Patty Hearst
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Patty Hearst

Many people seem t love seeing misfortune come to those born of wealth and privilege. It is not so much that members of n audience enjoy seeing another human being in pain or dire straits although undoubtedly a component derived from the ‘better him than me’ attitude that often fuels the fans of slap stick humor, when it comes to the mighty being laid low it has to be kept in mind that no matter how much we would like to think our society has matured past such things we still live in a culture driven by class distinction. In many ways we might as well live in a caste based society; a construct that results in a natural resentment of those generating the work that drives the wealth to the upper percent that reap all of the benefits. This trend has always existed but lately the instant access to tabloid media has intensified. One of the most famous or perhaps infamous cases of the fallen sociality happened in February 1974 when Patricia Hearst, the granddaughter of news paper mogul William Randolph Hearst was photographed beret atop her head and machine gun in hand robbed a Californian bank. The picture taken from bank security cameras rapidly flew around the world. This wisp of a teenage girl looked entirely out of place with the fire arm barely mustering the terrifying image the ones responsible for this set of circumstances had hoped for. That photograph became one of the iconic images of the decade helping to define our generation. The seventies were still reeling from the aftermath of the Vietnam War. The youthful side of the generation gap still distrusted the older establishment that was represented by W.R Hearst and his use of yellow journalism to control public opinion and even influence government policy. His granddaughter, part of the youth culture, was abducted by a domestic terrorist group that purported to be fighting for the rights of the down trodden. This would become the nucleus of conspiracy theories abounding at the time and managed to become woven into the fabric of our popular culture. It has also been the basis for several treatments in literature and film, one of which ‘Patty Hearst: Her Own Story’ is under consideration here. It is fairly well made and reasonably entertaining although the usual caveat of not relying on entertainment for historical fact applies here.

The story for the film ostensibly was derived from Patty Hearst’s autobiography ‘Every Secret Thing’ that was co-written with Alvin Moscow, turned into a screenplay by Nicholas Kazan. While not necessarily a factual tour de force it does make for a much better than average bio-pic. Much of why this film works as well as it does it is doesn’t make any apologies for what it is; a piece of entertainment based on one of the most renown kidnapping since the Lindberg Baby. When combined with the natural fascination over the rich and famous, especially watching them laid low would make this a matter of interest on just those factors. The thing is this movie contains a coherent story line, solid direction and competent acting. These elements have an uphill battle since in 1988 when the movie was released Patty Hearst was still very much vilified by the America people. Key to the success of the movie is to develop some degree of sympathy towards the titular character no matter how slight that feeling may be. The danger inherent here is trying to set Hearst in the part of completely innocent victim. The general consensus developed at the time that carried through for many years is Hearst shared at least part of the culpability for what unfolded. Part of the way director Paul Schrader tries to accomplish this is to waste no time in getting to the initiating event; the abduction of the heiress. This is show as the opening credits just roll off the screen. This nicely focuses the audience’s attention on the first illegal where there was little debate that Hearst was the victim. The group behind the kidnapping was the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). To all purposes this was just another of a long string of radical groups the popped up on a regular basis back in the seventies. This was the legacy of the post revolutionary sixties when militants seemed to proliferate on every American campus. Looking back through the dim haze of time the details surrounding the SLA seem comical. They were symbolized by a seven head cobra logo which was supposed to provide some ancient Eastern mystic feel to the group’s public personae. They also all assumed aliases or nom de gar such as Donald David DeFreeze (Ving Rhames) who became the group’s leader, Cinque Mtume. Prior to forming the SLA he was a petty career criminal. In the more sensationalistic side of the story Hearst was romantically linked to another of her captors, Cujo (Pete Kowanko).

This is not a movie of the week; it is a legitimately made feature film. Schrader wrote the script for ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Raging Bull’. He also wrote and directed ‘American Gigolo’ he knows how to pace a film especially evident in how he keeps the matter of guilt secondary to what happened to un unsuspecting 19 year old girl. This may be the most widely known case of the Stockholm syndrome where a person begins to strongly identify with her captors usually considered an act of survival. This movie does well in presenting this story ripped from the headlines of 1972 and presents them in a fashion that can still provide a lot of enjoyment.

Post 05/27/11

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