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16 January 2009

Distilled Milk

(L-R: Dustin Lance Black, Gus Van Sant, James Franco, Grauniad interviewer)

As I lead an incredibly glamorous life and have spent most of the past six years in the cosmopolitan Mecca that is Nowheresville, the preview screening of Milk I went to see tonight at the BFI wasn't the first preview/interview and Q&A with the director I have ever seen. That honour goes to Ne le dis à personne, in which I was surprised to discover the director of said director Q&A was the gorgeous Guillaume Canet. That time, I was caught without a camera and had to settle for a poxy autograph in my Moleskine. This time, I was cannier.

This time, there were also some surprise guests. After the screening of Milk, some bird from the Grauniad interviewed director Goosevanson (AKA Gus Van Sant), chatting with him about his film career and showing clips from several movies from his back catalogue (Mala Noche, Good Will Hunting and Elephant). I didn't think she did a very good job or maybe Van Sant is just tough to interview--he's famously shy (someone in the audience even quizzed him on that and he said he was definitely intimidated by the skater kids in Paranoid Park) but also very dry and sharp. Maybe there was also a UK-US cultural divide but the interviewer and Van Sant didn't even seem to understand what answer was given or what question was posed, respectively, some of the time.

As a special surprise, the BFI lady then whipped out James Franco (who plays Milk's lover Scott Smith) and the writer, Dustin Lance Black and invited them to join the fun. I perked up quite a lot at this point because James Franco is hot and I've had a soft spot for him ever since he was in the short-lived but brilliant TV series Freaks and Geeks about ten years ago. Sadly he wasn't very coherent (when asked how he went about researching his character in Milk, he sort of mumbled for about five minutes about how it was really sad that no one of his generation learned anything about Milk at school and, spurred on by the applause he received, he went on to say how he just wanted to be true to the real Scott Smith but that because we're all Brits it's not like we're going to know whether he succeeded anyway) and the film buff crowd targeted their questions almost exclusively at Van Sant and Black.

The only other Van Sant movies I've seen are To Die ForParanoid Park (which I liked) and Elephant (which I loathed, although perhaps just on principle). I didn't even realise (or didn't remember) that he also directed two films which have been on my long-term to-watch list: My Own Private Idaho (for obvious reasons) and Good Will Hunting (mainly because I used to have a big crush on Ben Affleck at the time it came out). I had just thought that he only made pretentious, plot-free movies so I think I am going to have to wade through his back catalogue a little, especially when asked whether he would make another comedy, after To Die For, and he noted that he'd always had his heart set on making Dude, Where's My Car 2.

I expected that the focus of the interviews tonight would be on Milk but it was really more about Van Sant's earlier films. How actually those helicopter shots in Good Will Hunting weren't that expensive to shoot. How the studio really didn't want Ben Affleck and Matt Damon to star in Good Will Hunting (which they also wrote) because they "weren't stars" (the studio had Brad Pitt and Leo DiCaprio lined up), although Ben and Matt had their way in the end. How he made the shot-by-shot remake of Psycho as an anti-remake movie--to show how you can't just use the same script and the same directions and expect the original magic to be there. How the cinematographer for Paranoid Park is a bit of a drama queen and a rabble-rouser (Van Sant checked first with the BFI lady that the cinematographer hadn't already been to talk at the BFI!). Quite entertaining, then, was Gus with lots of nice anecdotes, even if he wasn't really very good at answering questions. And even if he barely said a word about Milk all night (that is probably the interviewer's fault but the audience directed all Milk-related questions to the writer instead).

I liked Milk a lot though--a good thing, really, given the anticipation of having seen the trailer so many times (I was disappointed, if not surprised, that the David Gale music wasn't used in the film). A lot of laughs were coming from the audience--slightly fewer than me because although I found it funny the first ten times I saw Milk quip to Dan White (in response to White's question, "Can two men reproduce?"), "No, but God knows we keep trying," I had used up all my laughter on that line. And it was inspiring and sweet and powerful and all of those positive adjectives. I didn't like the character of Jack, Milk's boyfriend during the second half of the film, but nor was I supposed to. Someone asked the writer whether Harvey's intense feelings for Jack were realistic given that Jack was such an arse, and Black replied that Jack was an arse in real life but that Harvey had a certain type, which was both a strong and a weak point of his.

And now, I've got yet another preview/director Q&A on Sunday, this time with David Fincher for his new film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. If Brad Pitt shows up too, that would be so awesome, especially as I will be sitting in the sixth row rather than the twelfth...


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