The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)

“I know that you cannot live on hope alone.”

Harvey Milk was the elected supervisor of District 6 in San Francisco when he was murdered–along with Mayor George Moscone on November 27, 1978, by fellow supervisor, Dan White (who later claimed the infamous “Twinkie defense”). The film The Times of Harvey Milk firmly places the murder of Milk, a gay politician, into the politically significant context of the times. The crime, the verdict, and the sentence served were all shocking. This film tells the story behind the headlines.

Milk was a stockbroker on the East Coast, when he decided to pull up roots and head for San Francisco. He opened a camera shop on Castro Street and quickly earned the name of “Mayor of Castro Street” for his enthusiastic community involvement. His interest led to several failed attempts to run for city office, but when the city’s elections ran by district–rather than citywide–Milk became the newly elected supervisor for the Sixth District. Milk’s enthusiasm and talent for politics thrived in city hall.

The film includes photographs, newsreel footage, and many interviews with those who crossed Milk’s path in a professional or personal capacity. Milk was passionate about public transportation, rent control, and the rights of seniors and gays. White, on the other hand, found San Francisco’s Gay Day “obscene.” Eerily, there are several photos of Milk that also include his killer–clean cut, ex-fireman and family man, Supervisor Dan White. The film explores the flavour of the times–San Francisco was becoming a gay Mecca, and there were some people who couldn’t adjust to that fact. Senator John Briggs, who called San Francisco “the moral garbage dump of the nation” was fighting to get a proposition put on the ballot that would allow gay teachers to be fired. Milk fought this ballot tooth and nail, and it failed.

The film The Times of Harvey Milk is now available in a two disc set. One disc contains the film, and the other disc is packed with extra features–including coverage of the film’s premiere in Castro Street, a Dan White update, 1st and 25th anniversary events of the crime, director’s commentary, the Academy Awards 1985, and a photo gallery. For those of us who remember the headlines, The Times of Harvey Milk is a fascinating documentary that places the crime firmly in the context of its time. From director Rob Epstein.

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1 Comment

Filed under Documentary

One response to “The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)

  1. mongoliangirl

    In ’89 I was 21 and, by chance, caught the ’84 documentary about Harvey Milk. It was amazing to see such a documentary being shown on a southern Missouri television station. Though I cannot say I’ve ever been anti-gay, I had been raised around serious anti-gay sentiment and had lots of questions about gay rights at the time. Thank goodness that southern Missouri station took the risk of showing that documentary and, therefore, took a risk on me. I admit I cried my eyes out and realized I had been asking the wrong question all along. The question, I discovered, is NOT, “Should (whatever group) have equal rights?” The question IS, “Since we all have equal rights, how can I be part of making that fact a reality?” It is true that a 90 minute documentary can change a life. I cannot wait to see the movie! Thanks!

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