I've done a pretty impressive job attacking "Slumdog Millionaire", I think, so it's time to impose some but perpendicular perspectives. I like "Milk", I really do, and this is a problem, because I usually greet biographical movies that present us with a safe, sanitized version of a real human being with the same enthusiasm I have for "Slumdog Millionaire". The whole story behind "Milk" is rather one-dimensional, but Sean Penn's performance atone for every sin.
One thing I did not realize when watching the movie was how carefully it follows the real events. Subsequently I read "The Mayor of Castro Street” book, and I can tell that almost everything that Milk says in the movie is based on somebody's dairies, memories, etc. Even tiny details, like his advice to his aid to never use City Hall's elevators, but stairs instead, or when he jokingly ask another aid shouldn't he be doing laundry instead, it's all documented. Even how exactly he was shot is based on police reports. In the shooting scene, the last thing he sees is the poster for the opera he attended the day before, and I thought it was there as some kind of metaphor, but after my fact checking returned so many positives, I think maybe not. The San Francisco Opera House is situated across the street from the City Hall, so depending on where his office was located in the building, "Tosca" poster could very well be the last thing he saw.
Interesting that in making the movie they decided to free Milk not only from certain character flaws (Anne Kronenberg, who would become his campaign manager, tells in "Times of Harvey Milk" documentary that she was first rather intimidated by him, because of his temper outbursts "for no good reason except that he was probably exhausted"), but of some picturesque behavior which being included in the movie, would lend to it some apparently unwanted depth.
This is just too good for not to quote it in full:
"Barnum and Bailey's circus had come to town, and, as a publicity stunt, offered to make up a number of public figures as clowns. Harvey, City Hall's most ardent circus lover, stepped to the front of the line; Harvey could finally be a clown – a real one – for a change. A California Living magazine writer, Ira Kamin, was on hand to record Harvey's transformation. His description has eerie implications, given both the bizarre sequence of events that followed the story's publication and the later historic significance of the date, May 21, just one day before Harvey's forty-eight birthday.
"how do you feel," asked the make-up artist.
"I'm getting into sadness,” said Milk. ...
You don't realize someone is sad, really, till you see them in clown make-up. The eyes will always give you away. And Harvey Milk in white face had these terribly sad eyes. ... Harvey Milk jutted out his lower lip, and drooped his shoulders. It was as if, getting into sadness, he was picking up the horror, the real horror of the world and there was absolutely nothing anyone could do about the real horror of the world, but jut out your lower lip and drop your shoulders and apply white cream to your face and feel it.
Once outside, Kamin wrote, "something snapped" and Harvey gleefully started running up to cable cars, shaking tourists' hands. "Hey, I'm a supervisor," he explained, in full clown regalia. "I pass laws. I run this city. I'm an elected official." The fact that the bozo claimed his name was Harvey Milk didn't do much to convince the skeptical visitors.
The circus' major problem was that once in a clown outfit, Harvey didn't want to give it up. After terrorizing tourists and charming children with his antics, Harvey went on to make his appointed rounds of political events that day – in his clown drag."