Eye For Film >> Movies >> 575 Castro St (2008) Film Review
575 Castro St
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
Harvey Milk speaks directly to us and from beyond the grave in this minimalistic short film by Jenni Olson, which is screening at Sundance in January 2022 as part of its retrospective celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Sundance Institute.
Milk - the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California - also ran the Castro Camera Store, which was a hub for many gay filmmakers, as a detailed intertitle at the start of Olson's film explains. After that, she lets Milk do the talking over timelapse footage that was shot on Castro street in the set that was created for Gus Van Sant's biopic Milk.
"This is only to be played in the event of my assassination," Milk says at the start of a tape that was made in 1977, just a year before he was shot and killed alongside San Francisco Mayor George Moscone by a disgruntled former supervisor. That Milk speaks directly to Moscone on the tape - assuming that he would live to see the aftermath of Milk's death - only adds a further layer of grief.
There's a mood of eerie melancholy as Milk lays out the reasons why he might become a target for someone who is "insecure, terrified, afraid" - a concept that has lost none of its resonance with campaigners in many fields of equal rights in the years that have passed since. He then lays out his views on being "part of a movement", articulating his wish that every gay person would "come out" to help end prejudice. Whether you agree or disagree with everything Milk says, there's no denying the emotional force of something this intensely personal. And though Olson's filmmaking might be described as barely there, it allows us to focus on what is being said while also reinforcing the sense of absence left by Milk's death and the passage of time as shadows dance across the wall.
It is also a nod to the sort of experimental "simple light and motion studies" that once passed over the Castro shop's threshold, both of those concepts speak to the essence of what Milk is driving at - the continuation of a movement and the importance of hope.
Watch it below: