04 January 2009

The best of times, the worst of times; and how being a Gomez fan is the opposite of television

What a strange and terrible year it was, 2008. Like making a top-films list, I couldn't face the depth of it immediately, either on or before the first day of the new year, when people traditionally enter in their yearly ledgers these laments or celebrations of the time gone by, which also can feel like a clearing of the decks. "Let's sum up all we can about this year, for posterity, and because for the less lucky of these suckers this will be their fifteen seconds of fame, never to be heard from again."

But today I saw the film Milk, which I knew I needed to see, perhaps not least because like Harvey, I have always wanted to extend a message of love, hope, and acceptance to the kids and adults for that matter who despair of ever being around people who don't think they are bent or fruity or outright sick-in-the-head. And Milk was all that and more: a love letter from director Gus Van Sant to the gay-rights movement, a showcase of marvelous acting from not only Sean Penn but also James Franco and a slew of people, and a faceful of spot-on details and set-dressing decisions. (Pies in the face became a San Francisco activists' tradition at board meetings for some time after, I remember from our time living in the Bay Area in the 1980s.)

I felt I was seeing the actors and director bloom before my very eyes. This is Van Sant's newest of his series of meditations on violence (see also Elephant, My Own Private Idaho, and Last Days, among others, for examples of violence in response to societal pressures--both externalized, with gays as targets, or internalized, by suicidal rock stars who can't make their inner world match up to the outer one for example. Or here, where one man, the once-closeted Harvey Milk, takes personal responsibility for the well-being of an entire movement, not just himself or his closest circle.

It was such a gift to be able to appreciate the verve and joyfulness of Harvey Milk--and the gaping void that opened in Harvey's absence. Van Sant not only showed us why we need to have hope for our futures but also what is at stake if we don't fight for the rights of "all the Us-es" as Milk says in the film--the gays, the disabled, the elderly, the blacks, the women, the Jews, all of us. For if one of us isn't truly free, then we all feel those shackles sooner or later.

I know everyone's lining up to say the likes of this right now, but If Sean Penn doesn't get the acting Oscar this year, I will eat this post. But what I'd love to see even more is a directing prize for Gus. That would be super! (Incidentally, the mimeographs and typographical accuracy of the campaign posters were among the pleasures of this movie, esp the "Harvey Milk for Supervisor!" posters with the "Super" underlined--so hip!)

It's gotten quite late but in reviewing photos some of my top moments of the year were spent with family and friends of course, but also writing, taking photos, seeing and trying my amateurish hand at making films, and going to Chicago to see Gomez & friends. One of the magical things about that latter experience was getting to witness first-hand what happens when a bunch of people decide to put themselves in the story of their favorite band for a moment. It was like the polar opposite of watching television. Some people seized hold of the opportunity to see and be seen while others needed to maintain some distance, some anonymity, for the whole thing not to tumble like some proverbial house of cards. And most of us fell somewhere in between those extremes. I was delighted to have the opportunity to see that happening up close, and to be able to join in the fun in my own peculiar ways. I have not a regret.

About any of it. Happy out-with-the-old and happy new year. I wish us unity, compassion, strength, health, hope, and happiness. Who says we can't have it all? Or is love all we need, like the wise men said?

No comments: