Koch on Film
By Ed Koch
I rarely go to special screenings of a movie, but I accepted an invitation to attend the premiere of “Milk” at the Landmark Sunshine Theater. It was a wonderful event and, I’m happy to report, the film is gripping, poignant and funny, and it appears to be true to the facts.
The plot is a rendering of the life of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in the State of California. Harvey (Sean Penn) and his partner, Scott Smith (James Franco), met one another in the New York City subway which is a very poignant yet funny scene in the film. In 1970 they moved from New York City to
San Francisco, settling in the small Castro neighborhood located near the Haight-Ashbury district to which hordes of hippies flocked in the 60s.
Milk, who became known as the “Mayor of Castro Street,” ran unsuccessfully for public office on five occasions. He won his last race and was elected city supervisor in 1977. I believe there were eleven such supervisors at the time with powers similar to a combination of New York City’s Council and its old Board of Estimate. His great humor, common sense, and ability to form alliances with leaders of other communities is wonderfully depicted in the movie.
I had a special interest in following Milk’s 1977 campaign, because it was the same year that I was first elected mayor of New York City. Among those who helped him win were Anne Kronenberg (Alison Pill), a lesbian who volunteered to be his campaign manager, and Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch), a guy half Harvey’s age. Cleve and Anne are both brilliantly portrayed in the film.
The relationship between Harvey and Scott is very sensitively, indeed beautifully, portrayed. Eventually, however, Scott resents the amount of time Harvey spends away from him tending to his political obligations, and he leaves. After the break, Harvey acquires a new partner, Jack Lira (Diego Luna), who is clearly psycho.
Those who recall the events of November 27, 1978, will remember that it was Dan White (Josh Brolin), who had just resigned as city supervisor, who took the life of Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone (Victor Garber). White was anti-gay and appalled by Milk’s efforts to push for legislation providing equality for gays and ending discrimination in government based on sexual orientation. The feature mixes acting scenes with actual news footage, particularly that taken at the time of the assassinations. We see a newsreel of Dianne Feinstein, who is now a California senator, announcing the deaths.
When I arrived on the “red carpet” at the premiere, there being photographed were members of Harvey’s family. When we got inside the theater, we took photos together and after the film attended a celebration at a nearby hotel where I also met Cleve Jones. It was a wonderful evening.
In 1978 during the first month of my administration, I issued Executive Order #4 which ended discrimination by the City of New York against city employees on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, housing and education. In 1986, the City Council passed my proposal which imposed similar legislation on the private sector. Today, 22 years later, about 20 states and 140 cities and counties have enacted comparable legislation.
HS said: “I wasn’t sure what to expect of ‘Milk.’ It turned out to be a satisfying but sad story about a gay Jewish boy from Long Island who, at the age of 40 and unfulfilled, moves to San Francisco to seek his fortune. He becomes a community organizer, operating from a small camera shop he operates with a boyfriend. After three unsuccessful attempts, he is elected to public office when a district is drawn uniting gay communities (like the Chelsea district in Manhattan). In his first year in office, he becomes a martyr for the cause. The movie is very well done. You never know how much of it is true, but it is very plausible. It is also quite discreet. In his relatively brief public career, Harvey Milk played an important part in the struggle for gay liberation. It is hard to believe today how badly homosexuals were treated forty years ago. Milk is depicted here as the gay white counterpart of Dr. Martin Luther King. They made the world a better place.”
My usual Friday night movie attendance follows my weekly Bloomberg radio call-in show from 6:00-7:00 p.m. I left it to HS to find a film that would fit in with my schedule. Citing a favorable review (which I have yet to see) and saying it was a unique story, he selected “Twilight.” I knew it was a mistake, but I decided to go. The picture is God-awful.
A good vampire, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattison), falls in love with a normal girl, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart). Edward constantly struggles with his dark vampire impulse to take a bite out of Bella and his decent, human side to have a normal relationship with her. Suffice it to say she wants to be bitten by Edward so as to achieve immortality and be with him forever. Edward declines to sink his teeth into the lovely Bella.
Meanwhile, old-fashioned-type vampires with desires for fresh blood also exist. All of the creatures in the movie seem to have the strength and flying ability of Superman. A substantial part of the film resembles, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” with Edward and the evil vampires flying around at rapid speeds.
The film, based on the bestselling “Twilight” series by Stephenie Meyer, appears to have an enthusiastic audience. When I saw the show, the viewers consisted mostly of adolescents who screamed with delight when Edward appeared on the screen and also when the film ended. I thought the picture was ridiculous.
The delighted screams of the audience reminded me of the bobby-sox girls who welcomed Frank Sinatra to the Paramount Theater years ago. A little story as an aside. Frank and I shared the same birthday. One year during my mayoralty, he called me at City Hall to wish me a happy birthday. I replied, “Thank you Frank and best wishes to you as well.” He responded, “Please Mr. Mayor, my friends call me Francis.” I then said, “Thank you very much Francis.” Oh, the good old days.
HS said: “There is a reason this picture took over $70 million at the box office its first weekend. People like it, and not just teenage girls. I confess that I liked it, too. This is not just another vampire movie. We have so many it should be a genre of its own. This movie distinguishes good vampires from bad ones. The good ones are ‘vegetarians’; they only quaff the blood of animals, forswearing humans. A really nice, pretty and lonely high school girl falls in love with a really nice, handsome and lonely vampire.
“Can their true love bridge the gap between a girl who will age into womanhood, and a teenage bloodsucker who will live forever, attending one high school after another? You’ll have to see ‘Twilight’ to find out. BTW, the title has nothing discernible to do with the movie. There is no nudity, drug use or obscene language in this film, as distinguished from others made for a similar audience. It even has a couple of baseball scenes. You just might like it.”