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Your July Random Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: His life changed history. His courage changed lives.



Milk Parade (Sean Penn)
I hate biopics. They rarely capture the person they're biopicking. Sometimes they even backfire and I leave the movie hating the person. I liked Johnny Cash, Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis until I saw the movies and realized what assholes they were (still love their music, though). But now and then, a movie like MILK (2008) punches through and actually inspires. Admittedly, when MILK came out, I prejudged it. "Oh wonderful...lefty activist Sean Penn doing yet another 'This Way to Oscarland' character where he gets to chew scenery while glued to his soapbox." And then, when it won some Oscars (Penn and writer Dustin Lance Black), it became "there goes Hollywood, rewarding its 'important' movies again." But I was wrong this time, or better yet, they were right. MILK is an important movie. A well-made, bittersweet, uplifting and important movie. And Sean Penn? Well, he's just perfect playing Harvey Milk, not only one of the first openly gay politicians, but a man who wound up helping to shape our society.

MILK begins during the flashpoint in gay rights. For those who don't remember or weren't yet around; The late 60s, a time when, depending on where you lived, a gay person could be charged with being a homosexual in a bar, or if you're a bartender, serving alcohol to a homosexual. Police routinely raided gay bars; harassing, clubbing and arresting. The American Psychiatric Association listed "homosexual" under "mental disorder." And get this - The New York Times wouldn't even print the word 'gay'. So it was no small wonder that gays were closeted. You'd have to be brave and crazy to tell the world you were gay. Harvey Milk shouted it through a megaphone. Harvey Milk was brave and crazy. In a good way.

Penn-Garber by Random Movie Club
It's 1978, and Harvey, alone in his kitchen, is speaking into a tape recorder - "This is only to be played in the event of my death by assassination." Following this, actual footage of Diane Feinstein's announcement that San Francisco mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk have been murdered. Even though I knew the key points to this story, this opening one-two punch drew me into the movie in record time.

Scott (James Franco) and Harvey (Penn)
Harvey's tape recorded account leads to voiceover, which takes us on the journey, beginning in 1970. Harvey, an insurance worker-bee a few hours south of 40, meets Scott (James Franco), and with a few moments of flirtation, they're making out in the subway station. Smart move, get the gay physical stuff out of the way so that the story can be told, a story springboarded by this line of dialogue that Harvey tells Scott - "Forty years old and I haven't done a thing...that I'm proud of." Together they move to the already progressive city of San Francisco, to an area called The Castro, one of America's first gayborhoods. Harvey and Scott settle in and open a camera shop. After the liquor store owner across the street meets Harvey and shakes his hand, he wipes it off with a handkerchief. But if you didn't do commerce with the neighborhood (read: gays), your business would eventually die. If you did, you'd flourish. The liquor store owner ended up staying. The times they were a-changing, albeit a-slowly.


Harvey's activism crept in as if it was unplanned (can't say it was, as Harvey could surely be cunning...more on this in a moment, or longer if you're a slow reader like me). Pretty soon people were coming to him, like teamsters who supported the Coors beer boycott (Coors was under fire for being non-union and also for firing gays). And as there's power in the union, there's also power in people sticking together for a cause. Still, the police were continuing to raid bars, and when someone got murdered for being gay, Harvey realized, "If we had someone in government who saw things the way we see them." Well, it doesn't take long for him to jump on his soapbox (Harvey is a funny and charming guy, so he actually stands on a homemade soapbox), and gives a speech on a street in The Castro announcing his candidacy for City Supervisor. He's dubbed "the Mayor of Castro Street" (even he's not sure who said it first - "...perhaps I invented it myself."), and people are listening. The irrepressible Harvey Milk saw a hole and filled it. Errr, maybe I could have put that better.

Harvey tries to win the election, and fails. The next year, he fails again. But then fate steps in as neighborhood boundaries are changed and so are the laws which now allow people to vote within their district. With the success of this election, he and his ragtag platoon of recruits ("My name is Harvey Milk and I'm going to recruit you!" was how Milk opened a lot of his speeches) knew they were in for a very steep uphill climb. But what they didn't know was that Harvey would be slain not by an anonymous homophobe, but by fellow supervisor Dan White (Josh Brolin). See, as Harvey's star rose, White's burned out. White, like others before him in his family, was a fireman with a Hallmark family. Suddenly, gays were shaking up his world. He tried to play ball, but eventually, with his morals threatened, he snapped. And so the fireman took action to put out the fire.


Harvey Milk died in 1978, and it was only four years later that I found myself in Times Square watching a sneak preview of a movie called BAD BOYS (not the Michael Bay movie) where Sean Penn played a vicious street thug named Mick O'Brien. I couldn't believe my eyes. This was the same guy who, one year earlier, played, with unmatched brilliance, stoner/surfer Spicoli in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, and he was scary good in both (though scarier in BAD BOYS). I remember thinking, this guy can do anything (...and he did, including WE'RE NO ANGELS, which was a little unforgivable and a lot bad). But let's face it, Sean Justin Penn can act circles, and I'll be a monkey's aunt if he didn't really become Milk.
If you think his performance is exaggerated or untrue, then I command you to watch an amazing documentary called THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK (1984). Actually, everyone should stop reading this and watch it now. Okay, are you back? Where was I? Oh yeah...With Harvey Milk, what you saw was what you got. He was as true to himself as he was to the world. There was no phoniness in him, and likewise, there's no phoniness in Penn's performance. I enjoyed all the actors in MILK, but I'd like to single out a few. Emile Hirsch as Cleve Jones, a street urchin until Harvey takes him under his wing to become an activist ("My name is Harvey Milk and I'm going to recruit you!"), and Alison Pill as Anne Kronenberg, the lesbian biker chick who replaced Scott as Harvey's campaign manager (Scott couldn't take Harvey's devotion to activism, and neither could Harvey's next boyfriend, the playful but unhinged Jack, played by Diego Luna). Both Cleve and Anne have a waggish admiration for each other in the movie, and today are still big LGBT activists. All these characters, and more, unite for the cause, which could be anything from SF's pooper scooper law to the mega-important defeat of Prop 6, a/k/a the Briggs Initiative, which if it had passed would have made it legal to fire gay teachers (how do they know?) in order to "protect our children from these perverts and pedophiles who recruit our children to their deviant lifestyles."

Dan White (Josh Brolin)
Also bringing some major chops to the film is Josh Brolin, who played Dan White with such brilliance that his character should be studied in Psych 101 classes. He was a conflicted man, trying to be good, but ultimately unable to disregard his beliefs. When Harvey doesn't pull through on a promised favor, you can just see the inner torment on Brolin's face. Some say the real Dan White was gay and he either didn't come out or didn't know it (the movie even touches on this), which would explain why he acted out so much. In one scene, Harvey's quip to White, which would have seemed harmless and amusing to the open-minded, must have seared through White's skin -

MILK: "We're not against that (the family)."
WHITE: "No?? Can two men reproduce?"
MILK: "No, but god knows we keep trying."

I think if I saw Josh Brolin on the street, I'd tell him I hate him. But really, I love him in this. It's his Dan White I hated. That's how good he was. Later, when White started unraveling, I actually felt sorry for him. And then, when he passed the point of no return, I found myself worrying about Harvey's safety, even though I already knew White was going to kill him. White killing Harvey Milk led to the origin of the Twinkie Defense, an excuse so reprehensible that I can't even think about it right now. Of course, for me the Twinkie Defense is "It wasn't me.", as in "Hey! Who ate my entire box of Twinkies!!?" Anyway, Brolin nails it all, but he couldn't do it without a good writer (Black) and director (Gus Van Sant). They made us gasp at Harvey's demise, even though we knew going in that Harvey would be...demised.


Van Sant has had a heralded yet spotty career. He splashed with DRUGSTORE COWBOY, and followed up his hit GOOD WILL HUNTING with that shot-for-shot remake of PSYCHO, which his bio calls "controversial," though everyone else calls it "baffling." But here, Van Sant's work is skillful. His use of real footage (the anti-gay Anita Bryant stuff is disgusting, and it would be funny now if there weren't people still like her) is both effective and either amusing or devastating, and it integrates perfectly with the way this oft-verite film is shot. Van Sant was also able to use many of the same locations where the events happened, like Harvey's actual apartment and camera shop
(redressed from its current gift shop) and San Francisco's City Hall. Also, among the extras in the film's candlelight vigil were participants in the original vigil over 33 years ago. It's a solid film, even though Van Sant breaks the tone at one point using a corny yet fun shot of at least a hundred people filling the screen, each in their own "Brady Bunch box", spreading the word of an upcoming rally on their phones BYE BYE BIRDIE-style. This was a gay network bigger than LOGO. Maybe part of the reason MILK is so good is that it was written, directed and produced by gays. I'd like to think that many straight directors, writers and producers could have made MILK (big deal, so do cows) (Sorry, I couldn't help myself), but I'm guessing being gay gave it lots of authentic moments and choices unavailable to breeders.

Now, back to Harvey being cunning. As heroic as he was, he was also a businessman, politician and entertainer, all professions under the umbrella of manipulator. I suppose you have to be to get your points across. Take for example the "pooper scooper" law. Though I'm sure he was really for it, he damn well knew it would get him noticed. So would his take on outing vs. privacy. Milk insisted everyone who worked with him came out, an idea that potentially has serious consequences regarding privacy and family. But Milk was always looking at the big picture: "If their families don't love them for who they are, for who they really are, then they should lose them." I can't pretend to imagine what coming out back then felt like, with the threat of losing jobs, family, friends, houses, and being beaten. And if you didn't come out, you were probably ripping yourself apart inside, perhaps even suicidal. And if you think it's easy, remember, Melissa Etheridge didn't come out until 1993 and Ellen DeGeneres 1997. Elton was more of a trailblazer, outing himself in 1976. Of course, Charles Nelson Reilly didn't have to say a word.

Harvey Milk
But the times are still a-changing. 1978's Prop 6 begat 2008's Prop 8. We all still have a long way to go. There'll always be some issue to fight about, and when there is, I want someone with the spirit of Harvey Milk there, because he proved to the world that one person can indeed make a difference. And just as he got people to be true to themselves and come out, maybe the movie MILK will do the same. Of course now we live in a time where it's more acceptable. Also, people have venues to look to, like Gay-Straight Alliances, Gay Student Unions and the slushie-happy GLEE. It's a time where movies like MILK can be made (imagine trying to make this film in the 1950s). Plus, being gay is not nearly as forbidden as it once was (thank you, Harvey). In fact, it's kind of voguish. Not that there's anything wrong with that.


Scopitone450 by Random Movie Club
Aaah yes. Scopitones. Those mini-film precursors to rock videos made to be watched on a specialized Scopitone jukebox in bars and other establishments in the 50s and 60s. These short music clips were usually filled with go-go girls. Sometimes, an act had a motif that was counter-intuitive to the song. Sometimes it was the artists themselves that were odd. No matter, for Scopitones are made of the stuff that makes my heart soar. They are goofy, fun, entertaining as hell and hot hot hot. No wonder I love them. I just described myself!

A vocally bland version of LAND OF 1000 DANCES by brother and sister team April Stevens and Nino Tempo. While girls danced, some in sailor outfits with bikini tops, Nino and April sang. Nino wore a black leather jacket which just looked wrong.

Gary Lewis (that's Jerry's son) and the Playboys did their Beach Boys-ish (so it makes sense they're at a marina) LITTLE MISS GO-GO. Yep. That's Teri Garr dancing around in this one.

, with Kay Starr, who, and I'm just speculating here, had no idea there'd be girls doing stripper moves behind her as she sang.

Okay, next is Dion doing RUBY on an Air France plane (I guess that means he's in the Mile High Club). For some reason, he's the only passenger. And he's the pilot, too.

Bobby Vee (he did several Scopitones) is next, trying to act macho on a moped while singing THE NIGHT HAS 1000 EYES as couples dance and smooch behind fake rocks.

Bobby Vee (toldya he did several) is up again with PRETTY GIRLS EVERYWHERE. And he's right.

And, of course, Nancy Sinatra's famous THESE BOOTS ARE MADE FOR WALKING is a Scopitone.

We saw a bunch more, but I'm going to let you go YouTube fishing for some on your own.

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