Earlier this afternoon I saw the new film “Milk,” where Sean Penn portrays Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to hold a major political office when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the late 197os.
A few weeks ago, I had gone on a bicycle tour of San Francisco with Chris Carlsson, part of the Counterpulse/Shaping San Francisco series of tours - one of the first stops was San Francisco City Hall, where Chris recounted much of Harvey Milk’s story, so a lot of the details were fresh in my mind. The bicycle tours, by the way, are not to be missed.
I am normally skeptical of biopics and historical dramas, because so much of it is left to the interpretation of writers. I believe that these types of films sometimes give viewers false impressions of actual events, of conversations that may or may not have happened, of actions that are recreated based on the biases and agendas of people who didn’t experience the events. A perfect example of how this falls flat is the Battle in Seattle movie, where the writer/director didn’t actually talk with any activists before writing the script. In Milk, however, it is clear that the script more closely follows actual events, and that most of the main characters are based on real individuals. In both films, actual film footage of the events is mixed in with scenes from the new, fictional movie.
There are several reasons why I loved this film. First of all, Penn is truly brilliant. USA Today calls his performance “breathtaking.”