5/6/08

'Milk' Does Everybody Good.

It's probably a good thing that Bryan Singer's production of the biopic about assassinated San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk didn't get made. Not that he wouldn't have done a great job, or a particularly accurate or humane one, but just for the sake of giving the memory of the groundbreaking openly-gay public official all that he deserves, I think it's better that we'll end up with just one picture. Gus Van Sant's version of the film, though much less neatly named (Singer's was called The Mayor of Castro Street), is the one that's pulled ahead. The lack of competition for location shooting, talent and awards expectations means that more can go into the production, and better care can be taken. And for director Van Sant, the cast and crew of Milk and the citizens of San Francisco - and especially Castro Street, which metamorphosed during the 70s from an Irish neighborhood to a predominant gay district - it's definitely a labor of love. The film's been in production for quite some time (extended and suspended due to the WGA Strike earlier in the year) and won't be in theaters for some time either, so the film's already making hearts heavy with melancholy and anguish. After all, several of the consultants and crew have fond memories of Mr. Milk, and the daily reminder of what happened in November of 1978 that's been recreated with the sets and costumes still shakes their roots. The San Francisco Chronicle spoke to quite a few of them back in January, and it makes for some good reading on the production and the remnants of Mr. Milk's legacy.

But the recreated sets and costumed actors have given quite a few some good old hope and faith, too. A good amount has changed in all of America in the last 30 years, and with so many more gay and lesbian public officials having been in office since and with the visibility of the LGBT community and the Gay Rights Movement on the rise, many who've long advocated greater tolerance and awareness are probably looking forward to the days where we'll take gay characters and gay culture for granted. With Gus Van Sant at the helm, one needn't worry about sentimentalism or sensationalism, and with his talent comes more talent: Sean Penn will play Milk himself (below), with James Franco as his first lover and campaign manager Scott Smith, Emile Hirsch as student activist and intern of Milk's Cleve Jones, Victor Garber as Mayor George Moscone, Diego Luna as Jack Lira - another lover of Milk's, and Josh Brolin as the noted killer and fellow official Dan White. Such a serious cast as that should easily be able to deliver some cathartic and enlightened moments, and enlighten the viewers who aren't aware of who Milk was. Maybe they'll even immortalize his best quote, which was an almost prophetic wish of what was to come: "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door." He gets a second chance to say it.

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