"Punishment Park" is a pseudo-documentary purporting to be a film crews's news coverage of the team of soldiers escorting a group of hippies, draft dodgers, and anti-establishment types ... See full summary »
Well-constructed documentary about one of America's most fascinating stories
In 1973, a left-wing militant group calling themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army shot and murdered black school superintendent Marcus Foster and wounded his deputy. Led by prison escapee and black political activist Donald DeFreeze, Foster's murder was a confused statement about fascism, apparently revealing Foster to be a pawn in what was essentially an ethically corrupt school system. The following year, they kidnapped newspaper heiress Patty Hearst from her home and caused a media sensation. The SLA made demands that her father Randolph Hearst pay to feed the starving, while the media storm gathered even more momentum. It reached its peak when recordings of Patty were released to the media declaring her sympathy towards the SLA, and her wish to join them.
The 1970's was a time of revolution and a new political awareness. Like the Red Army Faction (or the Baader-Meinhof Group) in Germany, the children of the 1970's were children of Nazi's and, in America, of blatant political corruption (the Watergate scandal, for example). The SLA were inspired by Marxism, anti-Capitalism, and Che Guevara's revolution in Cuba, believing that America would benefit from an equal society, and from the eradication of corruption and racism. "Death to the fascist insect that prays upon the life of the people!" was one of their motto's, and although it is easy to sympathise with their relatively naive hopes and views, the SLA certainly went about their business in a strange way. They committed murder, bank robberies and kidnapping - acts that certainly aren't beneficial to the people.
Sadly, the former SLA members that are interviewed in the film are not those that experienced the Patty Hearst scenario first hand (those people are either dead or in jail), so the interviewees don't draw from personal experiences and are quick to distance themselves from the darker aspects of the SLA. Hearst herself is sadly absent from the film, which is a shame, because as a result, she gets off relatively lightly. She is now a part-time actress and media darling, which is quite sickening given what she did. As to whether she was brain-washed or she was acting on her own accord is left unexplored. Robert Stone's documentary, is, however, well-constructed and contains plenty of fascinating archive footage. Plus, this is one of the most fascinating stories in America's recent history, and a poignant commentary on the role of the media in creating national treasures out of scandal and sensationalism.
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