So, yeah, Milk is super fucking awesome – go see it. Sean Penn is completely ridiculously amazing, but so is the rest of the cast, especially Emile Hersch and Josh Brolin. Van Sandt knocked that shit down, and it’s going to get best picture, director, actor, and possibly supporting actor for Brolin. I’m renting The Times of Harvey Milk as soon as possible – I can’t believe that I’m only now coming to understand this chapter in my city’s history!
But okay, you know all that, and you’ve probably already seen the movie. I mainly wanted to talk a little about how the movie reinforced something I just said, like, two days ago, about the superb Danny Elfman.
Elfman’s score is incredible, and, for all the time I just spent ranting about how much I dig his twisty, malevolent orchestrations, his work in Milk stands in stark contrast to his earlier work with with Tim Burton. Gone are the choirs, the trilling flutes and marimbas, the blasting (awesome) contrabassoons. This music is elegiac and pastoral, filled with wide-open string figures reminiscent of Copland in the same way that Thomas Newman is, when he’s at his best. In fact, parts of Elfman’s score reminded me of Newman’s work in The Shawshank Redemption – not so much the haunting piano theme from that film, but the open, Americana-tinged string music that introduced the rolling countrysides and rooftops of the second two acts.
In Milk, Van Sandt uses Elfman’s score sparingly – it generally only kicks in during the most dramatic moments, building a fantastic sense of tension during each of the film’s nighttime gay rights marches. It’s during the final sequence, as the film approaches Milk’s assassination, that Elfman really earns his paycheck. Wide-angle shots of Milk climbing the steps of City Hall are intercut with him the night before, talking on the phone with his estranged lover, as well as with Dan White sneaking into the Hall through an open window. We all know where this is going (after all, the film starts with DiFi’s announcement on the steps of City Hall) and Elfman’s score is a marvel in how it deals with the doom of the proceedings. It is at once both funereal and inspirational – low, wide strings build a feeling of dread, but there is also a constant, ringing tinkling up top (possibly a celesta or triangle?), as if to say, “Here comes destiny. But there is hope! For you, people in the audience, you are also a part of this destiny.”
Oh, I don’t know. It was a really, really good movie about a really, really important thing. It would have been easy to screw it up on any number of levels, and they got just about everything right. And through it all, Danny Elfman continued to totally inspire me with his refusal to grow complacent, his need to grow as an artist. I feel that, looking at each of their bodies of work from the most recent ten years, Elfman has possibly even evolved beyond Tim Burton – while their collaborations in the 90’s represented a creative peak for Burton, it was just another step in Elfman’s artistic progression. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.
Okay, I’ll stop raging about the awesomeness of Danny Elfman now, and will move on to something new. Like the awesomeness of the 6 Parnassus.