Anyone who knows me knows I’m fascinated with the Patty Hearst saga. I’ve collected countless books and articles on the topic, and I’ve even exchanged e-mail with Jay Weiner, then a student journalist who accompanied Jack Scott on at least one of his trips to the Pennsylvania farmhouse where SLA members hid in the summer of 1974.
On Sunday, thanks to my $3.99 Goodwill VHS player, I was able to watch my scratchy copy of Paul Schrader’s “Patty Hearst,” starring Natasha Richardson. While some of the acting is quite good, I couldn’t quite stay with it. The series of events is too compressed (as is the case with even decent biopics) and too many vital characters are missing. Granted, it’s just one interpretation of the kidnapping, but it’s one that is too abstract for my satisfaction.
The film I prefer to sink my teeth into: “Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst.” It’s a documentary that focuses on the history and ideological underpinnings of the SLA. Hearst appears only in archival footage; she is just a pawn.
The most fascinating part of “Guerrilla” is its illustration of how the media covered the kidnapping. TV news crews’ camp-outs at the Hearst mansion were seen as novel and exciting, even though the extent of the excitement was the periodic news conference. The newest broadcast technology only really delivered when TV cameras captured the fiery shootout in Los Angeles that killed six members of the SLA.
Fast-forward 26 years: John Waters’ “Cecil B. DeMented” lampoons the kidnapping with his story of a band of guerrilla filmmakers who kidnap a spoiled A-list actress and force her to star in their underground film.
Waters, another Hearst fan, gave her small roles in this and several other films — proving that the eye of the camera is both a curse and a blessing, punitive and easily manipulated.