one of my favorite directors. My Own Private Idaho is probably one of my favorite films of all time. I am staring at the poster in my bedroom right now. I saw this movie when I was 17 and it had a really powerful impact on me. River Phoenix died two years later, so I have those two events forever tied together in my memory. The film became even more powerful and tragic because of his death. It is as if his character has died with the actual actor. Even though he made a couple of films after Idaho this is the film I will always remember him for. And of course Heath Ledger died a couple of years after he made Brokeback Mountain. It is too weird how similar his life and career was to River Phoenix. It is also sort of like James Dean and Rebel Without Ariver phoenix my own private idaho Cause. Rebel was the My Own Private Idaho of its time. That is about as much of a gay story as you were going to get in 1955. It is sort of perfect that James Franco played James Dean in that James Dean movie and is now in the Milk movie. I just started thinking about this because of Milk too. Milk obviously ends with a real life tragedy and death. But hopefully Sean Penn will be around for many more decades to bring us many more fantastic films, both in acting and directing.

There is just a lot of death and tragedy mixed up with gay films. AIDS has a lot to do with it. But I sort of hate the fact that the two big gay films of the last couple of years, Brokeback Mountain and Milk, end with one of the main characters dying. One is of course based on a reality and the othe
r on a book. Part of me does love the tragedy. It is the goth kid still trapped in my body. Everyone likes to cry at a movie, and Milk is for sure the kind of movie that should even make people like Anita Bryant cry.
twinkies cause murder.
I saw Milk at the Arclight. James Bond was still in the cineramadome so it was just in the normal theater. It was the Sunday of its first weekend and most definitely sold out. The crowd had a lot of gays. We all knew this was our big moment -- the film that we had been waiting our whole life for. This was our Malcolm X, our Selena, our JFK, our La Bamba. Not every gay and lesbian may know everything about Harvey Milk. I have lived in California my whole life and San Francisco for 10 years, so I know quite a bit about him. You still feel his presence in the Castro. And every gay person owes him something. Our lives would not be the same without him. But I also loved that this film was an event for everybody. My straight friends were just as excited to see this movie. The fact that Gus Van Sant directed this film and it starred some big names really helped this movie I am sure. I cannot stop thinking about this movie since I saw it. I went to go get my lunch yesterday and the sandwich shop had this huge display of twinkies next to the salads and cheeses and things. I had never noticed it before and it made me giggle but also shed a couple tears. Sort of like how the movie made me feel. A mix of happiness and sadness.harvey milk at the gay freedom day parade 1978

Miss Ess: Wow. I have not been able to stop thinking about Harvey Milk either since I observed the film's premiere back in October, and I couldn't wait to see the movie. And I totally agree about how Harvey's presence is still felt in the Castro, and not just because there's a bar/restaurant named for him. As a straight gal living in the Castro, I have never felt so welcomed and so much friendly energy from anywhere else I have ever lived. In my experience, it really is a place where everyone can feel accepted as they are.

As far as the film goes-- way to go Gus Van Sant! I also thought it was well-done and I particularly enjoyed the bits of found footage from the actual era that were placed in the film. I also loved seeing my neighborhood on screen! At the Castro Theater where I saw it, the packed audience applauded several key moments and booed Anita Bryant's image. It was fun to look for cameos: I saw my old landlord herself, Supervisor Carol Ruth harvey milk at castro cameraSilver, in the background in one of the scenes where Harvey is celebrating his win at Castro Camera, the real Cleve Jones during the "Hope Speech" scene, and of course I especially loved seeing our
Peaches Christ in one of the crowd scenes, looking fierce as always.

Brad: Yes, I am a big fan of combining real footage with acted scenes in film. I love documentaries and docudramas are probably my favorite genre of film. It is not always done right, but I am a big fan of JFK. Milk had way fewer conspiracy theories to deal with but it reminded me of that film a bit. Gus Van Sant just blew me away. The whole cast did. I am a huge fan of To Die For, Drugstore Cowboy, and of course Idaho, but have not been a huge fan of his films over the last decade or so. I did think Elephant was pretty amazing and understand he was just exploring other themes and styles but nothing has affected me like Idaho until now. But I always knew he had this film inside of him, and I think he knew that as well. The movie has taken like 10 or 15 years to finally come about. And I bet that Gus wanted to make this film ever since he first saw the Milk documentary [The Times of Harvey Milk] way back in 1985. I have not seen it in over 10 years, but am planning on watching it again this week. I wanted to wait untimilk-mosconel I saw Milk to watch it again. And yes it was great seeing Peaches in the film. It was absolutely great seeing San Francisco in this movie. Most of the reason I loved Zodiac was because it was all mostly shot in San Francisco. The set was the actual city of San Francisco. People who live there tend to forget, but San Francisco is one of the greatest places in the world. And it is just fantastic to see it through the eyes of Gus Van Sant. I love that they just shot down the Castro and turned back the clock and made it the 60's and 70's again.

Miss Ess: It was fun to see all those old cars lined up down Castro street when they were filming the movie last January. Yes, I have seen The Times of Harvey Milk, also about 10 years ago and it was and is so devastating. I just rewatched it before Thanksgiving. I was the opposite of you -- I wanted to see it before I saw Milk! I think it should be required viewing for everyone -- it's a very moving documentary. It might still be my favorite documentary of all time. It certainly is the one that has had the most reverberating impact on me.

As for Milk, I thought Sean Penn was as good as one could be at playing Harvey Milk. His voice was incredibly close to Harvey's, eerily so. It was very impressive. I was surprised by how fantastic Emile Hirsch was at playing Clevmoscone and milke Jones. I also thought James Franco was sexy and that he and Sean Penn had good chemistry. Oh, and Josh Brolin was solid as Dan White also. I loved that he had jelly beans on his desk at one point -- I
saw an interview with Brolin yesterday where he said he studied adolescents to get into character. What did you think about the performances, particularly Sean Penn's?

Brad: Sean Penn is just plain amazing. I knew he was going to be fantastic. My only complaint is that I actually think he played Harvey a little bit gayer than he actually was! I really only know what Harvey was like from the documentary. But his character just seemed a bit gayer -- which isn't really a complaint. I wish all characters in movies were a bit gayer! I love that they did not make this the depressing dark docudrama that it could have been. You couldn't avoid that completely, but they did manage to also give it a light hearted fun feel. Harvey Milk was a funny guy and Sharvey milk and scott smith kissean Penn captured that perfectly. But you have to give a lot of credit to the screenwriter as well. The movie could have been not nearly as good without that amazing script.

James Franco has been a favorite of mine for many years. Not only is he near perfect in his looks but he's also quite an amazing actor. He has also just been a bit lucky. Freaks and Geeks was just a fantastic show and his character was perfect -- even better than Jared Leto's Jordan Catalano. I love myself some My So Called Life as well. Can you imagine Jared Leto in the role of Harvey Milk's boyfriend? I don't think he could have pulled it off as well. James Franco made it look so easy. He didn't have any amazing scenes where he broke down and stole the movie, but he was just perfect I think. I loved Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild, one of my favorite films from last year, and I was really excited Emile and Sean would be working together again. Emile also played his character perfectly, and added some more necessary comic relief to the film. Josh Brolin also fantastic. It is not always easy to play that repress
james franco as scott smith in milked conservatism. He did it perfectly. Dan White was most certainly the villain of the film, but Josh gave him that normal guy sort of feel, which I think made him even more frightening. But I think Matt Damon would have also been fantastic in this role. [Damon initially had the role but had to drop out of the film.] Just go and watch Talented Mr. Ripley again if you doubt me. I even loved Diego Luna. His character was terribly annoying but I thought he played it perfectly. I also love Joseph Cross, who played Dick Pabich. He was in one of my other favorite movies that everyone else seemed to hate, Running with Scissors. I also loved that they focused on Anita Bryant so much. She was actually the real villain of the movie. I sort of wished that they had gotten an actress to play her. I would have loved to see Parker Posey in this role. But Anita Bryant was almost too perfect playing her own role. How can you get better than that? I kind of think that she is what created people like Dan White. It was the fear and hatred of people like her that create the fear and hatred in normal sort of people.

Miss Ess: You're kind of right about James Franco's Daniel DeSario in Freaks and Geeks being betterharvey milk and scott smith than Jordan Catalano -- for me, it's too tough to say which was better as a character, but Jared Leto most certainly could not have played Scott Smith with the understated grace Franco brought to the role. His performance was one of the best in the movie for sure. And definitely easy on the eyes, yes! I would have liked to have seen Matt Damon in the movie as well, but I did think Josh Brolin did an able job. Your Parker Posey suggestion is just perfect!!

I was really pleased by the attention to detail and throughout the film kept thinking how amazing the story is -- and it's all true! The tapes made in advance of Harvey's death, the phone call from the suicidal wheelchair bound kid, the signage outside Castro Camera, the fact that he could see the beloved Opera House from his office window -- I thought they really did a great job capturing the moment for the most part. Were there any details you particularly enjoyed?


Brad: I loved how they started the film with him making his tapes and then kept going back to it. Just like the Joy Division docudrama Control, we all knew how the film was going to end, so they were not giving anything away. I still got all choked up when they played that Dianne Feinstein clip of her talking about the shooting. I love that Harvey was telling his own stories. I love films with narration or internal monologue harvey milk in duboce parknarrations, just like My So Called Life. It was great to hear what he actually thought about what was going on the whole time.

Miss Ess: I totally agree -- I am all about internal monologues in films/tv. San Francisco has changed so much since the time of Harvey Milk. Nowadays, very few can afford to buy or rent a shop or business, let alone run for office at the same time! It's wonderful to see the 70s heyday of the Castro, but I couldn't help but feel somewhat depressed at the economic limitations of our city today. People flock to the Castro from everywhere, yet very few can afford to rent, let alone own a home in the area. What do you think about the changes in the city and the Castro itself since Milk's time? Wonder what Harvey Milk would have to say about it all.

Brad: It is sort of crazy how things change so quickly. It would have been great to see how things might have been different without Dan White. What if Harvey would have supported White's bill that he was working on for his neighborhood [regarding an asylum to be built in the Excelsior]? That one scene really tore me apart, when you can see Dan White getting so mad and he slams his hand down on the table josh brolin as dan whiteafter Harvey tells him he doesn't want to support his bill. Was that the turning point for Dan White? Is that when he decided he had to kill the mayor and Harvey? I always wonder about stuff like that. Was Dan White just a repressed homosexual? Could Harvey have avoided the situation by just taking Dan White out to a gay bar? Should he have sent Cleve Jones on a date with him? Just as the world would have been different if JFK and Martin Luther King had not been assassinated, the Castro would have been different with Harvey Milk as the Mayor of Castro Steet in the 80s and 90s. I love how he basically shut down homophobic businesses by getting gays to not shop there. I really also think Prop 8 would not have passed with Harvey around.

Miss Ess: Yes, I think you are right about that. Harvey's power to bring people together is unsurpassed. I do think that Dan White was probably clinically bipolar and also that he really saw the world in black and white. He could not handle the fact that the city was changing, so he tried to stop it from changing, but I do harvey milk with jack lirathink he also felt personally betrayed by Harvey. He could not understand it when people did not side with him. There are so many ways that the story could have gone and it is so tragic that it went the way it did. There are so many split second things that could have changed everything -- Dan White had also targeted Carol Ruth Silver and WIllie Brown, but they happened to not be around at the moment of the murders, and they are both still alive today. Harvey was supposed to go to the bank at the time of the murder but was held up by making a phone call -- he might not have been in his office at that moment either. It's torturous to think about.

And yes, one of the things that really struck me about watching this film was its relevance today, especially with its message of hope (similar to Barack Obama's) and with the passage of Prop 8. I was saddened when I thought about the fact that no one seems to have picked up Harvey's torch in such a vocal, center of the spotlight way. Why do you think there are no Harvey Milks at this time? Is it because of the fragmented nature of politics and the world today?


Brad: Clearly we need another Harvey Milk. And I know he or she is out there somewhere. I just watched the Charlie Rose interview with Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, and Gus Van Sant. They were talking about how Harvey died right before the AIDS epedemic exploded. They mentioned that Ronald Reagan might have actually done something about AIDS or at least mentioned that it existed with a little bit of pressure from Harvey Milk. I think this movie teaches us that one person can make a difference. We all need to be a bit more political if we want things to change. With the economy as it is right now we really can speak with our dollars. We should not support any businesses that supported Prop 8. We shouldn't eat at their harvey milk at castro camerarestaurants or drink their soda or beer. Each person's simple action can create a whole movement, just like we can gradually change the kind of cars that are made by no longer buying SUVS and demanding  Hybrids or electric cars, or by not buying eggs unless they are from cage free chickens. There are a whole lot of gays in this country, and thankfully a whole bunch more supporters of the gays then there were 30 years ago. We can't let a group of people that feel like their religion has anything to do with us decide that we can't get married. It is just ridiculous.

Miss Ess: I think that is the most powerful message of the movie, that one person can most definitely make a difference. People seem to be so cynical and so sluggish. Harvey was neither of those things and he made a great impact. I am deeply inspired by Harvey Milk's conviction, commitment and his willingness to give his own life for his cause, human rights. We touched on this a bit already, but if Harvey Milk were alive, what do you think he would be doing now? What do you think his legacy is?

Brad: I guess I just sort of answered that one. I sure do wish he was alive all these years. He would have made it a whole lot easier for us. But his legacy is felt every day. 30 years ago you would never see a gay person on television. You would never be able to come out at your office or even in your neighborhood. Kids are now able to come out in High School or even Junior High. We still have a long way to go, but people like Harvey Milk and people like Sean Penn and Gus Van Sant making movies like this are making a difference. Think of how different peoples' lives would have been had they seen a movie like this about harvey milk for supervisora person like Harvey Milk 50 years ago! Think of all the lives that could have been saved. It breaks my heart to think about all the kids that have killed themselves over their sexual identity and how many people have killed other gays because of their own gay issues. But we are getting better. It is happening pretty quickly even if it feels like a lifetime for some. I think more and more people will come out of the closet in Hollywood and in every day life. More and more people will realize that their brother or sister or aunt or uncle or teacher or doctor or neighbor is gay. Gays are not just florists and hairstylists anymore. We are everywhere.

Miss Ess: I think that was Harvey's most potant message. Since you and I are such Oscar-philes, what do you think about Milk's chances at any Oscars? What do you think it will potentially be nominated for? I'm hoping for Best Actor, Sean Penn; Best Director, Gus Van Sant; Best Picture; maybe Best Supporting Actor, James Franco; Best Editing...

Brad: I can barely believe it is almost time for the Oscars again. This is always the best time for films. The Independent Spirit Award nominations were just announced a couple of days ago, and MIlk is of course nominated for nearly everything. I think it was fantastic that Brokeback Mountain was nominated for so many things a couple of years ago. It really opened the doors for momilk the movie postervies like Milk, but there is still a surprising amount of homophobia in Hollywood. I hate to say it. But luckily a lot of those older voters are slowly disappearing and being replaced by younger more progressive members. You need to go watch Celluloid Closet right now if you have not seen it. Hollywood has really come a long way. I loved Brokeback Mountain and think Ang Lee most certainly deserved his Best Director Oscar, but Milk really is a much better film. It will most certainly get nominated for Best Picture and Director and will hopefully walk away with both of those Oscars. I just don't think anything can beat it. Dustin Black most certainly deserves an Oscar for his screenplay and Danny Elfman for his score. It has the possibility of pulling of a Last Emperor type sweep of the Oscars. It will be weird that James Franco will probably be up against Heath Ledger for Best Supporting Actor. I would love to see Alison Pill nominated for Best Supporting Actress and nominations could also easily go to Emile Hirsch and Josh Brolin. It should also get nominated for Best Costumes, Editing, and Cinematography and Art Direction. Brokeback walked away with Oscars for directing, screenplay, and score. I think Milk might win at least 6 Oscars, but will be nominated for at least 10. It still can't believe it took 3 years for a big time gay movie to come out after Brokeback Mountain. Maybe the disappointment of Crash winning the Oscar took gay cinema back a couple of years. I really hope that there will be some more mainstream gay movies in the coming years. I just can't wait to hear Sean Penn's acceptance speech. I athe mayor of castro street by randy shiltsm crying already just thinking about it.

Miss Ess: Sean never goes to the Oscars though, even when he won for Mystic River, which I think is a shame this year in particular because I think he should go to honor this film and its importance. Maybe he will. Either way, you and I will probably be bawling through the whole show if Milk is well represented! Penn will most certainly be nominated. I thought Crash absolutely robbed Brokeback Mountain -- that was a shock and I think it did prove that Hollywood is still homophobic and also plays favorites (since Crash starred so many well-connected people) because Brokeback was everything a best picture should be. I am worried that Milk will get the accolades because it is about a central figure in the gay community and then it will be a long time before we see another mainstream gay film. I hope that is not the case. Why was Milk not nominated for Best Feature for the Spirit Awards?! Not a good sign for the Oscars. Ah, Celluloid Closet, another great documentary! Yes, that is recommended viewing. If anyone wants to learn much more about Harvey Milk I also recommend reading The Mayor of Castro Street by Randy Shilts, which is a biography of not only Harvey but also the gay movement in the United States. I bet Harvey would be so thrilled to go to the Oscars! I wish he was here to enjoy this moment...we will have to settle for him being here in spirit.

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