Times of Harvey Milk, The (1984)

Times of Harvey Milk, The (1984)

“I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living.”

Openly-gay politician Harvey Milk finally achieves a seat on San Francisco’s city council, only to be assassinated shortly thereafter by his bitter colleague, Dan White.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Biopics
  • Documentary
  • Homosexuality

Rob Epstein’s Oscar-winning documentary about the tragic assassination of California’s first openly-gay politician has generated renewed interest given the 2008 release of Gus Van Sant’s Milk (starring Sean Penn in an Oscar-winning performance as Harvey Milk). Those who’ve seen Milk and would like to learn more about Milk’s rise to political prominence would do well to check out this conventionally crafted but provocative film; together, the two movies provide a rich portrait of a man who dared to live his life honestly and openly, despite the risks he inevitably faced. And Penn’s performance is simply that much more impressive after seeing the real Milk in action.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An engaging portrait of Milk’s charismatic rise to power
  • Touching testimonials by friends and colleagues of Milk
  • Effective incorporation of archival footage

Must See?
Yes, as an Oscar-winning documentary.


  • Oscar Winner or Nominee


One thought on “Times of Harvey Milk, The (1984)

  1. A must.

    Anyone who has seen Van Sant’s film may find the first 30 min. of this doc ‘old news’ – much of what’s in that section is captured faithfully in ‘Milk’. However, the second section reveals Harvey to us (mostly by way of news interviews) in perhaps even a more serious-minded spirit than the script of ‘Milk’ allowed Sean Penn to show. (And is it me, or does Penn come off slightly more gay than Harvey’s actual persona? Or I do I think that ’cause of what the doc shows and doesn’t show?)

    Most surprising here is that the last 30 min. focuses on murderer Dan White: his psyche, his basically ineloquent self and his trial. White’s suicide occurred after the film’s release.

    Of those interviewed, perhaps the most eloquent is writer/activist Sally Gearhart. In one of the doc’s most appalling sequences – footage of open tv debate on Proposition 6 (to ban homosexuals from teaching) – Gearhart and Milk sit opposite the camp (if you will) of Ca. senator John Briggs who, in reponse to Gearhart’s fact-finding that the overwhelming majority of child molesters are male heterosexuals, replies, “I believe that’s a myth.”

    But a number of equally bizarre statements are on parade throughout. When a woman on the street is asked if she would vote against Proposition 6, she says she would not – but, on the other hand, she would fully support hairdressers and decorators, esp. her own (“whom I love”).

    The boldest, very public statement in the doc, of course, is Harvey’s own: “Every gay person must come out!” One can’t help imagining a world in which this would/could happen. Though the world is certainly better since Harvey Milk walked in it.

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