February 4, 1974, Patty Hearst, granddaughter of William Randolph Heart, was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), who first demanded a prisoner swap for Hearst, then, as it ...
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Carne Ross was a government highflyer. A career diplomat who believed Western Democracy could save us all. But working inside the system he came to see its failures, deceits and ulterior ... See full summary »
February 4, 1974, Patty Hearst, granddaughter of William Randolph Heart, was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), who first demanded a prisoner swap for Hearst, then, as it failed, demanded $6 million worth of food for the poor of the Bay Area. Written by
Ulf Kjell Gür
"Death to the Fascist Insect that Preys upon the Life of the People!"
I enjoyed watching this documentary, which brought back poignant memories. "Death to the fascist Insect that Preys upon the Life of the People!" I love it. One may disagree with the ideas, methods, and actions of the Symbionese Liberation Army, but some of the things the ragtag group had to say were undeniably true. Most educated young people then were well aware of the fact that this country was indeed a racist, fascist police state, but little did we know just how much worse it could get, and ultimately, without so much as a collective whimper of protest. Today, as materialistic Generation X enthusiastically supports each new erosion of our remaining freedoms, the counterculture's loftiest ideals long ago contemptuously discarded or replaced with politically correct hypocrisy of the worst sort, it is clear just what we were fighting against, although most of us sold out as soon as our first child was born. Even the totally corrupt WWII generation looked "great" in comparison, halting the murderous advance of the Axis powers, developing nuclear weapons, rockets, and jet aircraft, and following it up by sending us to the Moon. A very tough act to follow, nonetheless, the Baby Boom generation entered adulthood with a great education and lots of energy and promise but were simply unable to deliver the goods. Put in simple terms, you either sold out and became a working cog or your friends and neighbors ultimately betrayed you, with the cops waiting to persecute and harass you and beat your brains in the moment you stepped too far out of line. Nobody but the most naive persons really believed that the conventional life was born of personal choice, and only the most independent, tough, and resourceful individuals were able to buck the unrelenting pressure to conform to bourgeois values and retain a modicum of their past ideals. In contrast, the false sense of status quo certainty so pervasive today has yet to be seriously challenged. Pampered and relatively ignorant Generation X has no idea what it means to be forcibly kept down and the torch passed to your little brothers and sisters, instead.
All that aside, this documentary is a very good effort. The scenes from yesteryear remind us of both the philosophical ambiguities and the stark realities of that time. The memories of two surviving members of the SLA and a thoughtful past editor at the San Francisco Chronicle form the backbone of the film's narrative. This, the archival footage, and a set of no-nonsense audio tapes are its primary strengths as documentary. The communiques from Donald DeFreeze, or "Cinque", self-appointed General Field Marshall of the United Federated Forces of the Symbionese Liberation Army, are particularly eloquent and biting. His characterizations of the Hearst media empire as one of the largest propaganda institutions of the "fascist militarist corporate dictatorship under which we live" hit home effectively. One drawback, however, is that the surviving SLA members interviewed for the film try to distance themselves from the violent actions of the group and it comes off as self-serving and insincere.
My primary criticism, however, is that Patty Hearst is almost given a pass in that the director did not thoroughly explore her strange transformation from sheltered heiress to committed revolutionary and back again to sheltered heiress and slick little phony. After her apprehension, upon the advice of her lawyers and under the renewed influence of her family, she began to claim that she'd never committed any antisocial acts as "Tania" that weren't forced upon her by her comrades in the SLA, although clearly, this position was at odds with the record. The filmmaker more or less allowed the viewer to form their own conclusions, which may account for some of the downright silly reactions heard by some of the documentary's younger viewers who see Patty as a heroine rather than a chameleon changing perspectives and personalities as easily as donning a new set of clothes. She not only renounced and insulted her parents and her upbringing, but ultimately regarded in similar fashion the memories of her brutally slain comrades in arms. Obviously, the jury didn't buy it and she was sentenced to seven years in prison for voluntary participation in the Hibernia Bank robbery. That she was given clemency by President Carter after serving less than two years of her sentence, allowed to publish a book and profit from it handsomely, and later given a pardon by President Clinton, merely underscores the fact that here we have a very privileged person, indeed. The most ironic thing is that her parents are now both deceased, and presumably, she and her sisters more or less control the media empire built up by her grandfather and handed down to them by her dad. In effect, therefore, she has become part and parcel of "the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people."
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