Review of Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst

Review of Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst directed by Robert Stone
Rating *****

One of the great things about art is that once it enters the public domain it remains there for eternity, waiting to be discovered anew. The Internet makes everything accessible. This documentary was first released in 2003. I'm not exactly sure how it came to my attention. I think I might have been browsing new DVD releases on the Blockbuster site. How I learned about it isn't important, what is important is that I discovered it. Had this film been released this year I would still have found it just as smart, interesting, and entertaining.

I was seventeen when Patty Hearst was kidnapped. It was a sensational story that I followed like everyone else in the country. But my parents weren't readers and neither was I at the time. So my version of the story came solely from the nightly news. This film gives a much more complete picture of what took place.

The story is told through a combination of interviews, movie clips, and archival footage. Interestingly, some of the main people involved in this story, including Patty Hearst, aren't included in the interviews. More on that later. The film relies heavily on interviews with two men: Russ Little and Mike Bortin. Both were members of the group who pulled off the kidnapping, but neither of them took part or were even aware of the plot. Russ Little was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the killing of a black school administrator. In the film, he claims to have had nothing to do with the killing, and I find him believable. His fate was ultimately tied to the actions of the other members of the SLA or Symbionese Liberation Army. Mike Bortin joined the group after the kidnapping. Having been there at the time and knowing the participants, but without having any fear of self incrimination, both men are able to tell their story in an unbiased manner.

For anyone who isn't familiar with the Patty Hearst story, and that could be a lot people under the age of thirty, Patty was the daughter of William Randolph Hearst, a wealthy media magnate. What makes the story so compelling is that Patty eventually sympathized with her captors and even took place in some criminal activities, including a bank robbery. She went from kidnapped victim to wanted terrorist. When she was eventually captured she was put on trial and eventually sentenced to seven years in prison.

The filmmaker claims, and I believe rightfully so, that the Patty Hearst story was the first time where a news event became a worldwide media event. Thanks in large part to new technology that allowed for live news broadcasts. Today a news story can travel the world in a matter of seconds. Satellite TV, the Internet, blogs, Twitter, all of this can catapult a story into the limelight with great alacrity. Here are just two examples: the ditching of Flight 1549 and balloon boy.

But that isn't the only prescient thing about this film. The whole idea of political terrorism can be seen in the actions of the SLA. The film was released six years ago about an event that took place more than thirty years ago, and it is still relevant today.

The disc has a number of extras including an excellent audio commentary by director Robert Stone. In the commentary, he explains his reasoning for not including interviews with Patty Hearst and some of the other central characters. He makes some good points, but I would have loved to have heard from Patty herself about the film even if it would have been as an extra on the DVD. This film might be six years old, but it was new for me. And if you haven't seen it, add it to your queue right now.

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