Category Archives: Harvey Milk


Considering the paucity of my movie going behavior lately, nevertheless I knew that I would have to see the new Gus van Sant film, Milk, starring Sean Penn as the guy who goes from a closeted gay in New York City to the first openly gay politician in San Francisco within a decade. Part of the appeal of going for me was my love for the Bay Area. Moreover, and I did not know this until fairly recently, Harvey went to school at what is now UAlbany, the same institution where I attended library school, and got into a little trouble.

So, go I did with my wife this past Sunday to Albany’s Spectrum Theatre after having lunch at Justin’s. Date night afternoon! Initially, my rather deep knowledge of some of the events portrayed in the movie was a bit of a hindrance to my enjoyment. It was as though I’m watching Sean Penn in a biopic. Oh, look, there’s James Franco as his lover! But there’s a point for me – a specific moment having to do with an election – where Penn stopped being the actor and became Harvey Milk.

I’m finding it difficult to describe the film more fully. I recall that Roger Ebert got chastised in some quarters for revealing information that, I would agree, was public knowledge. The headline facts are established early via archival footage of Diane Feinstein, now a U.S. Senator. That information made me appreciate more the structure of the movie, with Milk dictating notes on a recording device amidst flashbacks.

This was a well-reviewed film (92% on the Tomatometer, 91% among top critics.) One review in particular irritated me: “The exceptional The Times of Harvey Milk won the Oscar for Best Documentary 24 years ago…. Yet, all this time later… Hollywood wants us to applaud its courage for finally–finally–telling this story?” Perhaps true, but the review of the film itself was actually rather positive, yet listed as “rotten”.

There was quite a bit of archival footage, and I did something at this film I don’t recall ever doing before; I hissed when someone appeared on the screen as though it were Snidely Whiplash. Anita Bryant was spewing her hate in the name of “Christian love”; I boycotted orange juice for years because of her.

But this is no historical relic. Indeed, the fight over California’s Prop 6 in the mid-1970s, which would have banned gay teachers, and 2008’s Prop 8, which would ban gay marriage, made the film seem more relevant than it might have. Jimmy Carter and even Ronald Reagan opposed Prop 6, BTW.

I should note a couple of the many fine performances. Emile Hirsch, who was directed by Sean Penn in the Penn-penned Into the Wild plays organizer Cleve Jones. Josh Brolin, who recently played Bush 43 in W, is Milk’s more conservative colleague Dan White.

It was a movie with a message, but I did not find it preachy. At the end of this film, some people, including me, applauded it. In some ways, I/they were applauding the remarkable evolution and life of Harvey Milk.

S is for San Francisco

Long before I ever went there, I loved San Francisco. From the Golden Gate Bridge to the cable cars, I adored the place.

It may have started in 1962, when I was nine. The San Francisco Giants, my favorite team in the National League was playing the New York Yankees, my favorite team in the American League; we’re talking Major League Baseball here, BTW. While my support for the Yankees was regional (I’d been to Yankee Stadium, e.g.), my love for the Giants was more emotional. I loved Orlando Cepeda at 1B – I love the way Danny Kaye sang “Or-lan-do Ce-pe-da” in a baseball song. I loved the Alou brothers, Matty and Felipe, who would one day be joined by brother Jesus; at least once, a few years later, all three patrolled the outfield at the same time. I loved Willie “Stretch” McCovey, who would eventually become the Hall of Fame 1B. P Juan Marchical! But most of all I loved CF Willie Mays, one of the three or four best players EVER, whose statue I had purchased at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY around that time, only to have a foot chomped off by our dog.

Then there was JEOPARDY!, the daytime quiz show hosted by Art Fleming, which I used to watch with my aunt at lunchtime almost every day. One sponsor was Rice-A-Roni, “the San Francisco treat”. I LIKED Rice-A-Roni when I was 11.

I listened to Bill Cosby a lot in those days, and this riff made me want to go there and see Lombard Street:
or here.

A few years later, it was Haight-Asbury. The Summer of Love may have ultimately been a failed social experiment, but to a 14-year old, it was just cool. From it came the music of the Jefferson Airplane, Rolling Stone magazine and other wondrous inventions.

So, I felt as though SF was my second hometown, even though I had never been west of the Mississippi until considerably later.

Therefore, the events of November 1978 felt terrible to me, as though it had happened in my own hometown of Binghamton, NY. First I saw the raw footage of Congressman Leo Ryan and his associates being attacked in Guyana. I remember an ashen Mayor George Moscone announce Rep. Ryan’s death. A couple days later, we learned of the Jonestown Massacre with Jim Jones leading the drinking of the Kool-Aid; most of the folks were from the Bay Area. Not two weeks later, I watched acting mayor Diane Feinstein weep as she announced the murders of Moscone and city council member Harvey Milk, almost certainly the most prominent gay politician of that time. Subsequently, I followed the trial of Dan White and his infamous “Twinkie defense”. Some feel the two events – Jonestown and the Moscone/Milk murders – were connected. In any case, it’s all created ambivalence about whether I want to go see the upcoming movie Milk with Sean Penn.

I finally got to actually go to San Francisco in 1987. I flew to San Diego, and then my sister, who lives there, and I flew to the Bay area. We went to the fish market, rode the cable cars, saw the Bridge, and yes, we found Lombard Street, which is as beautiful and curvy as Cosby described. Unfortunately, the San Francisco Giants were out of town, but we did see the Oakland A’s play.

San Francisco was everything I knew it would be.

ABC Wednesday.