American Experience (1988– )
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Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst 

A documentary on the curious American domestic terrorist group, infamous for the 1974 kidnapping of Patty Hearst.


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Episode credited cast:
Michael Bortin ...
Timothy Findley ...
Dan Grove ...
Ludlow Kramer ...
John Lester ...
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Marcus Foster ...
Himself (archive footage)
Catherine Hearst ...
Herself (archive footage)
Herself (archive footage)
Randolph Hearst ...
Himself (archive footage)
Richard Neill ...
Himself (archive footage)
Howard Shack ...
Evelle Younger ...
Himself (archive footage)


In 1974, a teenage newspaper heiress and Berkeley undergrad was kidnapped at gunpoint from her apartment, setting off one of the most bizarre episodes in recent history. The kidnappers, completely off the map before Patty Hearst disappeared into the San Francisco night, were a small band of young, ferociously militant political radicals, dedicated to the rights of prisoners and the working class. They called themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army. Over the course of about three years they robbed banks, senselessly killed two innocent people, instigated a firefight after attempting to shoplift a pair of socks, and, most famously, converted their hostage and victim. They also achieved an undeniably visionary manipulation of the media, inciting perhaps the first modern media frenzy. Presenting resonating questions about the role of the media in America--mouthpiece? Messenger? Truth seeker? --The ethical dilemmas posed by new technologies, and the proximity of madness to political ... Written by Sujit R. Varma

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Unrated | See all certifications »




Release Date:

30 May 2005 (USA)  »

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$22,444 (USA) (26 November 2004)


$101,439 (USA) (11 February 2005)

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Features State of Siege (1972) See more »

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User Reviews

Kids playing bang-bangs
6 March 2015 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

The public can sense when they're watching a symbolic tale of the age, especially when there is a young female figure at the centre, representing the soul of a nation, being competed-for by good and evil.

Here the symbolism is as stark as you can get. The heiress to one of the great American dynasties gets kidnapped, brainwashed and reduced to a helpless pawn in the hands of a group claiming to represent 'the will of the people' - supposedly meaning black people, though only one member of the original Symbionese Liberation Army is black. The rest are students from Berkeley, as Patty was, and the whole story is drenched in Californian hippie-talk. You can almost smell the drugs, as these ageing lefties recycle their lazy, dreamy philosophies, and (significantly) try to distance themselves, thirty years on, from the childish antics that surrounded the kidnap.

So, a 'General Field-Marshal' declares all black jailbirds to be political prisoners, though in another breath they have become prisoners-of-war, who need to be exchanged. This is called playing soldiers, though amazingly this rag-tag bunch is able to keep at bay thousands of police and troops for more than a year.

Meanwhile a dubious black preacher in multi-coloured robes has to be appointed as the neutral liaison man, but soon makes clear where his loyalties lie, with a speech that sounds like a send-up of over-emotive ghetto sermonising.

Perhaps most symbolic of all is the demand from the Army council that the Hearst fortune should be spent on 'feeding the poor of California', resulting in a chaotic distribution of groceries to huge, pressing crowds, with at least one person crushed to death. The sheer immaturity of the student-revolutionary mind is writ large in this drama. (One of the retired class-warriors admits he was inspired by the Robin Hood films.) We know, of course, that Patty lived happily ever after, marrying her bodyguard and mothering two children. Yet there is something unreal about her in these few short clips, as though something died inside her during her captivity. And many have noted the irony of her brief jail sentence, reduced to almost nothing, thanks to powerful family connections.

The final irony is that the protest-lobby of 1974/5 did actually have a few grains of justice on their side. After Vietnam (America's first-ever defeat) and Watergate, which made the president look both corrupt and incompetent, young people could not be expected to show the same instinctive regard for authority that their elders had. A more mature form of protest might have gained a willing audience from higher-up. But the Hearst kidnapping demonstrated that students are generally the wrong people to do the bossing, and should go back to their schoolbooks.

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