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Docurama presents
Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (2004)

"Mom, Dad, I'm okay. I'm with a combat unit armed with automatic weapons."
- Patty Hearst

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: February 09, 2006

Director: Robert Stone

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:29m:16s
Release Date: September 27, 2005
UPC: 767685973837
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Patty Hearst in recent years has become almost a historical footnote, a curiosity showing up occasionally in John Waters movies, the focus of a big story from long ago, one that, depending on your age, you may remember from the evening news and the newsweeklies, or may have read about in passing. Robert Stone's documentary is a narrowly focused look at the Hearst story—it's a visceral re-telling of the events, but at times you feel like the film is so limited in its scope, and that Hearst's ordeal seems like little more than tabloid fodder, making this an intensive exercise in investigating a story that was a big deal for only a very short time.

Patricia Campbell Hearst is the granddaughter of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, and a member of one of the most prominent and affluent families in northern California. On February 4, 1974, while a sophomore at UC-Berkeley, Hearst was kidnapped by a renegade band of terrorists calling themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army, who negotiated ransom terms with Hearst's family; later, Hearst became a full-fledged SLA member herself, participating in the armed robbery of a bank. Stone is very good at situating the story in a historical context—with things like Kent State very much in the air, the SLA members seem like committed if not very bright and misguided bourgeois kids who want to participate with a vengeance in the counterculture. They'd seem foolish if they weren't armed—to go along with the silly name for their group, they each took pretentious noms de guerre like Teko and Yolanda. (Hearst's was, famously, Tania.) Hearst actually shows up late in Stone's telling; his film intercuts archival footage with new interviews of journalists covering the case and a few relatively peripheral SLA members, recalling a crazed time.

The group's first act of violence was killing Oakland's Superintendent of Public Schools; a couple of SLA members were arrested for the crime, and there was talk of swapping them for Hearst after her kidnapping. The SLA released rambling audiotapes, full of Marxist dogma, invective against the man, and demands on the Hearsts—they may have been loony and thuggish, but they did call attention to things like widespread poverty in this country, and you've got to have a kind of crazed respect for a ransom demand of $200 million of free food for the poor.

Hearst's participation in the nefarious activities of the SLA made her the poster child for Stockholm syndrome—was she transformed into a committed revolutionary of her own free will, or was she simply under the spell of her captors, a rich and shallow young woman fearful for her life? The movie doesn't really have an answer; it's much better at recognizing this as one of the first historical moments when violence became theater, when television news made its focus stuff getting blown up, young women in jeopardy, if it bleeds it leads. You can draw a direct line from the Hearst story to high-speed freeway chases and to insanely overcovered stories like the disappearance of Natalee Holloway.

Stone's retelling is thorough, but you do start to get the feeling that he's hobbled by how narrowly he's chosen to tell the story—add to that the fact that many of the crucial participants in the case are dead, behind bars, or unwilling to talk for the camera, and you get a fevered sense of something that may not, in fact, have been all that important.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Solid effort on the transfer; the new interviews are well shot, and the footage from the 1970s looks grainy and scratchy, as you might expect.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Occasional sync problems mar these otherwise acceptable tracks.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
9 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back , Brother’s Keeper, Go Tigers!, Keep The River On Your RIght, Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy, Lost in La Mancha, The Smashing Machine, The Weather Underground
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Robert Stone
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. SLA audiotapes (see below)
  2. Docurama catalog
  3. photo gallery
Extras Review: The director is candid and chatty on the commentary track, discussing the challenge of making a documentary about relatively recent history with so many of the participants gone; he was going for the feel of the political thrillers of the period. He also discusses his deliberate choice not to seek out Patty Hearst for an interview—he relates that she saw the movie, and agreed with him that the film is better for her not being in it.

The rest of the extras amplify on the sordid doings of the SLA, featuring the complete security camera footage (06m:39s) of the bank heist in which Hearst participated, and the 2003 sentencing (25m:03s) of a number of SLA members for a decades-old murder. Newly restored are six original audiotapes (53m:06s in all) of Hearst, released by the SLA while she was their prisoner—I suppose it's nice that they're included, but the prospect of actually listening to them all, all the way through, seems brutal with tedium. There's a brief biography of Stone as well, along with a handful of news photographs from the events of the kidnapping.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

An exhaustive look at what in retrospect seems like one in a continuing series of this week's story of the century.


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