June 28, 2009

"Milk"

For the record, here's the full-length version of my American Conservative print-only review from last winter of the Oscar-winning biopic "Milk:"
Last November, Barack Obama’s name on the ballot brought to the California polls unusually large numbers of fans of Tyler Perry’s “Madea” movies, who stuck around to vote against gay marriage. Shocked, California’s liberals quickly settled upon more suitable villains to blame: Mormons! The small, besieged community of Hollywood bravely resolved to speak truth to Mormon media power by giving the Best Actor Oscar to Sean Penn in “Milk.”

The Academy even handed “Milk” the Best Original Screenplay award, although some of the drab script is lifted from “The Times of Harvey Milk,” which the Academy honored as Best Documentary back in 1984.

“Milk” is a repetitious biopic about the 1970s political career of the self-proclaimed “Mayor of Castro Street” as Harvey Milk grinds through five election campaigns on his way to becoming “America’s first openly gay elected official.” Director Gus Van Sant (best remembered for 1989’s “Drugstore Cowboy”) manages to make even San Francisco look unattractive in his haste to get back to the gerrymandering at Milk’s camera shop.

By the way, what kind of camera store is used as a political clubhouse? Camera shops are normally the worst meeting halls imaginable because they’re crammed with fragile and expensive merchandise. Yet, Milk’s “Castro Camera” is depicted as a shell with little inventory other than orange Kodak film boxes. (My guess: it was mostly a drop-off for amateur photographers who wanted their gay porn pictures developed discreetly -- an easy little business that left Milk with plenty of time on his hands for politics.)

A great tragic story could be made about how Milk’s gay liberation movement unleashed its own nemesis. Within two decades of Milk’s arrival, gay rights had transformed Castro Street into the plague spot of the Western world, with AIDS killing its 10,000th San Franciscan in 1993.

Mentioning a little thing like how industrial scale promiscuity set off the worst American health catastrophe of the last generation wouldn’t be On Message, however, and “Milk” sticks to its political talking points with the same tenacity as its namesake did. The bathhouses where the disease was spread aren’t shown. The movie is so politically prim that there’s only a single minute on the entire soundtrack of 1970s disco music.

Left out is almost everything that could add context and flavor, such as Milk’s alliance with Jim Jones’s Maoist Peoples Temple cult. Just ten days before Milk and Mayor George Moscone were murdered by working class politician Dan White, 907 ex-San Franciscans drank the Kool-Aid in Jonestown.

The acclaim that has greeted Penn’s supposedly precise impersonation of Milk is ironic because the 1984 documentary is readily viewable on Youtube, conveniently demonstrating how differently Milk and Penn read the same lines.

At least on TV, the suave candidate displayed only a hint of his native Long Island accent, while Penn plays him as an annoying noodge. And, oddly enough, the real Milk was better looking than the movie star. Penn, who in the 1980s would add slabs of muscle for roles as rapidly as Mickey Rourke did for “The Wrestler,” is now, at only 48, as wrinkled as a Shar Pei puppy.

Most strikingly, if “Milk’s” screenplay weren’t so relentlessly hagiographic, Sean Penn would be on the hot seat over his stereotypical caricaturizing of a homosexual. Penn’s performance is so flamingly effeminate that you have to wonder whether he got Castro Street’s Harvey Milk confused with Broadway’s Harvey Fierstein.

During television appearances, Milk came across as a calm, moderately masculine presence, with only slight gay mannerisms. In contrast, Penn’s histrionic act sets your gaydar clanging like the meltdown siren at a nuclear power plant. That’s important, because Penn’s decision to play Milk as utterly unable to pass for straight robs Milk’s story of much of its interest. The real man, who had served without incident as a Naval officer, chose to come out of the closet.

Perhaps Milk was as histrionic in private as Penn portrays him as being in public. I don’t know. If so, shouldn’t there be some mention in the script that his public persona was a facade? Watching Milk wrestle with his conscience over whether to drop his on-camera butch act might at least have provided the film with some hint of self-conflict. As it is, when Josh Brolin (who is outstanding, as usual) eventually appears as the financially and mentally shaky White, it’s a relief to see finally a three-dimensional character.

Rated R for language, some sexual content and brief violence.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

"My guess: it was mostly a drop-off for amateur photographers who wanted their gay porn pictures developed discreetly -- an easy little business that left Milk with plenty of time on his hands for politics."

Damn Steve. I would've never guessed that. Either you're really smart or have some experience in this matter. I suppose we can see now why you choose to remain in California despite the dump it's becoming.

Hugh said...

Steve, here's an interesting article where the screenwriter of Milk tries to dispute the claim that he lifted parts from the documentary:

http://www.tabloidprodigy.com/?p=2933

Anonymous said...

IMO, Josh Brolin is such a more likeable person and actor than Sean Penn that it undermines the movie's intended agitprop message.

wake up said...

re agitprop message:

>Most strikingly, if “Milk’s” screenplay weren’t so relentlessly hagiographic, Sean Penn would be on the hot seat over his stereotypical caricaturizing of a homosexual.

no steve....sean penn wasn't close to being on the hot seat. anyone who noticed that penn's depiction of milk was exaggerated also understood what penn was doing by exaggerating the character.......because when cracking the culture it is helpful to force the traditional culture to accept the most extreme deviation....

so they are "renorming" society to accept the most flambouyant gays as legitimate cultural heroes...it is not enough to renorm society to accept gays that are only slightly abnormal in other words those gays who behave very much like straight men......that is not enough...

no.....the goal is to force total public acceptance of the new normal...and the new normal is the opposite of the old normal and not just a slightly different version of the old normal.......

Anonymous said...

What does "noodge" mean? It's not in the dictionary.

stari_momak said...

Harvey Milk was:

a) Episcopalian from an old Yankee family
b) Catholic descended from Quebecer settlers in New England
c) Jewish, son of Lithuanian immigrants

You make the call!

beowulf said...

"The real man, who had served without incident as a Naval officer, chose to come out of the closet."

Just looked up Milk's service record, pretty impressive actually. I figured him to be a staff officer, but he actually went in as an enlisted man, served as a deep sea diver and instructor before being commissioned as an officer. Deep sea diving, especially with 1950's technology, was not exactly a safe billet.

stari_momak said...

Deep sea diving, especially with 1950's technology, was not exactly a safe billet.

You are right there, Beowulf. Given the man credit where it's due.

A hypothetical, would Milk have died of AIDS had he not been killed? If so, how would that have affected the trajectory of the 'gay liberation' movement.

Bob said...

To continue my previous point about the political dangers of immigration restrictionists being associated with homophobia, Roduck offers an alternative explanation of why Colorado flipped from solid GOP to solid Dem:

--Maybe Colorado changed over the years because of immigrationn from Mexico and the inmigration of liberals from California.--

This fails to explain things for two reasons. First, immigrants don't vote in large numbers, nor do their children. That's why there are many LA suburbs that are more than 70% hispanic but don't have a single hispanic on the city counsel.

Second, the whites leaving CA for Colorado are hardly liberals. Even as the CA coast becomes more liberal, the whites who have fled not to Colorado but to Cal desert areas like Riverside, Kern, and Fresno counties have caused these areas to become more Republican. Fresno went from a swing area to solid GOP in the past 25 years, for example, even as the hispanic population soared. The reason was whites moving in from the Cal coast were more conservative than the native whites.

Moreover, California whites still vote GOP in large numbers, and the ones who "flee" because of crime, immigration, affordable housing, etc are if anything more conservative than average.

Google "gang of four" and Colorado. Many articles confirm the importance of the money these two gay millionaries donated and raised. It wasn't just their cash, they were very good self-made multi-millionaries who made sure the money was spent well.

Finally notice the other state that rapidly flipped from solid GOP to solid Dem in the same 2004-2006 period: New Hamphire. The thing NH and CO have in common is a very educated population.

Driving a group with strong verbal skills and plenty of time and money into the hands of NAMs is a bad idea. Best to leave the gays and the jews alone if you want to actually get things done in politics.

Paleocons like Steve, just like libertarians, don't seem to really care about winning, so they'll ignore my advice and continue to lose. They'd rather take their potshots at the jews, queers, union members, public school teachers, SWPLers even if it helps lead to the Mexification of the USA. There's no concept of trying to expand the anti-immigration coalition to include those who aren't married christian social conservatives, who will never be enough for a governing majority.

White people generally however are a huge majority, but as Steve notes himself multiple times, white people care about getting ahead of other whites while ignoring the NAM demographic threat.

Anonymous said...

Bob,

This will probably get lost in the flood of post-Ricci comments, but you seem well-intended and committed to your point, so here are some quick counterpoints:

1) It's not just potshots. It's about getting at reality, and taking apart the methodology of p.c. The same type of leftist lies that apply to NAMs are used for the benefit of homosexuals. Diversity includes sexual orientation, see the recent Matthew Shephard Hate Crimes Prevention Act being pushed by the ADL et al.

2) NAMs, homosexuals, Jews (FYI, it's normally capitalized by most people outside of Stormfront), and most SWPLers are permanently welded to the Democratic party for many other reasons than immigration. Especially homosexuals.

3) I read the expose a while back in the Atlantic about the Quark guy. It's not restrictionists like Steve who are the subject of his ire, but rather almost solely the religious right. I grew up in CO, and think the Gang of Four is a bit of media hype that belies some of the other changes, including a *long-term* influx of out-of-staters as Denver-Boulder (what Pat Schroeder used to call the blueberry in a sea of tomato juice) have grown much larger.

4) You also make it sound like Steve's bucking for a job as editor of Newsweek or an RNC post, when he is operating on the fringes of mainstream journalism b/c he tells it like it is.

5) You seem to be assuming Republicans are good on immigration (Bush and McCain were obsessed w/amnesty). And "getting things done" through this corrupt political system has led us to the point where we are = racial dispossession or in your words, Mexification. So at this point diagnosing the fundamental issues at hand (see point #1) is the first priority.

Sockstand said...

For years, I worked in a one hour C-41 photo lab as a tech (before they became ubiquitous at every large retail store). We got a LOT of "f#@! film".

We had a policy to call the police if there was obviously illegal behavior, e.g, kids, animals. Other than that it was 'laissez les bon temps rouler'.

By that time-the early 80s-no one _really cared_ if everyone knew. That had been a big driver for both Polaroid and the cheap DIY developer kits.

Bob said...

Anon:

-The same type of leftist lies that apply to NAMs are used for the benefit of homosexuals.-

Like what? What is the big lie about gays that is being told that's the equivalent of Mexicans are as smart and law-abiding as whites? The worst I've heard is "straights are at a high risk of HIV so always use a condom."

-NAMs, homosexuals, Jews and most SWPLers are permanently welded to the Democratic party for many other reasons than immigration.-

Yes, but my point is that the GOP needs to prioritize. "Keeping down the queers" seems to be near the top of the list. There is a huge cost to gay-baiting, but I guess I've missed the benefit.

Rudy managed to get elected in NYC by getting almost the entire white vote. What's wrong with this model? Was he a bad mayor? Pete Wilson combined social liberalism with a hard line on immigration and economic conservatism. What happened to this type of Republican in California?


--It's not restrictionists like Steve who are the subject of his ire, but rather almost solely the religious right.--

I agree, but immigration restriction becomes the collateral damage when the GOP runs with social issues that play poorly with whites outside of their base.

--You also make it sound like Steve's bucking for a job as editor of Newsweek or an RNC post, when he is operating on the fringes of mainstream journalism b/c he tells it like it is.--

He has mainstream media readers. Instead of, say, attacking gays, maybe he could point out that immigration isn't good for them financially or culturally? Highlight the homophobia of the average NAM immigrant as an example of their prole social values long enough and maybe this meme gets picked up by the larger press.

The Prop-8 "Gays v. NAMS" articles that came out was an opening that nobody on the right bothered to run with.

--So at this point diagnosing the fundamental issues at hand (see point #1) is the first priority.--

Excuses excuses. Kaus manages to do a real part on the immigration issue without focusing on the important "fundamental issue" of the perfidy of gays.

Anonymous said...

Bob,

We clearly have different ideas about the effects on the family and society of the unprecedented push for homosexual normalization and equivalence. And you seem to be ignoring the propaganda that accompanies this push, including a ton of lies (Steve highlighted some in the original post).

But I still think your political calculus is off:

--Specifically, Rudy ran a sanctuary city and is a neocon on immigration. His complete shock to Tancredo's call for an overall moratorium on immigration in the early debates said it all. "What happened to that type of CA Republican?" CA happened.

--The GOP needs the religious right much more than it needs restrictionists who are an anathema to its pro-business wing. So getting rid of the base on social issues nets them not all that much (and much worse collateral damage). They will never out-liberal the Democrats on social issues. So the prop 8 split was between two groups that will never vote in significant #s for Republicans.

--I will concede that paleocons (not sure this is Steve) can be romantics. But I think you're guilty of a bit of wishful thinking yourself w/the homosexual-restrictionist alliance.

--Steve is not in the mainstream media b/c he lets the chips fall where they may. I think he really tries not to employ any double-standards (as you seem to be) when it comes to looking at various groups (women, homosexuals, NAMs). This makes him interesting as well as correct most of the time.

David said...

"White people generally however are a huge majority,"

< 60% (in America) is "a huge majority"?

~ 8% (total Earth count) is "a huge majority"?

David said...

By definition homosexuals don't reproduce (as opposed to people who accidentally fail to reproduce).

Unless we want a society as rigidly specialized as an ant hill, homosexuals are a dead spot in the commonweal. Is it necessary to compare homosexuality to necrotic tissue? No. But like other forms of sterility, it isn't something to encourage the aggressive spread of. Can't homosexuals organize on the basis of something other than their homosexuality?