Sunday, July 26, 2009

What's Happening to Our Hood?: Two Films

I sat down the other day and watched the movie Milk. It tells the tale of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the US. Harvey was a man in his 40's when he won a seat on SF's board of supervisors. His area of influence was in the Castro and in the Haight area. I won't get into the movie too much; but there were several aspects of the film that I thought were interesting. For the gender angle, Harvey's 'administration' once in power and while in the process of working towards their goals is very male dominated and at one point in the film openly hostile towards a gay woman working on the campaign. People of color within the gay community are not much represented in the film, except from one of Harvey's lovers who ends up hanging himself and doesn't speak very good english. One gets the feeling that from the director's perspective, gayness in SF in the early 70's and 80's, is very much a white community. From the aspect of class, one of the interesting things that movie touches on is the power of the gay elite, mostly the editors of The Advocate, which is a mainstream gay and lesbian publication. In the film, the editors don't back Milk because they are more concerned with backing straight candidates that are favorable to gay and lesbian issues. The gay elites argue that change should be slow. While Milk himself is a business owner and quiet successful, one of the few working class characters we get to see is a young person who comes to work for Milk after first referring to elections as 'bourgeois.'

The most interesting things about the film however, is the fact that riots and large scale rebellion are always on the verge of errupting in the city in response to various attacks on gay people. Milk at various times uses himself to defuse the situation and stop people from rioting (although in an ironic twist of fate, people rioted violently after he was shot). In one scene during a demonstration, the former radical who comes to work for milk riles people up and marches them to City Hall, only to have Milk come out and talk to the crowd in a staged event done to make sure that people didn't riot. Politics in this film, is clearly a recuperation of the rage for attack on the system. I suggest that you see the film, but with a very critical eye.

The next film that I want to discuss is one of my favorites, Be Kind, Rewind. The film takes places in New Jersey in the midst of gentrification of a working class racially mixed neighborhood. The main characters are the store owner of a VHS tape rental store, and Mos Def's character who works there, and his friend played by Jack Black, who works around the corner at a mechanic shop. Jerry (Black), is convinced that the government is controlling the power plant in the neighborhood and decides to sabotage it. In the process his is shocked and then comes in and erases all the VHS tapes. In an attempt to do something about all the tapes being erased, the two friends re-shoot all the movies by themselves, and the films become a hit. Sadly, the government catches wind of the situation and destroys the tapes. In response, the community comes together to support them and the store and ends up making a movie together. One of the coolest scenes is when the community discusses making a movie about the life of 'Fatts Wallace,' a jazz singer who supposedly lived in the area, discussing as a group what the movie will look like. The themes of this movie are community solidarity and mutual aid.

I like this film because it potrays working class people in a real way, not either in a romantized way, or 'their all fucked up and sell drugs' way. Even the 'thugs' in the film are pretty real and chill. Look for a scene shot in the next Vengeance. If you haven't watched this movie or ripped it from offline, give it a watch.

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