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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Gay > Political > Times Of Harvey Milk (Documentary/DVD)

The Times Of Harvey Milk (Documentary)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B+     Film: B+



Though the actual documentary does not consider this, Harvey Milk tells a great American story about how no matter how great a triumph, something evil out there in The United States has to come forward, destroy it and get away with it.  In this case, kill Milk and do whatever is necessary to stop people from having civil rights and happiness.  The Robert Epstein-directed/Richard Schmiechen-produced The Times Of Harvey Milk (1984) is a haunting reminder of this ugly truth, compounded by the fact that what the man did accomplish is being washed away by time and the shallow mainstreaming of “commodified” Gays in the current mainstream media with no point of view about anything that really matters.

In a dark way, the gunshot assassination of Milk was the starting gun on an ultra-aggressive assault on Gays and Lesbians like nothing since the 1960s by a disturbingly energized Religious Right.  It was a bad, ugly omen to come and is only the top of a long list of items they have gotten away with to date, from murder, to abortion clinic bombings, to assaults on Civil Rights.  So confident in themselves, these extremely well-organized extremists laugh at press like this, celebrating their dark victories.


The Times Of Harvey Milk captures the achievements that a “lone nut” killing could not squash, and this new special edition DVD set adds a very ample amount of extras to keep the material current.  Harvey Fierstein narrates the story, starting with the announcement of the murder, followed by a brief, effective explanation of his birth and growth.  The majority covers his time of living openly about his sexuality, not a common thing then, and how he did what he could to make the life of himself and others around him (regardless of sexuality) in San Francisco.  This was the future ahead of its time, but fellow-councilman Dan White could not handle that, and some amazing temper tantrums and strange actions that should have been red alerts were not recognized.  White would take Milk’s life.


The full frame image has been remarkably restored in 35mm by the great UCLA Film & Television Archives (see the MPI Sherlock Holmes films elsewhere on this site) and it is only limited by the DVDs definition and the varying nature of Documentaries.  The colors are terrific and this is a new model for film restoration in this category.  Cinematographer Frances Reid deserves special credit with what was an amazing use of 16mm stocks of the time.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo actually has some faint Pro Logic surrounds, despite being a simple sound release without Dolby or Ultra Stereo analog theatrical sound of any kind.  Composer Mark Isham once again proves he is at his challenging material.  Extras include a powerful commentary track by Epstein, editor Deborah Hoffmann & photographer Daniel Nicolotta on DVD 1, while DVD 2 gives us Harvey Speaks Out clips section (2:40) where he expresses various reactions to various political moments in various clips, the filmmaker’s winning moment at the 1985 Academy Awards (3:02), the premiere at San Francisco’s Castro Theater (7:33), Epstein and Tom Ammiano giving a talk at the Los Angeles location of the Director’s Guild (16:06), an update on killer Dan White shows how ignorant and pathetic he was in the first place though some very revealing clips about him from news clips (3:58), an alternate ending that shows what the film could look like unrestored (2:40), Diane Feinstein’s statement on the First Anniversary of the murders (3:14), stills, the original theatrical trailer, and a 25th Anniversary section.


This section is split up into sections.  The Dan White case is revisited as prosecutors dare to argue that Milk’s sexuality had nothing to do with his death (46:48), Milk successor Harry Britt speaks (9:47), as well as George Moscone son Chris Moscone (6:55) Harvey Milk’s nephew Stuart Milk (5:46) and a candlelight vigil.


The film is a classic of its kind, but it has a few problems that are too late to fix, but they are minor.  I will leave it to viewers to find out from this set.  The counterpoint of the Dan White revisit will disturb some viewers, but no one can accuse the DVD set of not being fair and balanced.  The most important thing is that The Times Of Harvey Milk gets better with age and finally has a DVD release worthy of the film.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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