Lapping Up Milk

1 01 2009

Have you guys seen Milk yet? Wow.

I generally find more to like than not in theatres stage or film, so you can take my criticism with that in mind, but Favorite Daughter and I were just blown away by this one today at our local art house. This sure isn’t the cross between made-for-tv docudrama and blatant screed I was braced for.

Extraordinary. It was entertainment, education, time travel almost for me. And enlightenment.

In places it reminded us of women’s suffrage in America, particularly as we saw that history in “Iron-Jawed Angels.”

I’m not a Sean Penn fan (well, I wasn’t but this is REALLY something.) I never was an Anita Bryant fan either, even being from Florida and remembering her as our official “orange juice” spokesmodel. Favorite Daughter had never heard of her but certainly has a strong opinion now. Watching the film and thinking about it later, I now find Bryant’s “Save Our Children” bigotry much more ominous and offensive than I did when I was, well, politically not much more than a child myself.

In fairness (not that she deserves it) Wikipedia suggests Bryant repented some years later, good power of story because apparently her epiphany arose when she fell victim to her own patriarchal fundamentalism:

Her marriage to Bob Green failed at that time, and in 1980 she divorced him, although he reportedly has said that his fundamentalist religious beliefs do not recognize civil divorce and that she is still his wife in God’s eyes. Kathie Lee Gifford, who worked as a live-in secretary/babysitter for the Greens in the early 1970s [figures!] said in her autobiography that Green had a ferocious temper and could be very possessive and emotionally abusive, and that Anita was not very happy.

Some Christian audiences and venues shunned her after her divorce. No longer invited to appear at their events, she lost a major source of income. With her four children, she moved from Miami to Selma, Alabama, and later to Atlanta, Georgia. In a 1980 Ladies Home Journal article she said, “The church needs to wake up and find some way to cope with divorce and women’s problems.”

In the same article, she said that she felt sorry for all of the anti-gay things she had said and done during her campaigns. She said that she had adopted a more “live and let live” attitude.

Bankruptcy in three different states ensued. Humbling indeed, or so you’d think. But this Tulsa news story from 2007 suggests she might not have learned much after all, and that she’s just another uneducated celebrity who opens her mouth to channel catch phrases with no coherent thought, like OJ Simpson always sounds like he’s doing. Well, enough about her.

Btw, there’s a whole behind-the-camera Harvey Milk story to go with the onscreen story, about several failed attempts over many years to get the right script, and finally a kid who himself had been inspired by Harvey Milk’s life and advocacy spent two years interviewing his family and friends to get the (forgive me) “straight” scoop so he could tell it that way, as a story about warm, real people to care about and connect with while they were alive, rather than some kind of sleazy sensationalistic political crime drama and murder trial.

We did leave 13-year-old Young Son at home this afternoon though, with his bagpipes and videogames and giant Christmas coffee table book, Maps of War. Good call. Hairspray was enough of a history-hits-home eye-opener for him this year, and despite the underlying civil rights bedrock of both, there’s NO comparison in those two movies! 🙂

Tomorrow we may see “Doubt” with Meryl Streep in the creepy Anita Bryant-like role, near as I can tell, at the same art house. And the foreign language school story that won at Cannes this year is coming in the spring, that looks like it’ll be a French To Sir With Love. (FavD is studying college French this year and will see Paris for herself soon after she sees this film.)

It’s called “The Class” and you can check out its official website.

So to bring this post full-circle, part of Milk involved schoolteachers too, as targets of the religious right (I think Anita Bryant called it the “Normal Majority” in one clip, shudder) and guess who was the president of the jury personally awarding the Palme d’Or at Cannes to the teenagers who play the tough multicultural students of The Class?
Harvey Milk, er, Sean Penn.




21 responses

1 01 2009

After posting this, I decided to check a mainstream review — whew, I wasn’t just gushing um, out of school! 😀

That power lies in its uncanny balancing of nuance and scale, its ability to be about nearly everything — love, death, politics, sex, modernity — without losing sight of the intimate particulars of its story. Harvey Milk was an intriguing, inspiring figure. “Milk” is a marvel.

1 01 2009

And WaPo:

And, finally, that might be the most difficult and important thing that “Milk” gets right: celebrating the bravery, brio and burrowing, antlike banality of political work. What makes “Milk” extraordinary isn’t just that it’s a nuanced, stirring portrait of one of the 20th century’s most pivotal figures, but also that it’s also a nuanced, stirring portrait of the thousands of people he energized.

Harvey Milk was no doubt a great man, but Van Sant gratifyingly avoids making him a Great Man. Instead, he shifts his focus throughout “Milk” from Harvey himself to the movement he so ingeniously led.

What’s more, that push-pull approach flawlessly suits the idea Van Sant expresses most subtly: That history isn’t a straight line, but an often heartbreaking two-steps-back gavotte. The point, as Harvey Milk taught so many so well, is to stay in the dance.

1 01 2009

it’s times like this, when there are so many great films out, that i almost regret moving to the country… the only theater within an hour of us has only one screen and is showing that stupid dog movie!

1 01 2009

Speaking of movies I wouldn’t take tender-hearted Young Son to! — I don’t want to see Marley & Me myself even, now that I’ve seen the reviews warning that the funny trailers are misleading and it’s really a family drama with a very sad dog ending. I still cry over Old Yeller dying in the end.

1 01 2009

We are going to Valkyrie this weekend. Like my son would let a WWII movie pass…

1 01 2009

Oh, same here! Young Son and his dad saw that last week, and YS was rather pompously critiquing the whole thing for historical accuracy. 🙂

His chief objection was that at the start of the movie, P-51s were shown in ground attack. “That would never happen — they were for air superiority!”

He liked it though — maybe in part because he got to complain a little? — 🙂
He wants to see it again so I guess I’ll get to see it next time.

1 01 2009

We did see “Doubt” this afternoon.
Another excellent film, just in another league from “movies.”

2 01 2009

We saw “Milk” yesterday and loved it, too! I lived in the Bay Area when the murder happened and I remembered hearing about the “twinkie defense” as a kid and thinking how crazy it was, but I didn’t realize that trial was related to Harvey Milk. We also looked up Anita Bryant on Wikipedia after the movie finished–and watched the pie in the face! 🙂 Jerry didn’t watch the movie, though. He’s not too keen on boys kissing boys, or girls kissing boys for that matter–pretty much all kissing is gross… 🙂

2 01 2009

Jerry is about Young Son’s age, it figures. No mushy stuff!

Now I want to know what you think when you see “Doubt.” Especially if you take Jerry!

I thought Meryl Streep’s role would be more like Anita Bryant, rigid and full of unquestioned religious rules and unfounded suspicions about other people’s private lives. But actually (imo) it wasn’t like that.

It was more about what we’re each inclined to believe from whom, and why we sometimes demand lots of proof and other times take the most outrageous stories completely on faith, and how religion really is about complete faith buying in to a whole social system with no evidence at all — which isn’t a good thing when it comes to protecting kids and teaching them right from wrong.

2 01 2009

Colleen: I had the twinkie defense all confused too. For some reason I was thinking it had to do with Miami and a big 12-year-old named Tate (I think) who killed a little girl “wrestling” with her . . .

2 01 2009

Didn’t they call the P-51 the tank buster, or something like that? I’m pretty sure they were used against ground targets a lot! (We watched Saving Private Ryan today)

3 01 2009


Guessing he got that idea of how they were used from a video game. . .

3 01 2009
Nance Confer

It was pro wrestling, not Twinkies.


3 01 2009
Nance Confer

But it is odd that I also remember laughing at the Twinkie defense but had no idea what trial it was connected to. Hmmmm. . .


5 01 2009

That is the part that I remember about that time also, Nance.. The Twinkie Defense..not the gay issue. It’s almost as though we sublimated the real issues behind this though as a country we really were not ready to talk about this subject in polite conversation.

23 02 2009

I love that Sean Penn got the surprise best actor Oscar! 🙂

24 02 2009

And that gay kid saved by the real story of Harvey Milk, who grew up to write this movie —

12 08 2009
Presidential Medals of Freedom, Pitchers’ Duel for the Hall of Fame « Cocking A Snook!

[…] student”, says the president to laughter) and Desmond Tutu. Oh, and don’t forget Harvey Milk. I am awash in power in […]

12 10 2009

Schwarzenegger Signs Two Gay Rights Bills including one that honors Harvey Milk

2 02 2010

Anita Bryant Bio-pic may be in HBO’s Future:

. . .By the mid-’70s, Bryant was a Christian celebrity. She published several best-selling books and won Good Housekeeping’s “Most Admired Woman in America” poll for three consecutive years.

In 1977, she switched to political activism, launching a crusade to repeal a new Miami-Dade County ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

“As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children,” she said. Her Save the Children coalition got the new law overturned within a year, and it took 20 years for it to be reinstated.

Celebrating her victory, Bryant promised she would “seek help and change for homosexuals, whose sick and sad values belie the word ‘gay,’ which they pathetically use to cover their unhappy lives.”

. . .Hodge, who is looking to talk to Bryant about the project, said he is going for a nuanced portrayal of her and “what drove her to do the things that she did.”

Although the events in the movie take place decades ago, the social, political and religious divisions in the country nowadays make it feel current, he added.

20 08 2010
We Need to Sing Our Epics or Lose Them « Cocking A Snook!

[…] memes, Richard Florida and his “creative class” plus meaningful movies from Milk and Mindwalk to Hairspray and Madagascar, not to mention Harry Potter and Stanley Fish, plus the […]

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