Knight at the Movies Archives
The broken promise of Brokeback Mountain was fulfilled - momentarily at least - by Milk
I was in college when I read the news that gay activist Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone had been shot in 1978
but in the years that followed his death I have to admit I didn’t think much about him.  The next time I did was after watching the
moving and powerful 1984 documentary
The Times of Harvey Milk.  This was one night many years after the movie had won the Oscar
for Best Documentary and came at the height of the AIDS crisis.  It was also the height of ACT-UP and not long after seeing the
documentary I remember someone at one of the mega marches that happened here in the late 80s shouting out “Remember
Harvey Milk!” and then saying wistfully, “It’s too bad Harvey isn’t here to lead the march.”  I turned to ask the man if he had known
Harvey and what had ever happened to that movie about Harvey’s life I kept hearing about?  But he was already down the block,
swept along with the other protesters.

Rumors of Milk’s story coming to the screen appeared periodically over the years and I eagerly followed them.  At one point Robin
Williams was announced to play Harvey, a choice I thought stupendous but nothing came of it.  Next I heard that Tom Cruise wanted
to play Dan White and that Oliver Stone was attached to direct.  No he wasn’t.  Yes he was.  No.  Eventually, rumors about any Milk
biopic fell off the radar screen.

In the meantime gay cinema in the mainstream suddenly caught fire in 2005.  Not only did we get the first critically lauded and
financially successful gay themed movie,
Brokeback Mountain, but it was joined that year by a slew of other movies with GLBT
themes.  I reviewed over 25 of these alone in 2005 and that year’s Oscar nominations included not just
Brokeback but Capote and
Transamerica.  But though Brokeback won in several categories it lost the top prize to Crash and Heath Ledger lost to Philip Seymour
Hoffman in
Capote (and here’s a bit of ironic reversal – Hoffman lost this year to Ledger, who was awarded posthumously for The Dark

It seemed for a brief period at the end of 2005 that mainstream acceptance was going to finally come for GLBT themed pictures.  
But as gay icon
Bruce Vilanch reminded me during an interview, “These things are special events.  They only come along once in a
great while.”  So, though I reviewed nearly as many GLBT themed titles in 2006 not one of them received the critical acclaim or
mainstream acceptance of the movies the previous year.  That’s pretty much been the case since 2005 and I’ve come to think of the
intervening years with their skimpy movies releases aimed at GLBT audiences as the “broken promise of
Brokeback Mountain.”  

But I should have taken longtime Oscar award ceremony scribe Vilanch’s words to heart and patiently waited (after all – who else
from the gay community has had a front row seat when it comes to the movies for quite as long?).  When word seeped out that not
only was Harvey Milk’s story finally going to be made but would be directed by Gus Van Sant, star Sean Penn, have Cleve Jones as
its technical adviser, and would feature a first time script by an openly gay writer it seemed too good to be true.  For me the result is
a movie where reality has surpassed my dreams.  It’s all there, quietly told with a minimum of fuss, beautifully relayed in Van Sant’s
unvarnished, unfussy style.  I hasten to add that the movie – which I termed an “unadorned masterpiece” in my original review (boy
is it ever) – is never just a dry history lesson.  It’s also sexy, funny, illuminating, and of course, powerful and emotionally

Hasn’t it been great to see the man many have termed the “gay Martin Luther King” so lovingly and respectfully portrayed on the
screen?  Hasn’t it been great to have our straight friends and family members embrace this gay hero at long last?  And how about
them Oscars?  Dustin Lance Black’s speech upon winning for Original Screenplay was a vivid highlight and it was a joyful moment and
victory for Our People, indeed, when Sean Penn won over Mickey Rourke in the upset of the evening (and Penn forever won my heart
when he started his acceptance speech with an exuberant, “You Commie, homo-loving sons of guns!” and then went on to shame
those that continue to hold the line against gay civil rights).  Even though
Milk lost in several categories these wins seemed to
momentarily remedy the years of slights and denigrations.

But we’re not there yet –
Milk hasn’t done all that well in theatres and let’s face it, movies are as much about business and financial
success as anything else.  So turning Milk into a financial hit which we can do with the just released DVD (from Universal Home Video)
is going to be important and help insure that more GLBT themed movies get made.  The disc includes three very inspiring
featurettes – “Remembering Harvey,” “Hollywood Comes to San Francisco,” “Marching For Equality,” and a few deleted scenes.  
Though I’m disappointed a commentary track with Van Sant, Black, cast members or historical consultant Cleve Jones wasn’t
included this is obviously one of those movies you gotta have in the collection.  Not only to offer support for a film that’s so clearly
“one of our own” but to take out from time to time and watch, remember, enjoy and be moved all over again.  Though we lost one
of our brightest lights much too soon at least we have both
The Times of Harvey Milk (another must have) and Milk to help fill the
void.  Both are films to pass on to future generations and provide wonderful, inspirational examples from gay history for all the world
to see.
It's About Time:
From Brokeback Mountain to Milk
3-12-09 Windy City Times KATM Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.