Apr 16, 2007
Editorial: Harvey Milk's Times... the Second & Third Time Around
Nearly 30 years ago, San Francisco city Supervisor Harvey Milk was assassinated by a str8 ex-cop whose name doesn't deserve to be to remembered. Milk died because he was gay-- not just gay, but gay and visible and in a position of power. He was the first openly gay man to get elected to anything, anywhere in America. And a str8 psychopathic ex-cop killed him for it. Harvey Milk was a real person, but to most gay people, here at 30 years distance, he's become a figment of gay history. A beloved one, to be sure, but a figment nonetheless.
Now word comes that a pair of bio-flicks about Milk are in the offing: the first from gay director Bryan Singer and the second by Gus Van Sant. Like the dueling films Capote and Infamous, both Milk projects are slated to premiere within a few months of each other.
So, shall we meet the news with pleasure, or distaste?
Probably that transformation, Milk's motion from the real towards the iconic, is why the films are in getting made to begin with: after all, the movie JFK couldn't have been made in 1965, now could it? Distance is required to avoid calls that your picture is 'too soon.' Perspective is necessary to 'get a handle on what happened,' and perspective only comes with time, right?
Gus Van Sant and Bryan Singer are the two most-famous gay directors in Hollywood right now, so it's somehow fitting that they should do the honors. Never mind that Van Sant is best known for self-consciously quirky, indie films... movies wherein porn models speak from the covers of dirty magazines. Never mind that Singer mostly does movies based on comic books.
Which viewpoint, I wonder, is more suited to the actual story of the gay man murdered by the str8 psychopath? Which treatment better befits the dead, gay ignis fatuus that Harvey Milk has become at this... distance?
In truth, I don't suppose the answer much matters.
In 1984, a documentary filmmaker named Rob Epstein made a feature-length documentary titled The Times of Harvey Milk. When he made it, it was 'too soon.' And it is one of the more powerful movies I've ever seen. Maybe you can catch it on cable sometime.
Though, be warned: no talking inanimate objects appear, and the tale of the gay man and the str8 psychopath doesn't play out like a comic book.