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A documentary reconstruction of the events following the 1973 kidnapping of 19-year-old newspaper heiress Patty Hearst by a radical group calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army. The widely publicised case quickly became a symbol of generational struggle in America in the years following the Vietnam War, particularly after the kidnap "victim" announced to the world that she had herself joined the SLA, taking on a new identity as an "urban guerrilla".

Review by Jake Wilson:
Some thirty years on, the kidnapping of Patty Hearst remains an unforgettably potent episode in what film critic J. Hoberman has called the collective "dream life" of America. Truly, this story has everything: sex, violence, radical politics, and a tragicomic absurdity beyond the most far-out fiction. Indeed, what most fascinates documentary-maker Robert Stone is the surreal self-consciousness of it all: in the archival news footage that makes up much of Guerrilla: The Taking Of Patty Hearst, parents, cops and "revolutionaries" all perform their assigned roles knowingly before the cameras, like Andy Warhol's "superstars" or today's contestants on reality TV.

Though Guerrilla also features interviews with survivors of the era, many of the key players are now dead, in jail, or simply unavailable. Thus it's perhaps by necessity that Stone shows himself less concerned with behind-the-scenes revelations than with recreating the Hearst saga as it played out in public at the time, as a media-facilitated battle of the stereotypes. Only in the early 1970s, perhaps, could a ragged, half-imaginary organisation like the Symbionese Liberation Army hope to force its way onto the historical record - as if all sectors of society were equally in thrall to the myth that pitted the squares against the counterculture.

In retrospect, the battlelines seem less starkly drawn. We're told early on that most of the SLA members began as fresh-faced, middle-class "high achievers", while the supposedly inflexible Establishment proves motley enough to include a hilariously pathetic figure like Patty's grad-student boyfriend Steven Weed, with his drooping hippie moustache and apologetic attitude. Such ironies emerge throughout the film, though there's also plenty to suggest that a grudge against the ruling class might be justified - particularly at the end, when we're invited to compare Patty's ultimate fate with that of her captors.

In focusing on the media circus around Patty and the SLA, Stone sensibly refuses either to delve too deeply into psychological analysis or to draw any clear political moral from a story that fascinates above all for its ambiguities. Most haunting in this regard are Patty's tape-recorded communiques, where the period cliches of revolution regain their hardboiled poetry: in a eulogy for her slain comrades, she speaks of "fascist pigs" and "the fight to save the children" in a soft plangent monotone, as if repeating phrases heard in a dream. It's impossible to know who this woman really was or is, given her transformation from American princess to "urban guerrilla" and back - yet this blankness remains oddly seductive, a screen on which we viewers can project our own individual and collective desires.

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Aka Neverland: The Rise and Fall of the Symbionese Liberation Army

CAST: Documentary with Michael Bortin, Timothy Findley, Patricia Hearst, Russell Little

PRODUCER: Robert Stone

DIRECTOR: Robert Stone

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Howard Shack, Robert Stone

EDITOR: Don Kleszy

MUSIC: Gary Lionelli


RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney & Brisbane: March 24; Melbourne: March 31, 2005

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