Thursday, December 4, 2008

The National Review And "Milk"

I haven't seen Gus Van Sant's new movie "Milk" about the gay San Francisco City Councilor who was assassinated. But reading Mark Hemingway's review of the movie in the National Review demonstrates how some people can't let themselves enjoy a movie if it does not fit their political viewpoint, even if they actually did enjoy it. He says "the cast is uniformly excellent." Specifically, he describes Sean Penn's performance as "charismatic and disarming" and notes that Penn gives an "incredible performance." The one thing he does not like is the writing. He even complements the cinematography. So you would think that when he discusses the movie's Oscar chances Hemingway would argue that while it might merit acting and technical Oscars, it should get no kudos in the writing category. Instead, he gets snide, and writes "The March Oscar ceremony will doubtless be an insufferable parade of moral superiority, as the movie-industry lets America know that it voted for Milk as a statement against the rubes who voted for Proposition 8." Why can't he just admit that at Oscar time, the movie will justly receive a number of awards without a snippy comment? Because to do so would be committing the conservative heresy of admitting a liberal movie is, in some ways, worthy of praise. Maybe, the Academy will vote for Milk for the same reasons Hemingway, at least at first, seemed to enjoy the movie: it is very well acted and filmed.

I think I should have realized the review wasn't going to be artistically honest when Hemingway criticized Ann Hornaday's own review of Milk. She wrote, and Hemingway quotes, that "Once in a while, a movie arrives at such a perfect moment, its message and meaning so finely tuned to the current zeitgeist, that it seems less a cinematic event than a cosmic convergence, willed into being by a once-in-a-lifetime alignment of the stars." I read this as a statement that the movie comes at the perfect cultural moment. But Hemingway can only think about whether the movie comes at the perfect political moment. In essence, he cannot review the movie as an artistic piece; he must inject his political biases.

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