|Global Visions film series features "Harvey Milk"|
The last film in the Global Visions Film Series Spring 2009 season will be shown on Tuesday, May 5, 7 p.m. in the Memorial Union Lecture Bowl. The series is partially funded by the Multicultal Awareness Committee and is sponsored by the Anthropology Club. The goal of Global Visions is to provide the university and the Grand Forks community with the opportunity to experience films of exceptional quality from around the world, providing a broader understanding of and appreciation for the breadth, variety, and commonality of the human family. Marcia Mikulak, anthropology, is the director of Global Visions.
The event is free and open to the public. A $1 suggested donation is appreciated to defer costs for public performance rights.
October 7, 1984
'Harvey Milk' Relives Coast Slaying
By Janet Maslin
"Harvey stood for something more than just him," someone remarks in "The Times of Harvey Milk," and this warm, well-made documentary makes that eminently clear. The personality of the slain San Francisco Supervisor, who along with Mayor George Moscone was shot in 1978 by the disgruntled former Supervisor Dan White, comes through strongly, but personality is not the film's foremost concern. Robert Epstein, who co-directed the equally affecting "Word Is Out," indicates the ways in which Harvey Milk was emblematic of one segment of society and Dan White of another. And he traces the clash that arose between them.
This conflict is intrinsically so dramatic that the film can rely on a simple, straightforward style without lacking for momentum or emotion. Mr. Epstein uses abundant news footage of both Mr. Milk and Mr. White, and the ironies are overwhelming. Mr. White, for instance, is heard advocating neighborhood baseball teams and suggesting that maybe his district could challenge Harvey Milk's district to a game. "Dan White comes across as the kind of son any mother would be proud of," a television reporter declares.
Harvey Milk is seen as friendly, charming, intense and instinctively political; in lobbying for a law on dog droppings, for instance, he deliberately plants a specimen in the park and then steps in it during a television interview, to help make his point. Mr. Milk's friends and associates contribute many anecdotes to the film's portrait of him, but Mr. Epstein is generally careful to keep them in context. Harvey Milk's political career and the victory it represented for San Francisco's homosexual community is contrasted with the first stirrings of Moral Majority, stirrings to which Mr. White was especially responsive.
The film examines the controversy surrounding Proposition 6, the proposed California ordinance barring homosexuals from teaching in public schools, an issue on which Mr. Milk and Mr. White were sharply divided. It was four days after the proposition was defeated, thanks in large part to Harvey Milk's efforts, that Mr. White resigned his post. Five days later, Mr. White announced he had changed his mind and wanted to be a Supervisor again. It was 12 days after that, on the morning when Mayor Moscone had planned to announce that he would not reinstate Mr. White, that the shootings took place.
Since Mr. Milk's political career embodies the rise of the homosexual community's political power in San Francisco, and since the results of Mr. White's brief trial were evidence of a backlash, the film would have benefited from devoting closer attention to the trial itself. Mr. White's tearful confession, which was thought to have helped sway the jury toward its verdict of involuntary manslaughter, is heard. But his comments explaining his mysterious and abrupt resignation are not, even though they might have revealed something of Mr. White's mental state at the time, and shed some light on the verdict.
The "Twinkie defense" - the notion that junk food had made Mr. White temporarily insane - and the fact that homosexuals and minorities were not on the jury are cited. But they hardly explain why Mr. White, who carried a gun and 10 extra rounds of ammunition on the day of the killings and crept through a City Hall window to avoid metal detectors in the lobby, was found to have committed an unpremeditated act.
If Mr. Epstein can't fully explain what happened, he can certainly tell the story with urgency, passion and, finally, indignation. Toward the end of the film, a young black man asks rhetorically what sort of sentence he might have received for such a crime. Another interviewee speculates that Mr. White's staunch support for middle-class values and opposition to the homosexual community's growing power contributed to his light sentence (he was released from prison last January). And a third man suggests how pivotal Harvey Milk and his cause may have been to the verdict: "I think if it were just Moscone who'd been killed, he would have been in San Quentin for the rest of his life."
-- Marcia Mikulak, Assistant Professor, Anthropology, firstname.lastname@example.org, 777-4718