MILK – A Magnificent Film

Sean Penn delivers the performance of a lifetime

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

MILK is a masterpiece. Directed by Academy Award nominee Gus Van Sant the film absolutely captures the burgeoning era of San Francisco’s Castro District in the late 1970s. It is the season for change at the intersection of 18th and Castro. The scattered populace of the City’s Gay community are no longer willing to be on the receiving end of brutality from the Police Department, nor the apathy and prejudice from City politicos – voted-in, appointed or otherwise. It’s time to identify hate speech, especially as it flows from the gilded and exclusive pulpits of organized religion. “Come out, come out!” shouts Harvey Milk – an openly Gay, aggressive, and gregarious 40-year-old running for a seat on the Board of Supervisors.

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MILK – Now at The Castro Theatre

The Savile Row Company

With three losses behind him, but an ever-growing and ever-greening constituency around him – Harvey Milk is elected to the Board of Supervisors. Nothing will ever be the same in the Castro District or in The City or in the Nation. That is, until right now. Today the inheritors of 18th and Castro find themselves once again taking to the streets to demand their civil rights and constitutionally guaranteed pursuit of happiness. Hovering above it all – blazoned across the marquee and with the largest poster ever seen across its classic exterior – the exuberant face of Sean Penn as “Harvey Milk”. Sean Penn is Harvey Milk. MILK is history re-captured. It is the greatest cinematic marriage of talent and historical personage of our times.

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Director Gus Van Sant sets the scene for Harvey (Seán Penn) to record his story and fears

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Dan White (Josh Brolin) demands a political favor from Harvey Milk (Sean Penn)

Surrounding Sean Penn is an assemblage of brilliant supporting players. Josh Brolin as Dan White embodies the seething madness and fierce inner turmoil of the now iconic assassin. James Franco as Harvey’s lover Scott Smith is subtle and captivating. Together they capture the complete everyday-ness of two people in love – a Gay couple fueled by commitment, nurtured with common cause, and then broken by the exhaustion of politics and failed dreams. The chemistry between Franco and Penn is real and without hesitation.

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JAMES FRANCO (Scott Smith) and SEAN PENN (Harvey Milk)

Director Gus Van Sant incorporates vintage news footage to bolster the narrative. Helicopters hovering over the upper Market Street area providing long shots of LGBT crowds marching up and down Market Street to the doors of City Hall are common place now. But in the times of Harvey Milk such occurrences were shockingly brand new, and totally disturbing. Who knew those queers could stop whatever it is they do to get it together long enough to launch a spontaneous and/or highly organized peaceful demonstration? Who knew any of them had enough muscle to fight off a local cop ready to crack their skull in a neighborhood bar? Suddenly the ignorance and collective hatred of the Christian Right is the stuff of the Six O’clock News. Their privileged knowledge of God, along with the details of His Master Plan, are spelled-out from coast to coast. Van Sant makes smart use of this unforgettable imagery by placing us and his characters directly in the face of blatant ignorance – from the fanatic and tune-filled pronouncements of Anita Bryant to the fascistic agenda of State Senator John Briggs and the Prop 6 campaign.

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DENIS O’HARE (John Briggs) – EMILE HIRSCH (center, as Cleve Jones).

The script of Dustin Lance Black is rich with truth, positive and powerful in its ability to create dramatic tension and emotional climax. It is an authentic tale of San Francisco. Each of the characters is drawn to perfection; no one is exaggerated, over-exalted or unnecessarily vilified. For those who were around at the time, who knew or may be the depicted players, who found themselves in the mix of political upheaval, on the brink of self-defeat or self-realization and actualization – all will resonate with the flow of the story and remember even more about where they were upon hearing Supervisor Diane Feinstein’s announcement that Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk had been shot and killed. For those who are new to this story, for those who ponder or are perhaps bewildered by the results of recent neighborhood, state and national elections – and especially for those who need to hear the wisdom of “Come out, come out!” from a true Hero – all will find MILK the most rewarding film of 2008.

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A visit with Harvey at City Hall

RELIGIOUS DOCTRINE
ITSELF NO LONGER
DUE RESPECT

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NEVER AGAIN

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Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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