Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (12A)

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Robert Stone

The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner03/06/2005

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 89 mins

Impressively directed documentary that tells a gripping story and draws some interesting political parallels.

Robert Stone’s impressive documentary about the kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst was a critical hit at the Edinburgh Film Festival last year and will hopefully translate that success into box office receipts now that it has received the theatrical release it deserves.

The Story

Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst details the activities of the Symbionese Liberation Army (or SLA; a flamboyant domestic terrorist group who set out to incite the violent overthrow of the US government) in the 1970s.

As the film shows, they were brilliant manipulators of the mass media and their most notorious action – the kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst – inspired a huge media “feeding frenzy” and the first media encampment, on the doorstep of the Hearst mansion.

However, the story exploded still further when Patty started calling herself “Tania” and joined the ranks of the SLA herself, joining in with bank raids and even going as far as to chastise her own parents in the ransom messages with comments such as, “Mother should get out of that black dress – that doesn’t help at all” and, later, “Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the people!”

The Interviews

Stone has secured some impressive interviewees for the film, including two former members of the SLA: Russ Little (whose arrest led the SLA to kidnap Hearst in order to negotiate for Little’s release) and Mike Bortin, whose participation in the film takes on a new resonance with the revelation that he and several other SLA members received new prison sentences after the film was completed.

The film is primarily narrated by Little and Bortin, along with contributions from journalists, an FBI agent and the Hearst’s ransom negotiator. There are also several interviews from contemporary news programmes, as well as archive audio and film footage.

However, Stone’s biggest coup is to secure the stunning footage of the violent siege and shoot-out that led to the deaths of six SLA members – this sort of thing was new to live television in those days and some of the cameras and reporters are perilously close to the action. (The story behind the footage is even more amazing – apparently Stone discovered the tapes in a refuse bin at a studio whilst researching another subject).

One of the film’s most interesting points is that some of the SLA members came from the peaceful political protests of the 1960s and, as such, considered themselves patriots, influenced by political films of the time and viewing themselves as modern day Robin Hood or Zorro figures (helpfully illustrated with clips).

As Bortin says, “We grew up being told that we stopped Hitler and then you turn around and your own government is being Hitler”. It’s also hard to watch footage of the Vietnam protesters with their “Stop the War” banners without being forcibly reminded of the current administration.

Hearst herself is conspicuous by her absence, which allows you to make your own mind up as to the extent of her Stockholm Syndrome and exactly how far she was brain-washed, as she later claimed. That said, the film ends with the bizarre image of Hearst being interviewed by Gaby Roslin of all people: “So, Patricia, what was your childhood like?”

The Conclusion

In short, Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst is a gripping, thought-provoking film that works as both a thriller and a social document. Highly recommended.

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Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (12A)
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Content updated: 22/09/2018 21:18

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