Milk grew up in New York, eventually moving to San Francisco, growing a beard and opening a camera store in the Castro District, the first and largest gay neighborhood in the country. Soon he developed political aspirations, eventually being elected as the first openly gay homosexual to be elected to public office in California.
One of the key battles in Robert Epstein’s The Times of Harvey Milk, which rightfully won the Best Documentary Feature Oscar for 1984, is that of Proposition 6 (also known as The Briggs Initiative), which would have banned gays from working in public schools. Soon after its defeat, fellow Supervisor Dan White resigned. Seventeen days later, White broke into City Hall and aimed his gun at Moscone. He then moved to the other side of the building and hunted down Milk, firing five shots.
For those who have seen Gus Van Sant‘s tribute Milk (2007), which finely detailed Milk’s life, The Times of Harvey Milk may feel like another by-the-books presentation. It is, in a way, but with input from campaign manager Anne Kronenberg, gay schoolteacher Tom Ammiano and more (Milk’s lover, Scott Smith, was unfortunately cut from the film), it is one of the most captivating accounts of the pioneer and barrier breaker, an activist not just for homosexuals but all minorities.
Milk predicted his murder. He knew the fear and hatred that fumed in many. Such paranoia and bigotry still exists, but, partly through loving portraits such as this documentary, so too does Milk.
Postscript (2:42): This brief collection of clips, featuring comments from political consultant Tory Hartmann, gay rights activist Bill Kraus, Harvey Milk aide Anne Kronenberg, and auto machinist Jim Elliot, were cut from the film.
Jon Else (19:48): Else, director of the UCLA Berkeley documentary program, offers his thoughts on both The Times of Harvey Milk. This is another insightful piece, created by The Criterion Collection.
Two Films, One Legacy (22:57): This documentary offers a parallel look at both Epstein’s The Times of Harvey Milk and Gus Van Sant’s Milk. Interviewees include Epstein, Van Sant, James Franco (who played Milk’s lover Scott Smith), Cleve Jones, Kronenberg, and Nicoletta.
Harvey Milk Recordings: There are five video/audio interviews included here, with segments titled, “’Out of the bars and into the streets,’” “Texas Gay Conference five,” “Harvey Milk speaks out,” “Anti-Proposition 6 election night party,” and “Harvey Milk’s political will.” All are absolutely worth a look/listen and give add more depth to Milk and the documentary.
Director’s Research Tapes: Included here are “excerpts from interviews with six people not included [in the film.” Subjects are Milk’s lover Scott Smith, as well as “five of Milk’s colleagues, representing a range of gay life and local politics in San Francisco.” While it’s a shame that Smith didn’t make the original cut, it’s nice his comments are included here, especially for those who saw Van Sant’s film (where Franco played him) before Epstein’s.
From the Castro to the Oscars: This archive footage includes clips from both the film’s November 1, 1984 premiere at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco and the 57th Academy Awards, where it won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.
The Dan White Case: Housed here are a series of news clips and excerpts from a 2003 panel discussion held at the University of San Francisco with White’s attorneys and deputy district attorney Jim Hammer.
Harry Britt, Milk’s Successor (9:49): These comments from Britt, who succeeded Milk, were made at a 2003 event marking the 25th anniversary of Milk’s assassination.
Candlelight Memorial (7:20) contains footage from a candlelight memorial held on the 25th anniversary of Milk and Mayor George Moscone’s assassinations. Both Moscone’s daughter and San Francisco supervisor Tom Ammiano make appearances.
Also included with this Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray is a 28-page booklet with an essay titled “Making History” by film critic B. Ruby Rich, a tribute titled “Harvey’s Enduring Legacy” by Milk’s nephew Stuart and a piece on the documentary’s restoration by Ross Lipman, senior film restorationist at the UCLA Film & Television Archive.