Idolization Of Harvey Milk In Films "The Times Of Harvey Milk" And "Milk"

Rob Epstein's 1984 documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk, and Gus Van Sant's 2008 biographical film, Milk, idolize Harvey Milk as a hero to the LGBT community. He brought hope and became the first openly homosexual man to be voted for public office in the United States. The Times of Harvey Milk’s original newsreel footage, documentary material, and affidavit of his colleagues and friends present a vivid illustration of the Castro District’s place and time. However, Milk portrays Milk, performed by Sean Penn, reflecting on his stories and experiences through a voice recorder and integrates 1970’s past footage and articles. The film contains various genres, such as biographical dramas, dramas based on real life, such as 20th Century Period Pieces, LGBT dramas, Social Issue Dramas and Political Dramas. Although The Times of Harvey Milk and Milk successfully showcase Milk’s life and his determination to seek justice towards the constitutional and unalienable rights of homosexuals, they contrast in contrasting methods of cinematography to communicate his story.

By employing archival footage and also interviewees in The Times of Harvey Milk and interweaving some archival footage in Milk, the viewers recreate the genuine emotions felt by people during the time. In The Times of Harvey Milk, Kron 4 news reporter Jeannine Yeomans reports, “this will be the first time in many years that we’ve seen so many relatively new faces on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors,” such as “first Chinese-American attorney Gordon Lau, first black woman Ella Hill, homosexual Harvey Milk and Dan White, a city fireman who gave up his job to take his seat with the Gay Rights Ordinance in San Francisco” (The Criterion Collection). Yeomans labeling every individual evokes Milk’s outcomes, which reached out beyond his natural base in the gay and lesbian community to marginalized communities. In addition, the interviews play a huge impact in voicing their stories and portraying Milk’s personality with dimensionality. The interviews interwoven together smoothly transition from anecdote to another, which painted his existence. When recalling his death, many of the interviewes shed tears on camera. Therefore, the audience appeals to Milk’s strong belief through the interviews, since the interviewees’ emotional and raw memories were still connected to the latest memory of Harvey Milk. Whereas Milk’s interwoven archival footage creates a realistic effect without damaging the flow of the story. For example, its introduction displays a black and white newsreel of California senator Dianne Feinstein announcing the assassinations of Milk and Moscone outside San Francisco’s City Hall in 1979 (Van Sant). Subsequently, the film transitions to Milk sitting at his kitchen table tape recording his message to be announced in the event of his murder, which is used as the film’s narrative spine. Not only does he address the substantial probability of being assassinated due to his “controversial and ungodly actions” at the beginning of the film, he does so calmly and fearlessly. Milk took advantage of his own unalienable rights. In addition, Van Sant’s use to show a comparison between the film’s scene and the past footage of individuals holding candles and walking slowly down the Castro signify the commemoration and honour for Milk as a known tragic hero. Epstein’s integration of past footage and Van Sant’s conventional biopic techniques make viewers feel inspired and positive reinforcement that any ordinary person can create change.

In connection with the use of archival footage, Milk’s tape recordings are parallel to and is the recreation of The Times of Harvey Milk’s voiceover of Harvey Fierstein to seem like a documentary as well. The Times of Harvey Milk’s objectivity is enriched by the narration of Harvey Fierstein, whose voice is mellow, and reserved, only stating the facts and disregarding opinion. Marco Williams, a documentary filmmaker from the “International Documentary Association,” explains the emotional weight of Fierstein’s narration, which is to “condense the scope of the story” and to explain the events without inserting his opinion. Without the use of the voice over, the filmmaker would struggle to establish a direct connection between the audience and the film (Williams, Marco). Milk’s scenes of Harvey Milk recording his voice were separated throughout the film, which made it to be the most powerful. Not only does he address the substantial probability of being assassinated, he does so calmly and fearlessly. He believes that, “a gay activist is the target for someone who is insecure” (Laurier, Joanne). Recording his voice signifies a reflection on his stories and experiences, which allows the audience to reflect and sympathize with him. Through the different ways of narration, the directors display a range of abilities in storytelling, such as conveying information to the audience or connecting with the audience to reflect with the emotions of the characters.

The Times of Harvey Milk and Milk both repeatedly display the Castro District as the foundation of and a safe haven for the gay community to adopt their own social norms and practices. By repeatedly recording in the Castro, it signifies the hope for gays, who were isolated from their homes and societies, to freely express themselves and not be ashamed of their sexuality. By having Epstein document and photograph the neighborhood and street festivals of the Castro, the audience not only relives an era, but the ethos and funkiness of the 1970s (Attanasio, Paul). Through interviews and biographical photographs, “Castro Cameras,” Milk’s political headquarters and business are evoked to reveal the vast love and fondness the San Francisco locals and campaign workers had for the neighborhood. Furthermore, Van Sant uses the same exact places as Epstein documented in The Times of Harvey Milk. Milk filming the Castro in today’s modern world of 2008 allows the audience to view its maintenance of the 1970’s queer identity through the rainbow flags, the Castro Theatre and original Victorian building structures (Carlsson, Chris). Both films displayed Milk’s Penn, the character of Harvey Milk, and The Times of Harvey Milk’s real Harvey Milk standing in front of his camera store emphasizing his tagline, “My name is Harvey Milk, and I want to recruit you.” Milk stating his famous tagline in front of “Castro Cameras” allowed him to use it as his own city hall to speak about uniting all minorities, people of color, youth, women, elders and straights (Carlsson, Chris). “Castro Cameras” was where Milk expanded his targeted group to groups outside of the gay and lesbian communities. The Castro District was the place where Milk’s use of politics allowed him to establish a sense of inclusivity among marginalized individuals and to inspire political action while proceeding his moral and political positions.

Rob Epstein’s The Times of Harvey Milk acted as the foundational archival footage of Harvey Milk for future documentarians, such as Gus Van Sant’s Milk. Creating two separate films educates the audience about his candidacy focusing on equality and gaining awareness and a better understanding of self-defined gay men and their struggles to find a voice within mainstream U.S. politics. Although both films differentiate in cinematography, such as transitionsand narration, they successfully and comprehensively place an effort to preserve the public honor and memory of Milk and his struggle.

03 December 2019
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