December 9, 2004 § Leave a Comment
As a little kid living about an hour from San Francisco, I was well aware of the daily frenzy of Patty Hearst. Film review
You could ignore a lot of things, like Watergate or the ins and outs of the Vietnam War, but the sheer bizarre, comic book tale of Heart’s kidnapping and subsequent transformation into a scary, cliché spouting soldier for the people really did grab the attention of children. It was exciting, it was mysterious, it was unreal … and it was a little scary.
Robert Stone’s retelling of these events in “Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst” does a good job in stirring up those feelings so that they are as vivid as they were 30 years ago and while the film doesn’t go quite beyond that initial impact, it still functions as a valuable primer to a criminal conspiracy that stands as one of our country’s oddest and, in many ways, simultaneously pathetic and ridiculous.
For former Symbionese Liberation Army member Russ Little, his involvement with revolutionaries played to his childhood memories of righting wrongs as personified by movie characters such as Zorro and Robin Hood.
Little’s characterization of the SLA in this light might seem like pop psychology, but it does serve the film well in putting the group in a theoretical, contextual light.
The comparison adds sympathy to their story and frames the absurdity of the frame of mind and level of self-deception these revolutionaires had to psyche themselves into in order to combat poverty and social injustice. In many ways, it amounts to a role playing game that is played out on a field of reality. The SLA were never able to see it this way, and this lead to their final comeuppance and the circumstances of their demise.
From late summer 1973, to the fall of 1975, the original configuration of the Symbion-ese Liberation Army waged their war against the establishment. Born of the naive political dreams of college kids who aligned themselves with the escaped so-called “political prisoner” Donald Defreeze, their career mostly consisted of stupid, cliché-ridden proclamations to the media that bandied around the word “bourgeois” and involved a lot of pretending to be Che Guevara.
The two revolutionary acts they did commit in the beginning — the “assassination” of Marcus Foster, the African-American School Super-intendent in Oakland, and the frantic kidnapping of publishing heiress Patty Hearst — seem-ed to have little rhyme or reason until after they had had time to think over and justify their curious actions.
At first, their possession of Hearst was to be used in a trade-off for two jailed SLA members, but when it came apparent that plan wasn’t going to work, they cooked up an alternate one of coercing Patty’s father Randolph Hearst into spending a couple million dollars on a Feed the Poor program.
When that descends into a riot, the SLA, and Patty, release audio pronouncements blaming Hearst for the problem rather than their not-well thought-out demands. All in all, this is the most bungling gang of criminals since Jim Hutton starred in “Who’s Minding the Mint.”
Once Patty joins her captors’ side, she, too, begins spouting nonsensical Communist clichés as she berates her parents and the System by audio message.
Stone’s film, meanwhile, takes a colder approach than the press in the ’70s and, as such, makes it seem like a very curious episode of “Dragnet” more than anything else.
It’s a good approach to take, a mental chance to stand back from the thick of it in order to qualify whether it all really happened like we think it did. By the time we see Hearst take gun in hand to help the SLA rob a bank — yet another of their silly crimes that seemed to have no logic — the surveillance camera footage accentuates the latest in a dreamlike series of events and creates a poetic, ballet of crime that leaves a lasting visual impression of the confused unreality of the situation.
In the end, the SLA comes across as a collection of kids who can’t take what they dish out, and they mask what seem to be “A Clockwork Orange” like tendencies in tiresome though sincere political rhetoric.
Still, you can’t help but feel loads of sympathy for them, as they really end up being the unwitting tools of the Estab-lishment, not only living up to Middle America’s fears of the dangers of the new young radicals, but also offering up a poster girl for the molested upper class. While the SLA pay for their crimes eventually with violent deaths and jail sentences, Patty Hearst pays for hers with a parade of books, talk show appearances, regular roles in John Waters movies, and just the general air of celebrity that makes her of public interest.
The SLA were right: There are many injustices in this country that need fixing. By involving Patty Hearst, however, they validated the fear of every bourgeois citizen they railed against and poisoned the well in getting their message across.
I wasn’t the only kid in California at the time who was creeped out by the idea of being kidnapped and brainwashed by people who appeared to be crazy, and I’m not the only adult who retains that memory and feels betrayed by people who took an important message and pummeled it into a million useless pieces under the weight of their own self indulgence.
December 2, 2004 § Leave a Comment
There’s nothing more heinous than a wolf in sheep’s clothing, particularly when the sheep is trying to sell you feel-good spiritualism designed to elevate your soul no matter how fast the feeling fades away Those familiar with Chris Van Allsburg’s children’s book “The Polar Express” will no doubt recall its mysterious quality that almost borders on creepiness built from uncertainty. Imagine getting exactly what you want and having it unfold in a way that you never quite expected, in a way that builds suspense and isn’t always comfortable. The climax of the Van Allsburg book ends with a bit of ambiguity that defies platitudes — is this the story of a man who has held onto his inner child or a man who is incapable of moving on?
Whatever else the screen version of “The Polar Express” is, it is not Van Allsburg’s story, a skeleton onto which the filmmakers attach some clinched heartfelt moments thrown in between lots of CGI rollercoaster rides that would have been not only inappropriate in the book, but decidedly against its spirit.
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December 2, 2004 § Leave a Comment
Jonathan Caouette’s video self-portrait “Tarnation” is bound to rankle a few feathers who find it filled with bells and whistles, and perhaps self indulgent to a fault. But filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell’s pronouncement of “Tarnation” as a “masterpiece of outsider art” puts it in the context. Caouette documents his life using old home video, still photographs, and old recordings. He is not a novice filmmaker, despite Mitchell’s proclamation — Caou-ette just never pursued it as a career until now. As a teenager, Caouette made loads of short, underground films with titles like “The Ankle Bruiser” and this documentary seems to reflect his earlier work with its trashy and experimental style.
“Tarnation” documents Caouette’s artistic awakening as he draws from his own life, but does so by way of the disintegration of his own family through decades, most specifically his mother’s struggles with mental illness. « Read the rest of this entry »