Sunday, February 10, 2008

Waiting for the flames to emerge

Even more disturbing than the pro-gentrification/pro-development hoopla around the Gus Van Sant Harvey Milk "biopic" is the sight of queer, non-mainstream and counterculture-affiliated San Franciscans, some of them even present in the 1970s, rushing to don ‘70s realness drag and carry candles while guarded by a police escort. The rhetoric goes that this time in history will finally be memorialized for the general public. Kind of like Gus Van Sant’s scene-by-scene remake of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, I guess.

But wait -- The Times of Harvey Milk, a 1984 documentary, already won an Oscar. But no one can revitalize history like a gay "indie" director with a death fetish. “NO Garish bright colors such as BRIGHT white or red, or ‘Wacky’ disco-themed ‘70s ‘Halloween Costumes,’" ends the list of wardrobe selections for the new movie. That's right -- no one in the 1970s wore garish bright colors or "wacky" outfits.

Another thing to remember is that, after the White Night Riots, vengeful cops went to the Castro and smashed the windows of a local bar, The Elephant Walk (now Harvey's), entered the bar to beat up patrons and destroy fixtures, and swung their batons into anyone in the Castro unlucky enough to be outside. The 1984 documentary shows great footage of police cars in flames, but includes no mention of the resulting police violence. I'm wondering, actually, if the new Van Sant film will end at the candlelight march, thus avoiding talk about such market-unfriendly issues as property destruction as a political act or systemic police violence against queers. After all, straight tourists don't like to hear about gay people fighting back!

Unfortunately, San Francisco in 2008 is more of a playground for the wealthy than a space for the delirious potential of dissidence. But there are still tons of police cars around, just waiting for the flames to emerge...


Daisy said...

Do you have any links about the movie? I didn't know it was even being made, so I'm out of the loop once again.

My friend Van (R.I.P.) was in that riot, and described to me exactly what you say here about the violent repercussions of the riot. (And yeah, he was fond of dressing like a clown and going out at night, so what's that about the wacky outfits?)

Sorry to hear SF has changed so much since ragtag hippies like me were allowed to work up at the wharf, serving crab dip to tourists and making excellent tips! Those were the days! :)

PS: you are a great writer, and very pleased to discover your blog.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Daisy, thanks so much for writing -- and for the sweet compliments on my blog/writing...

Exactly, what is that about the wacky outfits?!?

As for links, there is no official site for the movie that I know of, but if you search the Bay Area Reporter website (, there are a bunch of articles. Or, for the guidelines for extras,

Love --