I agree with many other students that the films are very different in their portrayal of a political figure and important social activist vs, the personal portrayal of the man. I watched the documentary first, then Milk (2008) and at first I didn’t like Van Sant’s style, but I also felt the need to point out things like the portrayal of the police (as mentioned before) and other things I would have thought significant for the documentary even, like the suicide of his partner and the breakup of him and Scott earlier in his career. I don’t remember hearing anything about those things in the documentary, understandably they are personal things but I would have thought the news might mention at least the suicide. Either way, the films were definitely different but I dont think one film can do without the other if a viewer wants a good story about Milk. Overall I like the documentary better, even only seeing footage of Milk, hearing about him from coworkers & friends, and hearing his voice from time to time were a peek into his personality and humanity.
I did though like elements in the Van Sant film that were not expressed in the documentary, for whatever reasons, like the fact that he was not a political miser but a passionate man with meaningful relationships, close friends and more “footage” of his sense of humor and ability to calm crowds. I also appreciated the way the film showed the respect people had for him, how he could calm down a huge mass of people on the verge of violence. Although many things in the Van Sant film made him into an angel, it really worked towards further regretting his demise. I left the film feeling that had he not been shot many more positive changed for gay people, and human rights in general would have happened since. It also made me realize that almost nothing has changed (in the order of gay rights) since then either.
One thing the Van Sant film also did was portray White as having a progressive downslide into murdering the two men rather than a sudden *snap*, which was much of the impression in the documentary. I think this was useful but also encouraged the possibility of sympathy whereas the documentary made a statement about the unfairness of White’s sentence and didn’t care about his personal life because it was in no way an excuse and irrelevant. I really missed the reaction, both from his friends and community to the sentence in the Van Sant film. I think it was a really important message about equal justice that was sadly missing. Another reason the films should both be seen by any interested viewer.
What I didn’t like about Van Sant film was mostly stylistic qualities and occasionally scenes where live footage would have been better than reenactment, or at least better acting would have been. (like the “seems like new years eve” scene which was really weak in reenactment). Although I didn’t really like the inclusion of original footage intermixed with scenes of reenactment I eventually got used to it. The film qualities just didn’t mix and people and footage from the past always look just so, and no one has successfully imitated this quality, that Ive seen. There were some creative devices used but so randomly they almost seemed to be thrown in rather than part of the style of the film. It went from fairly basic scenes that offered little originality to a scene like the phone call with 20+ mini screens of people on phones, then back to nothing special. It seemed forced and overplanned rather than a “style” to me. I haven’t seen any other Van Sant’s films so maybe that why I cant see it as a style yet.
Overall both films have their qualities but for me the Van Sant film wasn’t enough like the documentary to stand on its own.