Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst

I caught Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (IMDB, the title must have been changed in order to avoid confusion with a recent Oscar contender) on Friday night, but haven’t really had the opportunity to write a review until now (and even now I should be working). Guerilla tells the story of the brief history of the Symbionese Liberation Army, focusing to some degree on the Patty Hearst kidnapping, and Stone’s film effectively captures the media frenzy inspired by the “Bonnie and Clyde” antics of the SLA, a fantasy he gently (though somewhat obviously) mocks with his inserts of clips from various Robin Hood films, including an animated Disney version from 1973.

In telling this story, Robert Stone chose not to interview with Patty Hearst, focusing instead on other members of the SLA and San Francisco journalists who covered them. The result is fairly haphazard, with Stone ultimately portraying Hearst as a shallow Stepford wife-meets-spoiled heiress, which seems more than a little unfair (the film’s final shot, presenting footage of her on a morning talk show, portrays her as completely shallow). But what struck me as interesting about Stone’s film is its connection to the recent doc, The Weather Underground, which focused on another late-60s/early 70s terrorist group. It seems significant that documentary filmmakers are revisiting these topics at this point in American history and that both documentaries seem to treat their subjects as charismatic media figures rather than as political figures. Guerilla is also far less nostalgic and less ambiguous in its portrayal of these radical political groups. Whether that’s due to the specific actions of the SLA or some other factor is a little unclear.

Steven Holden’s New York Times review is a little more generous than mine, with Holden noting that the film does trace the source of the SLA’s political commitments via footage of Kent State and Vietnam. And it may also be that the group’s political commitments were shallow. As one of the interviewees notes, not in apology as much as explanation, the members of the SLA were all very young, mostly in their early- or mid-20s when they kidnapped Hearst, who was herself only 19.

4 Comments »

  1. Steve Said,

    February 14, 2005 @ 6:29 am

    I read her book years ago. Its a really bizarre story. I will say this for her, she helped make up a good chunk of “Network.”

  2. Chuck Said,

    February 14, 2005 @ 7:54 am

    You know, I thought about Network several times over the course of the film. The documentary conveys that bizarreness pretty well, but I never felt like the film offered anything *that* new. The interviews were with SLA members who were not involved with the kidnapping (in part because most of them are or in jail), which kept us at a distance from the story.

  3. Chris Martin Said,

    February 17, 2005 @ 1:54 pm

    There’s an article with some multimedia extras here:

    http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0502/feature3/

    from national geographic. Thought you might be interested. I know you probably think I only stop by to drop Bollywood links these, but that’s not the case.

  4. Chuck Said,

    February 17, 2005 @ 9:55 pm

    You know, Chris, I was starting to wonder….

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