Saturday, December 06, 2008


In the November 25 issue of the L.A. Weekly, film critic and author David Ehrenstein interviews director Gus Van Sant about all things Milk, including Sean Penn, gay cinema, Oliver Stone, politics and the history of The Mayor of Castro Street and the long road to bringing the story of Harvey Milk into docudrama form. It’s a very illuminating conversation, and my favorite moment—in this interview, and perhaps of any interview I’ve read this year—comes near the close, when Ehrenstein comments upon the appearance of the relatively straightforwardly stylized Milk after a much more esoteric period in the director’s recent work (Psycho, Gerry, Elephant, Last Days, Paranoid Park) and for a brief moment Van Sant glories in Milk not just as a portrait of a gay icon or as a docudrama or a possible Oscar contender, but as something even more pure:

Ehrenstein: It’s a very interesting project coming off your whole “film as objet d’art” period, culminating in Paranoid Park. To me, the film of yours Milk most resembles is Mala Noche.

Van Sant: Really?

Ehrenstein: Because you’re playing around with different kinds of film stocks, focal lengths.

Van Sant: Oh, yes. The cinema!


Anonymous said...

When he committed the murders, we had him go into this hallucination-possessed-blackout mode. He was dressed as the Twinkie Sheriff; he shot [George] Moscone, who was Mayor McCheese, and Harvey was Ronald McDonald. (from Ehrenstein's piece)

I'd like to have seen that scene. The cinema, indeed!

Fox said...

It's hard to tell the way that was delivered since it's in type, but the way Van Sant kind of "doh!"s his way through that moment - tongue in cheek, or not - is telling, b/c I found Milk to be not very cinematic at all.

Anonymous said...

Fox, in what way?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Fox: It seemed to me Van Sant was surprised at having a window to talk about the film in purely stylistic terms, which is apparently not the foundation on which is was primarily conceived (unlike his most recent films-- and I say this presumptively, not having yet seen Milk.) I took it to be a moment of delight in which the director was briefly able to divorce himself from the social context of the film and think of it, in a public forum, as an exercise in the creation of film as an object, not primarily as a conveyor of ideas. Whether you would want him to do this entirely is not the point, as I saw it, but rather that he seemed to have forgotten that he could see it that way, if only for a second or two. I just enjoyed the moment-- it seemed real to me.