Sunday, July 17, 2011

New to the Collection: Milk

Every time Saucy adds a new DVD to his increasingly mammoth film collection, he will take the time to provide five indelible scenes that convinced him to spend his hard-earned sheckles on something he could have gotten for free with a DVD burner and a Netflix subscription. This installment discusses Milk, the 2008 biopic of gay icon and San Francisco revolutionary Harvey Milk by iconoclast director Gus Van Sant.

1) Harvey Milk meets Scott Smith
Other than the provocative opening sequence that shows actual footage of gay men being harassed by police, this is the first scene of the movie, and the thing that makes it so interesting is that it is so...boring. It's just a simple meet-cute scene between two men filmed in matter-of-fact fashion by Van Sant, who with this opening states that he doesn't plan on treating two men meeting each other and agreeing to a tryst as anything out of the ordinary. No swelling orchestra music. No winking concessions for the straight audience. Just two people running into each other and falling in love...kind of. Just like straight people do. That is sort of the point, I think.

2) Dan White Confronts Harvey Milk
In the midst of Milk's birthday celebration, he is accosted by a drunken Dan White. White blabbers on about nothing and Milk dismisses his sloshed ravings. However, White, who Milk has previously suspected as possibly being a closeted homosexual, does manage to get out some poignant statements about having his own "issues." The scene is performed brilliantly by both Sean Penn and Josh Brolin, for whom this is probably the best performance of his career so far. It subtly hints at the disaster that is approaching for the unstable, troubled White and the slightly naive Milk, and it is expertly shot by Van Sant and cinematographer Harris Savides in discomfiting close-up.

3) Jack Hangs Himself
Somewhere around the one-hour mark of the film, Diego Luna enters playing Jack, a mysterious youth who takes up with Milk around the time he breaks up with Smith. He quickly becomes a nuisance to the group who serves as Milk's political/social inner circle. He never seems quite all there so it wasn't 100 percent surprising when he ends up hanging himself in Milk's apartment when the city supervisor has to spend a little extra time in the workplace one day. Still, the suicide points to the possible folly of what Milk was asking many of these young men, hated and ridiculed by society, to do, which was to put their own security aside to help move along a social issue. Many of these men were dealing with serious personal demons, and the spotlight Milk sought to shine on them was simply too much for Jack. (I won't lie: This scene is also memorable because I saw it with a gay friend of a gay friend who stated upon the discovery of Jack's corpse that "he was glad that he killed herself." Poor Diego Luna! A horrific end for the film's most polarizing character.)

4) Milk Debates John Briggs
This is a very amusing sequence where Milk travels the state in a series of debates with John Briggs, a conservative state legislator who lobbies hard against gay civil rights. It is most enjoyable for the quizzical looks Penn gives as Briggs (Denis O'Hare) says increasingly idiotic things that have no basis in rhyme or reason. It is also an incredibly scary scene when you consider that these people are still out there and that a couple of them will most likely be serious candidates for the office of President in 2012.

5) The Assassination of Harvey Milk
Obviously, this is the film's most powerful scene and the one that the entire film has been building up to, but Van Sant makes it all the more effective, shooting the murder of Mayor George Moscone in a mirror so the audience can see the full extent of White's cowardice. Sure, it could have been photographed in a more conventional two-shot, but the fish-eyed effect makes the scene all the more disorienting. And then there is the shooting of Milk. As Milk looks out a window, White approaches and shoots Milk in the back. Shot from in front of Sean Penn, the set-up allows us to see Milk's face, which is a mixture of pain, surprise, relief, disappointment, acceptance, and a million other emotions that can scarcely be described. A tremendous scene by Brolin, Penn, and Van Sa...OK, I will be honest, I know it was a great scene from seeing it in the theater, but what I described may be total nonsense because I fell asleep while watching the movie the other night. Don't take this a slight on the movie though. I was just tired and hopped up on North Coast Red Seal. Still, a tremendously rendered conclusion to a significant cinematic achievement.

Yeah...pretty much none of these scenes were available on YouTube. So enjoy this video of Penn receiving his much deserved Oscar instead. Oh, and feel free to buy the thing for five bucks if you would like.

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