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aka - Neverland: The Rise and Fall of the Symbionese Liberation Army
USA 2004
Directed by
Robert Stone
86 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Guerrilla: The Taking Of Patty Hearst

Robert Stone’s documentary looks at the history of one of the more notorious of the many radical action groups that sprang up in the early 1970s in the US. Their sole claim to fame, though it is quite considerable, was the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, grand-daughter of William Randolph Hearst and even more striking, her brief conversion to their cause. Although fascinating in subject it is not as in depth as Sam Green and Bill Siegel’s 2002 documentary, The Weather Underground (2002) as the only interviews with members of the group are with Russ Little, who was captured and incarcerated prior to the kidnapping and Michael Bortin who only joined after the decimation of the original kidnappers and who is considerably regretful of his youthful actions – none of the Weathermen’s remarkble we’d-do-it-all-again defiance here.

Is Stone trivializing the group by following Little’s post-hoc understanding of his activities as youthful romanticism shaped by watching the comic book heroics of Zorro and Robin Hood on TV as a child (popular culture also forming attitudes on impressionable minds on the other side of the political fence). Less questionable is the influence of Costa-Gravas’s “State of Siege,” a 1973 film that dramatized the kidnapping and murder of CIA agent Dan Mitrione in Uruguay by the Tupamaros, an urban guerrilla group. The latter was modelled on guerrilla groups in Argentina, including the quasi-Trotskyist People’s Revolutionary Army (when an apparently-converted Hearst adopted the name Tania, it was in honour of Che Guevara’s compañera in Bolivia). This direct action style was favoured by European radicals (who may also also been pre-adolescent fans of Zorro and Robin Hood), while the American Socialist Workers Party and its allies backed a rival Trotskyist group that favoured mass action in a more orthodox Bolshevik tradition. Unquestionably, the SLA were romantics, caught up in the idealism of the times and their effect on the structures of economic and social inequality were nugatory.

Stone, who unfortunately did not get access to Hearst for this documentary, is content to accept that she was under the influence of the “Stockholm Syndrome” in which kidnapping victims identify with their captors, mostly out of a sense of fear. This, at least, was the line of her defence and Hearst complied, abandoning her erstwhile allegiances and returning to the mainstream. After being convicted of bank robbery, Hearst was sentenced to seven years in prison. President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence after 3 years and President Clinton gave her a full pardon in 2001. It would have been nice to know more about Hearst's views on her story but then perhaps we are being optimistic to think that she had any. 

 

 

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