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    An Eleventh Grader Reviews the 2007 Award-Winning Film Milk

    BT 10.1 1-28 Final.issu_Page_17_Image_0005Teacher Lyndsey Schlax of the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts is teaching the nation’s first on-site high school LGBT course, according to district officials. In this column, students from her class will be anonymously sharing with the San Francisco Bay Times their thoughts about related matters, and what they are learning in the groundbreaking course, “LGBTQ Studies.”

    Student- 11th Grade

    In a good film, the acting performances, the direction, the score, the set, as well as other technicalities have to be up to par. But what really takes any film from good to great is the way that it can capture a mood. In Gus Van Sant’s 2007 film Milk, I felt the mood of the setting and time period comes across impeccably. Throughout the film, I felt as though I was truly there in San Francisco in the 70s with Harvey Milk and his posse as they battled for civil rights.

    There were several components in the film that put the viewer right in the passenger seat of the story, but one of the most powerful was the fact that all of the characters were made extremely likeable. It is hard to get invested in a story when you feel no empathy for the characters, but Van Sant was able to ensure that the characters were likeable and relatable enough to capture the attention of an audience and hold it for the entire length of the film. For example, all of Milk’s love interests throughout the movie, while adding quirky elements, keep with the tone of the movie without being too goofy or distracting too much from the core aspects. They were like a pleasant spice that added to the flavor of the movie without overpowering it.

    Another aspect of the film that really worked was the pacing. The movie was shot in such a way that as the characters developed and moved forward, you as a watcher developed and began to care more and more about them. I love how the movie turns Milk from a sweet, loveable person in the beginning of the film (when his romance with James Franco’s character is highlighted), to a powerful, strong politician helping to carry a city. You feel like you are truly growing with Milk and the story of the overwhelming odds that he overcame is heartwarming to the viewer.

    The final scene in the movie is one of the most well directed scenes that I have watched in a long time. In the end, Harvey Milk is assassinated by Dan White, another member of the Board of Supervisors. It is a tremendously tragic affair. The story alone is enough to push someone to tears, but something in the film that stood out to me was the way that that shot was directed and edited. The scene opens with a shot of Milk looking out of his office window over the San Francisco Opera house. This is symbolic of the great role that the opera had played in his life. This image is especially powerful and melancholy because in Milk’s life, the opera always was something to bring him through times of stress. The symbolism of Milk looking out at the opera house in the last moments of his life is beautiful.

    The intensity of the scene only increases from there. When White comes into Milk’s office and points a gun at Harvey, Milk instinctively puts his hands in front of his chest to give himself the illusion that he could be more protected. The first bullet goes right through his hand. It is difficult to translate this piece of cinematic art into text, but when I saw that moment in the film, I felt an overwhelming sense of terror and extreme sadness, emotions that most movies, especially movies that are primarily non-fiction, have given me. When you know the outcome of the story, and especially if you are prepared for a sad outcome, for a film to still shock you and make you feel such strong emotions is nothing less than amazing.

    Milk was a great film with top-notch acting, sensational directing and cinematography, fantastic achievements in storytelling, and a complete recapture of the essence of San Francisco, especially from an LGBTQ studies standpoint. Seeing the story behind the first gay man elected to public office is fascinating, regardless of the medium, but the fact that the story was crafted into a masterful piece of filmmaking is even more spectacular. I think that students and adults alike should watch this film, not only because it tells such a compelling story, but also because it does so beautifully.

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