Bartlett Sher on Gus Van Sant’s ‘Milk’

Director, Sean Penn capture details of the era

I must admit in advance that I am quite biased on the subject of “Milk,” having grown up in San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s. We were all huge supporters of Harvey (my parents voted for him) and we knew the Moscone family. So by the time I got to the end of this film, I actually had to hide my eyes because I was completely overwhelmed by the experience of watching (reliving it all) again. But at the same time, I was really certain I just might hate the film as well, feeling very possessive of the experience.

Yet what struck me most was not only the incredible (indelible) performance of Sean Penn and the detailed sense of time so effortlessly captured by the mise en scene of the film, but Gus Van Sant’s depiction of how a community (not only an individual) is the core of transforming civil and human rights. How they capture Harvey at the lead of an entire movement and how that movement changed the world is really the most impressive thing about this movie.

That’s what pushed the tears into my eyes throughout, how it was about a “we” and what was possible for “us.” All important experiences of art come around when you need them, and this feels like it found its time.

A Tony winner for “South Pacific,” Bartlett Sher directs the revival of “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” to open April 16.

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