Sinner, Saint, Martyr

Harvey Milk was a 42-year-old nobody, a wisecracking Manhattan worker bee, when he moved to San Francisco in 1972. In fact, in his mind a homosexual who couldn’t tell and live the truth was worse than a nobody. Of course, as we all know — even those of us who migrated or were born here well after the grievous events of exactly 30 years ago — he came out with an attitude and a game plan. He quickly emerged as the city’s most outspoken proponent of gay rights, a fast-talking, fast-thinking firebrand who (mostly) charmed with his impatience, insistence, and indignation. Milk was viewed as a one-issue candidate in some circles, but he was also acutely aware of the vulnerability of the elderly and the importance of unions. (For more on that, see Rob Epstein and Richard Schmiechen’s Academy Award–winning The Times of Harvey Milk, which screens at the Roxie through Nov. 27) The energetic, eyes-on-the-prize biopic Milk, beginning a four-week run today, honors above everything else its hero’s unflagging commitment to people-powered democracy. Gus Van Sant’s salutary film aspires to inspire a new generation to carry on Milk’s progressive ideals, even as it reminds us of what we lost on Nov. 27, 1978. As Sean Penn (who plays Milk in the movie) observed recently, “One of the tragedies of Harvey’s death is it was the year of the fucking plague. There’s no question in my mind that Ronald Reagan would have talked about AIDS, because Harvey Milk would have made him.” The world would have been different if Milk had lived longer; it is different because he lived as long as he did.
Nov. 25-Dec. 23, 2008

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