Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In Praise of Gus Van Sant

(Photo Credit: Found on imdb; provenance unknown. Gus Van Sant and Sean Penn on the set of Milk.)

Attention, Please:
First Guest Post EVER on Roxie's World!

Greetings, citizens of Roxie’s World. This is qta, and I am here, at special invitation from Roxie herself, to bring you the Queer of the Year for 2008 (Non-Grrl Division). The Candy Man will no doubt be disappointed that we did not choose out Australian Olympic diving gold medalist, Matthew Mitcham for this year’s honor. It was close, and we are certainly proud of Matthew for his triumph, his skill, his dexterity, his bravery, his physique, his tears of victory, and for having his mom and his boyfriend by his side as he gave interviews. But young Matthew will have to settle for silver in this category, because director Gus Van Sant is the Queer of the Year (Non-Grrl Division).

Gus Van Sant’s quest to bring the story of Harvey Milk to the big screen began in 1992, right after his breakthrough film, My Own Private Idaho (1991). It took him 16 years to bring the project to fruition. But those 16 years of waiting paid off enormously well in 2008. Van Sant is no novice when it comes to queer film. In addition to the above mentioned My Own Private Idaho, he also directed Mala Noche (1985), Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993), and Elephant (2003). But Milk (2008) may just be his greatest work.

This film could have gone so wrong in so many ways. It could have fallen into the standard biopic trap, but that would have been an injustice to all that Harvey Milk represents to the LGBT civil rights movement. It could have fallen into the “issue film” trap, but then it would have lost the story of the man. It could have been just a political thriller, but then it would have lost its soul. Van Sant falls into none of these traps. Instead he offers us a powerful and moving film that keeps the man, the movement, the politics, the tragedy, and the queerness of it all in splendid balance. What’s more, he makes sure to keep the film queer. It would have been so easy to play down the queer sex and politics and just shoot a deifying portrait of a slain martyr.

But Van Sant is not content to limit Harvey Milk to the status of martyr. His Milk is just a man -- but a charismatic and passionate man -- who by the age of 40 hadn’t even begun to make his mark. His Milk is a savvy and powerful politician who knew how to make the system work and had the strategic genius to make it work for his agenda. Gus Van Sant’s Harvey Milk shows us everything that is wrong about our current LGBT political movement and its players. This film is meant not only to celebrate the life of one of our greatest leaders, but also to wake us up out of our complacency. One need only look at the enormous setbacks the queer community suffered in this year's elections to see that the current LGBT political establishment is not working. By bringing Milk to the masses this year (perhaps when we needed it the most), Van Sant reminds us of how it can be done . . . and for that, Gus Van Sant is Roxie’s World’s Queer of the Year for 2008 (Non-Grrl Division).

(Comedian Wanda Sykes is Queer of the Year for 2008 [Grrl Division].)

PS from Moose: Many thanks to qta for this post and so much more. You are the Queer of the Year (Grad Student Division) for this and every year. Love and happiness to you and yours from all of us in Roxie's World.


  1. Wow. First guest post ever in Roxie's World.... I am so honored and humbled. And thanks Moose for the Queer of the Year (Grad Student Division) honor. I'd like to thank Roxie and Moose for this opportunity, I would also like to thank... oh... it says "wrap it up"... uh, my fans... I couldn't have done it without you.

  2. Anonymous5:47 PM EST

    I'm fine with Matthew taking silver, QTA. I'll explain your reasoning to him next week, over tea and biscuits.

  3. Don't you mean over tearooms and sympathy, Candy Man?

  4. Oh, you filthy boys. Now you see why qta gets posting privileges here and you don't. Your leashes need to be even shorter than Moose's (no bondage jokes, please). ;-)


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