January 17, 2005

Movie Review: Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst

Way back, before I was born, there was a situation that brewed to a boiling point in California and created a very bizarre segment of American history. That was the appearance of the Symbionese Liberation Army and their kidnapping of a college student named Patty Hearst. I was always aware that this happened, but I knew nothing about it. Speaking to some friends of mine, they weren't even aware of who Patty Hearst was. For those people, and anyone who may have an interest in this bizarre period, I'd recommend this documentary.

The film follows the formation of the SLA through their initial acts, including the murder of a California school superintendent, and leading up to the kidnapping of Patty Hearst and the bizarre events that were to follow. Including the demands of food distribution, bank robberies, and pretty much making the FBI look foolish. Nobody knew who they were, or how to catch them, or what their ultimate goals were. But what was even more bizarre was how Patty ended up joining the SLA, a case of what is called Stockholm Syndrome, where the captive identifies with their captors.

Director Rob Stone has compiled old news footage, newspaper headlines, security camera surveillance footage, and even interviews with former SLA members into a compelling film documenting the saga of Patty Hearst and the rise and fall of the SLA. We get to watch the media frenzy that grew around this situation. There was constant coverage before the dawn of the age of wall to wall 24 hour a day news coverage that we get today. This was one of those media pioneering events that was to set the stage of the media of the future.

I watched the film and was amazed at what happened. The interviews with Russ Little and Mike Bortin seemed to indicate that the SLA didn't have any specific goals with their acts. They sort of kept on going, more or less making it up as they went along. Watching the media scramble after the Hearst family was also strange, instead of pursuing the story, they pursued the victims in hopes of catching what was happening next.

The footage gathers together here is interesting as well. Clippings, video, and audio trace the entire lifespan of the SLA, and listening to their speeches ("Death to the fascist insect that feeds on the life of the people") was just bizarre.

Bottomline. An interesting look into this slice of Americana that will never be repeated. Skillful editing weaves an easy to follow narrative using a variety of media sources. Very well done.



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