For a crusty old lefty, thereâ€™s no place better than San Francisco to spend some time. SFâ€™s inclusive, emancipating social values, oddly out of place in hyper-capitalist, dog-eat-dog U.S.A., warm the heart. Where better to see Milk, the biopic about the martyred gay activist and SF city politician?
Inevitably, the taxi ride to the cinema merged into the experience. Driving through the Tenderloin in the half-light of early evening, we passed the soup kitchen on Ellis St. For more than a block, the poor and homeless queued silently, two or three deep, abject and despairing. In jarring contrast with this grim spectacle, we pulled up to the cinema in a former Cadillac dealership on Van Ness, resplendent with its restored opulence. Plus ca change?
Milk is deeply moving, not least because of its authenticity. Sean Pennâ€™s almost too-perfect mimicry of Milkâ€™s mannerisms is reinforced by a supporting cast that includes members of the original group of associates. Itâ€™s a really well-made movie, and Pennâ€™s and Josh Brolinâ€™s performances are the stuff of Oscars. Iâ€™ve never seen raw archival footage integrated into a non-doco so seamlessly. The ending, operatic and defiant, is a paean not just to Harvey Milk, but to the movement that he inspired. In the wake of Prop 8, the movie is eerily apposite, but provides a timely reminder that the forces of reaction can be overcome, though not without set-backs.
By chance, the walk down to the Van Ness MUNI Station afterwards took us right past City Hall. A group of Sherriffâ€™s deputies came swaggering out, brimming with the confidence of authority and the lethal firepower attached to their belts. Plus ca change indeed.