Robert Stone’s Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst has a lot of gall turning a brutal kidnapping, a psychological and sexual gangbang, and an anarchic crime spree into the template for a flashy, rollicking reminder of a time when, gee, terrorism was just too cute for words. (The doc’s original title was Neverland: The Rise and Fall of the Symbionese Liberation Army, presumably changed to avoid audience cross-pollination with fragile J.M. Barrie worshippers.) Stone’s incredibly compelling, yet ethically nonchalant presentation of the events (in a nutshell, band of Socialist kids and jailbirds nab the Teflon heiress daughter of one of the richest men in the nation, brainwash her into becoming the showroom spokesmodel for their dogma, and ride the wave of national infamy) recalls that other famous Stone, whose bombastic habit of allowing lapsed historical significance to become the gateway to his own drug-hazed, navel-gazing remorse for his lost childhood. But regardless of the nature of Stone’s empathetic commitment, there’s no disregarding what may possibly be the sourest ending of any film this year, a cheeseball clip of Patty from a recent talk show appearance where her “I’m just great” chipperness is held against the belated conviction of the rest of the SLA’s surviving members for the murder of a bank employee during a botched robbery attempt. The ostensible irony of the situation—rich bitch vs. perpetually punished proletariat—would be a lot more delicious if it didn’t gauchely ignore the fact that she was taken against her will, raped, and starved into dementia, and forced to read their blustery monologues at gunpoint. Still, as a document of what media circuses used to look like, Guerilla is a fascinating and cleanly delineated compendium of outrageous footage (i.e. Hearst’s ineffectual fiancée reacting publicly to her outrageous taped upbraiding of him and his misogyny, despite all appearances indicating that he’s exactly the type of “sensitive” male that had so many Archie Bunkers in the world holding feminism in outright contempt) and “ya can’t make this shit up” twists. And expect everyone in your theater to either snicker knowingly or flat out erupt in spontaneous applause when one interview subject says, of the warmongering Richard Nixon in 1972, “I could not believe this guy could get reelected!” Maybe it’s still too early yet to be sentimentalizing this bygone political era, Mr. Stone.
Clean image and even cleaner sound-possibly the best-looking, best-sounding disc in New Video's catalogue.
Robert Stone commentary track is in-and-out but the man's thoughts-a mix of historical fill-in-the-blanks and behind-the-scenes details-is compelling, especially when discussing the relevance of the Patty Hearst saga today. Also included here are the complete Patty Hearst tapes (all 53 minutes!), footage of the Hibernia Bank robbery, very emotional deleted scenes from the Sacramento courthouse where SLA members were tried for the death of Myrna Opsahl in 1975, a theatrical trailer, a photo gallery, a filmmaker bio, and a catalog of other New Video titles.
Anyone understandably bothered by the lapsed historical significance of the documentary will appreciate how Stone picks up the flack on his commentary track.