There it was again Thursday evening. I was heading home readyng to properly attire for the premiere of Focus Features’ “Milk.” As always, after turning on the car’s ignition, I checked the radio traffic reports. Getting home on time on the Wilshire Corridor is more of a gamble each day. And since the election, more so. The win nationally by Barack Obama has been cause for celebration. But the win of California’s Proposition 8 has turned the state back 30 years. And the anger of its defeat is manifest in the many marches and marchers about the state — and specifically at the Mormon church in my neighborhood where again Thursday night an “incident” — the discovery of an envelope “with white powder ” which caused the shuttering of the temple and the assemblage of more anti-Prop 8 voters.
So when I arrived at the Academy for the “Milk” preem and as the film unfolded it seemed like “The More Things Change, The More They Seem The Same.” Except in Nov. 1978, finally, Harvey Milk and the voters defeated the similar Prop 6 after previous losses. Could this be handwriting on the wall. For certain, the film showed the strenghth and unity in the opposition which was missing in this campaign in which the positive Prop 8 supporters received more organized backing than the opposition to Prop 6, 30 years ago. As the film unspooled Gus Van Sant painted a realistic picture of the issue at hand — “All Men Are Created Equal” as irrevocably stated in the Constitution and as powerfully reminded in his film. Making the point throughout the film are the no-emotion-holds-barred performances by the cast, led by a heartfelt, headstrong Sean Penn, a cinch to receive nominations in the award season — led of course, by the grand daddy, Oscar. He is followed by the supporting cast led by Josh Brolin whose remarkable “Bush” carbon earlier this year could very well put him in competition with Penn. The Academy theater was totally SRO for “Milk” and I’ve never seen an audience linger longer afterward to discuss (positively!) the film and its importance — and, of course, whether it will have a successful global audience. As Variety‘s Todd McCarthy notes, “‘Milk’ looks to perform strongly in urban and university adjacent areas but will have trouble crossing over to a public not into gay, political and social-vanguard issues” And he also agreed with me noting, “commentators will not fail to note certain parallels with the current political season.” Legal suits are in process.
The industry-packed audience was topped by Jack Nicholson and pal Harry Dean Stanton whom I greeted as they sat, almost undetected, in the very last row of the theater, Jack in a semi-camouflaged beard, was in good spirits, as always, and as always looking to find another movie challenge. After the screening Along Came Mary prepared a more-than-lavish, non-stop for the crowd, ready for a lift after the intense film. And then the Oscar talk — plenty. But on the lighter Oscar side, I had a reunion with Bruce Vilanch whose varied successful career ranges from writing to performing — as in “Hairspray'” in Las Vegas and elsewhere following Harvey Fierstein. Vilanch was celebrating inking to be on the writing staff of the upcoming Oscars. It’s his 20th. So we know, despite all the heavily-expected nominees, there will plenty of ribald humor to lighten up the three hours-plus. P.S. I suggested he tell the new producers at their meeting after Thanksgiving to invite then-to-be President Obama to be on the Oscar show. He’s no slouch on camera.