....This year's Oscars may have just taken place, but I recently watched a film that was successful at last years ceremony. Sean Penn won Best Actor for his depiction of Harvey Milk, the American activist who struggled to become California's first openly gay elected official.
Directed by Gus Van Sant, (something that surprised me owing to his more recent seemingly anti-Hollywood films), 'Milk' centres on a message recorded on Harvey Milk's dictaphone shortly before his death, mixed with actual archival footage from the 70s, to trace Milk's subsequent political involvement from his 40th birthday.
(Actual archival footage & actual dictaphone message).
It's a stunning and deserving performance from Penn, who is abley supported by James Franco and Josh Brolin amongst others. The latter plays Dan White - a staunch social conservative, who seems impressed by Milk's tenacity and determination yet is ultimately jealous, fataly so, of his growing support and popularity.
What strikes me with biopics like this, is that there is no suspended belief - what we are seeing, more or less, happened. There was that much anti-gay hatred, yet Harvey Milk did succeed in being elected. A real life hero story.
What I find incredible, however, is that over 30 years on, whilst there is much more tolerance and acceptance of the gay community, (and rightly so), it is still quite taboo in politics. I think initially the AIDS epidemic rocked communities and perhaps, unfairly, reignited distrust in couples in same sex relationships. We've advanced a long way from this and can hopefully elect more and more openly gay politicians in this and other countries.
'Milk' highlighted to me that if it was possible then, it is more than possible now. And with Penn in such remarkable form, I was whipped up passionately as a supporter of a movement that existed before my time.
From an artistic point of view, the cinematography is excellent and the deliberately colour drained grading of the final film gives it a look more akin to the decade in which it is set. A rewarding, enlightening but ultimately rather saddening film that you should go and see.