And so was born the Symbionese Liberation Army, a flamboyant domestic terrorism group, who went so far from their noble intentions that innocent people died and realistic calls for change seemed subversive and combative by association.
Robert Stone's new documentary covers the origins of the "SLA", but does his best to focus on the very most famous of their exploits, namely, the kidnapping and reported Brainwashing of heiress Patricia Hearst. Even deeper than this, though, Stone is delving deeply into the phenomenon surrounding these events, and reporting, from the outside, on the first ever real Media Frenzy, the likes of which are all too common today, but unheard before the SLA. These three paths are interwoven well, but occasionally are jumped from forth and back until the documentary called Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst seems to have as many heads as the Serpentine Hydra of the SLA's logo.
There is no dearth of footage on this story, after all, this was a "Media Frenzy". (To put this into a more current perspective... imagine if Paris Hilton was kidnapped, then appeared with a machine gun robbing banks and sending Bin Laden type audio tapes.) However, Stone augments this with interviews with surviving SLA Members as well as reporters and witnesses. He further reshapes the footage he has into the closest thing to "THE TRUTH" that he can, showing all three sides to this story as closely as possible.
Not that any film, documentary or otherwise, could truly capture the Zeitgeist that gave rise (and fall) to the Symbionese Liberation Army. Further, Stone does his best with the footage and the interviews he has and is allowed to get. Let's face it, Patty Hearst herself isn't about to interview for Stone, and she's written her own book on the subject. What he is able to do, however, is capture the irony of certain events and statements as if he scripted the whole thing himself. What follows chronicles the rise and fall of the SLA, with the majority of the meat of the matter being the involvement of Hearst.
But was this a Forced involvement, or was she a willing participant... the only one who seems to have gotten off scott-free? Stone isn't telling, but he does lay both sides bare. See it, and tell me what you think of her... and further, what the chosen footage Stone shows really says about his opinions.
Hell, he's more fair and balanced than Michael Mo', and he tries his best to show a broad brush stroke on this woven tapestry of the 70's. But Stone's attempt to leave no, well, stone unturned, results in a less direct and more convoluted and twisted telling of a twisted and convoluted tale. What is this documentary? A display of the lain-bare birth of the Media Circus? If so, we beg for an eye-full but only get a peek. Is this a complete history of the Rise and Fall of the Symbionese Liberation Army? That could be a documentary all its own! Is this simply the Patty Hearst story with a heavy emphasis of her months with the SLA? If so, where's the rest of the story?
Guerilla tries to be all too many things, like a politician running with crib notes on several issues, but not the whole book on any one of them. In spite of this, the documentary is enthralling, and exciting, not to mention educational. The whole shebang feels like a stunning story that couldn't possibly be true... except that it was! But it also comes across as a mere whetting of the old knowledge appetite, and, like a political science student after a "Stump Speech", the audience is left wanting to run to the library and fill in the blanks with the rest of the story.
And that, dear readers, is what makes Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst a fantastic documentary to watch! It may not be "perfect", but reality rarely is. At Four Stars out of Five, it's a hell of an education and a class worth taking. I'll be at the library, asking for a bit more, thank you!
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